Model Family

Written by Okezie Onwuegbu
Art by Rodolfo Quirós

April 12th, 2009. The day my family died. “You’re getting a little sister!” My dad’s promise before he and my mom took off in a rush, tucking me into bed. I remember being so excited: the empty crib that had stood across from my bed would not be empty for much longer. 

It was late at night, so I wasn’t allowed to follow my parents to the hospital. I had school the next day, and a trip to the hospital would be way past my bedtime. But Daaaad, I want to see my sister! Despite my pleading, my grandmother and I would have to wait until the next day to meet my first sibling. Morning couldn’t come quickly enough. I don’t think dear old Gran really cared–she had been through a million of these new child labor parties across all her children. She was going to get a good night’s rest unlike a restless young me. I can sing her lullabies when she cries at night! I can show her all the things I like!

The next morning we would meet the expected baby. Her name was Jordan–my parents had decided on this before they even knew their child’s gender. I was at school learning about God knows what when Dad and Jordan got home. The eruption of joy when I met her sleeping in my room that afternoon. Daaaaad, look how small she is! My father was exhausted, but he met my childish enthusiasm with a weak smile.  I couldn’t make out why he and Gran weren’t as excited about this as I was, but I’d find out soon. 

My stupid younger self failed to realize the problems at home the day Jordan arrived. My father and Gran didn’t exactly spell it out at first, but they eventually had no choice, but to tell me that Mom was dead. I didn’t understand it at the time but this was a maternal death, something about complications with the delivery. What do you mean she’s not here? I really wish my Dad had just told me she had gone off to the farm, just like Grandad had a few years prior. But no. I would never see my mother again. 

From then on it was just my dad, Jordan, and I. Gran moved back to her hometown where she grew up. It would’ve been nice to have her around, but she wanted to be closer to more members of her family. Jordan would grow up with or without her, and I think it hurt my dad how much she reminded him of Gran. She looked more like Gran than even Mom did. Dad would mention how, even as a baby, she was just as fussy as the old bat. Truly her grandmother’s granddaughter, I think was the quip. Jordan, being a baby, didn’t understand the joke, and it wasn’t funny to me. Maybe I didn’t think of it quite so deeply at the time, but there is no humor in him dancing around mentioning his dead wife. That’s what he was doing. It was clear. 

Jordan was horrible. The initial wonder and excitement of having a sibling evaporated with every minute I spent with her. Daaaaaad, why is she crying? I didn’t understand her. She cried a lot, seemingly without reason, and I despised her for this; Dad had always told me crying wasn’t manly, so I guess Jordan got a pass as a young girl. Dad said it was normal for babies and we would just have to deal with it. I wondered if Mom would’ve known why, but she probably wouldn’t have been much help with her. 

I thought I would be able to focus on the positives of my little sister, but these were few and far between back then. Despite my best efforts to teach her about shows and games I loved, she never seemed to respond to any of it. This frustrated me more than anything–what was I supposed to do with her? 

A year passed and Jordan’s birthday came up. April 12th. A day my Dad felt very proud of, to celebrate the life of his daughter. But all I’ve ever associated it with is what else happened that day. The heavy breathing as Mom rushed to the car, the “See you in the morning!”. The last time I ever saw her. The last time I was ever a part of a family. Daaad… I wish I had been able to say something. To bring up these concerns to him. To let him know that his apparent ability to move on made it all the harder for me to do the same. It wasn’t fair. Mom was gone and here he was, the love of her life, celebrating the thing that killed her. 

I could take solace in the fact that not everyone had lost their minds. Aunts, Uncles, and even Gran skipped the birthday celebrations. Every year, it would just be Jordan, Dad and maybe a few friends of his. My Dad was always visibly upset whenever excuses for their absence were made, but I was just glad someone was taking the time to properly grieve on such a hallowed occasion. 

By her 5th birthday, it would be just the two of us celebrating. That was the year Dad had a heart attack at his office. I hadn’t wanted to tell Jordan about it; I’d hoped that I’d be able to find some other way to explain why her own father was skipping the party. He had always said it was up to me to protect her from “the cruel cold world,” and even if I didn’t always want to, I would do it for him. We would have the party alone, but she seemed to have a good time. She blew out the candles, she loudly sang herself happy birthday, she didn’t have a care in the world. While blowing the 5 candles from her chocolate sheet cake, she made a wish. She wished for Dad to come home very soon. 

To this day, I feel my blood boil thinking back to that wish. The audacity of it all. My mother’s murderer, sitting there with a cake, and wishing for my Dad to get back from the hospital. Mom was dead. Dad was sick. She was alright. Life just isn’t fair sometimes. 

The next day, Dad would get back. He’d assure us both that nothing was wrong and that he was going to be fine. Jordan was ecstatic about this, but I was not so thrilled. It was clear he didn’t see the injustice of the situation, so I tried to enlighten him. How could you talk about your sister and mother that way? The conversation didn’t go too well and I was grounded.

It wasn’t normal, what I did that night. Sneaking into my sister’s now separate room at an hour way past my bedtime. But I just had to. I had to look at her very closely. I didn’t get it. Why doesn’t Dad understand? Why doesn’t he share my hatred for this girl? Why did he have to come back so quickly? I tried to scrub the latter from my mind, but I couldn’t. When he had his incident I feared I might lose him. But if he passed away, at least I would still know who he was. I had no idea who the man in my father’s bed was. Looking at Jordan sleeping so peacefully, it made me think. What if she doesn’t wake up? What does that fix?Could I… do that? I thought about it. I thought about smothering her with her pillow. I wanted her to stop breathing. But that wasn’t the problem. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was my Dad. But it was not her. I went down to the kitchen and used the step ladder to get to the drawer Dad thought I couldn’t reach. The knife drawer. Maybe there was still a solution. Maybe we could be a family again. Maybe.