The Year of the Cat

by Maria Lapachet

I was nine years old when my older sister died. My parents were selling the house. I can't remember if we were moving to a new house because of my sister's death or if that was already the new house after her death, and we were leaving because of the strange things that were happening there.

My seventeen-year-old sister, Dina, killed herself on December 22. She was my sister, my best friend, and the one who spent most of the time with me. Both of our parents were workaholic; I hardly saw them, but my sister was always there for me.

Dina played the piano-she had been classically trained but also played other styles-and many other instruments like the guitar. Her favorite food was steak and mushrooms. Her favorite song was "The Year of the Cat." Her favorite color was violet. I never really paid much attention to all the things that are violet in the world, but now I do. I am really glad I got to know Dina, and I think of her every time I look at anything that is violet. Susan, my other sister, does the same. For years we've thought that it's almost like she is sending all the violet to us.

I don't know why or when Dina started having problems. My parents were never eager to talk about the subject. She had a lot of friends, siblings-and she had me-who loved her and her music. But she also had depression, and with time I've come to understand that nothing could keep her here.

She was on some drug, took herself off the medicine in the summer previous to her death because she was doing well, and, according to my mother, gradually slipped into massive depression. She went back to the psychiatrist in September after intense fights with my parents. She was put back on her medication, but wasn't really responding to it as they expected. The psychiatrist wanted to change medication on her latest November appointment.

On December, her behavior turned more and more strange. She refused to eat with the rest of the family, she refused to go to school, and she would lock herself in her bedroom for days. What scared my mother the most was that she wasn't attending to her music lessons. I was scared because she changed from a loving sister to a bitch. I begged her to just talk to someone at school if she couldn't tell me what was wrong. But she didn't.

On December 22, I woke up extremely happy knowing that it was my last day of school before the Christmas holidays. Like she had been doing for almost a month, Dina said she didn't feel well and locked her door behind her. My mother urged her to get up and go to school, but before my sister even bothered to give an answer, she left telling us that she would see us later. My father hurried me up because he was dropping me off at school so we both said goodbye to Dina and left. I never saw her again. She hung herself in my parents' bedroom.

The following summer, my siblings and I were sitting in the porch as we did every time a potential buyer came to see the house. Susan had been acting strangely for a while. She used to say Dina was in her window or that she was talking to her in the living room. My mother said that those stories helped Susan ease the pain. That day she started teasing my brother, Mike. Susan used to tell him that Dina came to play with her instead of him because she never loved him enough. Tired of hearing her stories, I went upstairs.

I heard footsteps behind me coming up the stairs. Thinking it was Susan who used to follow me around the house, I turned to look, but then they stopped. After turning back around, I heard them again only this time they came a little farther up the stairs. Once again, I turned around, expecting to see my sister, but once again, they stopped and I saw nothing. This happened several times, and finally I got the bright idea to let them come all the way up the stairs so that perhaps I could see whatever it was that was causing them.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was terrified thinking that it may have been something evil trying to get me. I listened as the footsteps came up the stairs, getting closer and closer, but just before they reached the top I turned around and I saw Dina.

I saw my dead sister! For a couple of months I couldn't believe it. I though I was some kind of freak or was losing it. Still, the impression of having her there, just for a few minutes, was so strong that I couldn't deny it happened. Later I read an article about a Latvian man who kept the body of his dead sister in his flat for six months so he could continue to celebrate holidays with her. I told to myself: "Damn! That's insane!" and I knew I was no cuckoo.

Downstairs, my mother was saying goodbye to the buyers. Then she ran over me to see what I was up to. She saw me just sitting there Indian style, on the carpet, looking up, and smiling. She asked, "What is so funny, sweetie?" I told her I was laughing because I was talking with Dina, and I knew that was impossible. Then I started crying. My mother hugged me and told me it was okay to talk to dead people from time to time. Anticipating my fears, she told me I was not crazy; she said that I had nothing to worry about and assured me it was another way to let her go just like my younger sister claimed she saw Dina on her bedroom.

I told her that I was crying because I actually saw her. "Mom, I'm not crazy, Dina is here! She's joking with me!" My mother thought I was joking. "She looks almost the same. She seems to be okay, but she has a bad cut on her neck." My mother's face instantly went from being happy to being tearful.

She left, and when I turned around Dina had also left. I don't remember what happened that night, but I believe it was my father who cooked the dinner. My mother didn't come downstairs till the following night.

You see, my siblings and I did not go to Dina's funeral. We were too young. We had no idea of the specifics of what had killed her except that she died at home. Later in life my mother told us the details of her illness and how she died. She also explained to us that my sister had a long laceration under her chin, and, when I said that, she knew my sister had been there.

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