The shop window had become a black-tinted mirror in the darkness of the November evening. I could see the passersby almost as well as the jacket that had caught my attention. Distracted, I let my eyes shift from the herringbone tweed to the passing crowd until a familiar reflection made me forget the jacket completely. My brain did a double-take, thinking it recognized Daria. This proved to be one take too many for she was already half a block away before I could react, too far to hear me call,
“Wait!” is actually how our last conversation had ended, but I’m not sure she heard me that time either over the not-quite slam of my apartment door. The words I’d said before that, as well as hers to me, had followed the ritual formula of all our fights. Although the cause of our arguments changed, our method had an inevitable sameness born of long habit.
As kids, we’d end our squabbles with an exchange of,
that would have continued eternally if our mother hadn’t stopped us once she, not we, tired of the bickering. Neither of us had grown less stubborn as we grew up. The years merely expanded our vocabulary and contracted our patience so that the battle of wills ended with a single chorus of,
“Oh, get serious!”
“No, you get serious.”
before one of us added something like,
“Look, I have nothing more to say to you. I doubt I ever will.”
Then whoever happened to be in the position to do so left the arena with an air of offended dignity.
I’ve always blamed the rut our disagreements had fallen into on our being too close in age. A mere 15 months separated us, and we’d been raised more or less as twins without that us-against-the-world complicity real twins have. There was a big sister and a little sister in our equation, but the boundaries were seriously blurred. The roles switched with abandon leaving no one in charge of this sistership, which led to a mutinous struggle for power until we reached our teens and discovered our tastes in everything — clothes, boys, books, hobbies, you name it — went unshared. Rather than provide a further source of conflict, the differences finally liberated us from the bonds of our false twinhood and eventually allowed us to forge a friendship. We grew up without growing apart despite, or perhaps because of, lifestyles that were diametrically opposed. Therefore, sibling rivalry had nothing to feed on and we managed to go months without even a hint of a misunderstanding. But once one cropped up, the situation quickly degenerated into the old familiar pattern.
It didn’t take much either. Our last fight had been over a dinner Daria was planning. She’d invited me and stopped by a few days beforehand to borrow my food processor. I asked who else would be there — an innocent question to which Daria innocently replied,
“Ted and Sandy, Jason and Ellen, and Roger.”
“Ah,” I said. “I think I’ll skip this one, if it’s all the same to you.”
“But why?” Daria asked, though she knew very well the reason was Roger. He’s a friend of Dan’s I’d met at a party, and spent the better part of the evening talking to — more to please Dan than Roger. He simply wasn’t my type, and I’d politely declined when he invited me to the movies, a refusal Daria had found stupid. She and Dan, though not legally married, co-habited blissfully, and Daria could never understand that I might actually enjoy living alone, or at least be in no hurry to change the situation.
“Roger’s boring,” I repeated what I’d told her after the party.
“No, he’s not. He’s very nice.”
“That’s a matter of opinion,” I shrugged, provoking a tsk of exasperation from Daria.
“Look, it’s still no reason not to come. After all, no one’s asking you to go out with him. This is a dinner. There’ll be eight of us. You don’t even have to speak to Roger.”
“Except that everyone else is a couple which makes a couple of Roger and me.”
I hoped my logic would nip the brewing argument in the bud. Daria, however, ignored my perspicacity and began round two with,
“Oh, cooome on!”
The gauntlet was down. We were off for a good hour of theme with very little variation except that a few personal insults crept in, and poor, old Roger went from boring to being,
“… the biggest jerk I’ve ever met in my entire life!”
That’s when Daria said,
“Oh, get serious!”
And I said,
“No, you get serious — and get yourself another sister because I won’t be there.”
It took Daria perhaps 30 seconds to collect her things — and my food processor. But that was long enough for me to have second thoughts, wishing I’d told her,
“Fine, see you Friday,” and simply canceled out at the last minute, which is why I said the “Wait!” that went unheard.
We hadn’t made up yet, and I turned to follow her in the crowded street because I wanted to do that, although making up face to face would break a tradition. After one of our disputes, Daria always phoned. Our record for not speaking had been one month, but more often she’d call within a few hours, once she figured we’d both had time to cool off. The phone’s remoteness allowed us to have a conversation where only the words counted since neither of us could look for meanings hidden in facial expressions or body language. Instead, we’d rationally dissect the cause of our argument, finally making the effort to see the other’s point of view until tolerance led to teasing as we forgave each other — friends again.
I needed us to be friends again, so I hurried after Daria to get things settled, but she had always walked faster than I and my progress was slowed even further by the 5 p.m. pedestrian rush hour. I thought I’d lose her completely when she crossed one street just before the light changed. Luckily the cars weren’t moving any faster than the people and I managed to cross against the light, suffering no more than the honks and curses of a frustrated commuter. The breach had widened, however. Determined, I picked up my pace, weaving a path with one shoulder then the other, but Daria kept moving easily through the crowd while I seemed to be mired in the tide of foot traffic. Frustration battled with determination as the pursuit began to take on the proportions of a bad dream. I was tempted to abandon it, but I couldn’t. In one last effort, I lowered my head and plowed forward only to plow directly into a man with the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen. He grabbed my narrow ones to steady me, laughing,
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
Any other time, I would have laughed too, but the man’s width blocked my view. In a panic, I apologized and pulled away. By the time I managed to push around him, however, Daria was gone. I stood there getting bumped by passersby, feeling as if I’d run up against a wall. Actually I had, yet the wall was reality. I’d just spent 15 minutes chasing Daria despite knowing oh too well that she was dead.
Two weeks after our argument, Daria had been killed when a driver ran a red light. That had happened more than a year ago — a sufficient mourning period if one listened to the experts, but not sufficient for me.
After the accident, I had gone through denial, convinced each time I answered the phone, I’d hear Daria opening negotiations with her habitual,
“I think we should talk.”
Although I’d eventually stopped expecting to hear her voice, I didn’t progress much further. Anger at her not having made the call before she went and got herself killed tried to surface, but that emotion was false and I knew it.
For reasons I would never be able to know, Daria hadn’t phoned a few hours, or even a few days, later. Initially, I’d simply felt relief at having the perfect excuse to avoid Roger. Not until the evening of the dinner safely passed did I begin to anticipate rather than dread Daria’s call. What I couldn’t have anticipated was that my mother, not Daria, would call first, to tell me my sister was dead. The fact that both Daria and I had been at fault for letting the argument go unresolved proved to be no consolation whatsoever. The wound remained open, and I now found myself chasing a ghost to tell her I was sorry — so, so sorry — in an effort to close it.
Suddenly bereft of what I had actually believed to be a second chance, I kept walking around, grateful for the rain that began to fall and hid my tears while I tried to accept Daria’s death once and for all, as well as the reality that nothing I could do would change what had happened. Yet I merely felt a resurgence of the remorse that had tormented me at first. I kept walking but my energy ran out before the anguish did. The only thing I could do was to take it home with me and try to learn to live with it.
Resignation replaced desperation as I turned to retrace my steps and found myself in front of a billboard advertising a new movie. The title was: All Is Forgiven. It stopped me in my tracks. The surrounding graffiti, however, was what held me mesmerized despite the steadily falling rain. For there on the wall, beneath the billboard like a signature, someone had spray-painted the name Daria.