“Well, this is awkward,” I say aloud to no one, as I fuss over the black sheath dress I am determined to wear today. The baby bump is too obvious, but I don’t have another dark dress that’s appropriate for the funeral. Besides, Rosie loves this dress. I think she even borrowed it once or twice, without my permission of course. I stare at my reflection in the standing oval mirror in my dressing room. I attempt several poses at different angles, but I still look pregnant, and today is not the day to make a public announcement. Besides, Ted and I have decided to wait until after the first trimester before sharing our news. I have just two weeks to go, but the baby is growing so fast, we may be outed sooner. I grab an oversized ivory silk scarf and lay it across my shoulders so that it falls perfectly around my bump, concealing it nicely. “Well, there we are,” I admire my brilliance at buying more time.
I call mother for the fifth time today. I wish we lived closer so I could be more helpful to her and daddy, but Ted and I have made the city our home while he’s contracted with the New York Philharmonic. Besides, we both enjoy the culture and diversity of the upper west side, and feel it is more conducive to raising well-rounded children. After three rings, mother finally answers with a strain in her voice that I’ve grown accustomed to since Rosie’s passing. “Hello, darling,” she says. “Hello, mother. How are you doing?” I ask, fully knowing the response before she speaks. “I’m okay, love.” My heart breaks for mother, and I want so badly to lift her mood by telling her that she will be a grandma by April, but instead, I say, “We’re leaving the city shortly. We’ll come to the house first, then go together to Woodburn’s. How’s daddy?” She replies, “Okay, we’ll see you in about an hour then. We’re alright, love. Just drive safe.” We say our goodbyes, disconnect the line, and I stand in silence concerned for her, for my brothers, for myself, and especially, for daddy.
I apply the finishing touches of makeup to give me a bit of color, when my eye catches a framed family photo taken over Christmas holiday when we were kids. The photo hangs amongst several by my vanity. I draw closer to the photo, reliving that day in my mind. Ollie and I were laughing our heads off playing in a snow pile in the backyard, while Richard was trying to get his sled down a small hill a few feet from us. And there was Rosie, wearing blond pigtails, watching us. She wasn’t engaged in the fun. Maybe she was too small. Too timid. Perhaps, she simply enjoyed watching us have a good time. As I stare more closely at the photo, I am reminded that Rosie spent a lot of time on the sidelines of life. Withdrawn. Disconnected. My face is suddenly wet. Tears are streaming… unstoppable tears.
In the car ride to Westchester, I enjoy the foliage that lines the Henry Hudson Parkway. Ted and I don’t say much as we have his classical playlist filling up the 4-Runner. I sit stoically, admiring the magnificent colors of Fall in deepest thoughts. For the past week, I’ve been haunted by the last image I’d had of Rosie, from almost a month ago. She knew that Ted and I were “trying” for a baby for several months. When I learned I was finally carrying, I was so excited that I had to share the news with someone other than Ted, or I was going to explode. I knew I could confide in my baby sister. I was going to make her an auntie, and I wanted to give her something hopeful to look forward to.
Rosie was the youngest child, the cliched rebellious teenager, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with so-called friends. I remember her midnight confession about losing her virginity at fourteen. I was truly disappointed in her, and my reaction was not one that was congratulatory, but I feigned enthusiasm, for her sake. It was already done, and she barely knew the kid. I was twenty-one at the time, and had just returned from NYU. Rosie thought my college life was so cosmopolitan and adventurous, and I think she resented me for not visiting home more. Indeed, I left her behind when I moved to the city for school, embracing my newfound adulthood and independence. I could not properly explain, to a ‘then’ eleven-year-old, this desire, this need I had to spread my wings, without sounding like an obnoxious and self-centered college snob. I strongly believe that that was the turning point, when she started seeking out a fast crowd and isolating herself from the family. The guilt I now feel, about abandoning her during those awkward pre-teen years, is something I must live with forever.
The day I last saw Rosie, I was bubbling with early pregnancy hormones and an elation I’d hadn’t known before. She was living in Westchester, about a twenty-minute drive from the family home, in a downtown section not considered safe. Rosie never invited me, or other family, for visits. We’d all known she was very private, and kept secrets, but we also assumed she was embarrassed by her living situation. We only saw Rosie at the family home during holidays, special occasions and sometimes for Sunday dinners. It was early September when I’d asked Rosie to meet me at Café Chloe on Brand Street, just a few blocks from where we grew up on Benchley Place. “Is everything alright?” Rosie had asked me in a groggy, concerned voice, when I’d asked her to meet me for a coffee. “Yes, of course. Everything is great!” I’d assured her. “I just want to talk. I have some news to share with you and I want to tell you in person. Can you meet me at 3:30?” There was a long pause. A very long pause before she finally said dully, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
Rosie shuffled into the café and I barely recognized her. Her skin looked rough, and her small expression lines appeared deeper. I could tell that she’d attempted to apply concealer to the dark circles under her eyes, but it didn’t seem to help. Her hair was thin, dry, and the black coloring was completely wrong on her. She was a lot thinner than the last time I’d seen her, which was late Spring when we’d all celebrated Richard’s 30th birthday. At the café, Rosie and I greeted each other with a hug, and I could feel her bony structure through the oversized sweater that hung off her frame. I pulled back and stared at her. “Rosie, you’ve lost weight. You okay?” I asked, in my overly concerned, big sister tone. Rosie quickly dismissed my question and flagged down the server to request a double espresso. “So, what’s going on? You’ve got big news, huh?” she deflected. “Um, yeah, but I… I’m just concerned about you. How’s work?” I pressed her for more information. Rosie, uncomfortable then, shifted in her chair as she craned her neck, looking out for her espresso, but nowhere to be found. “It’s good. It’s all fine. Tell me your news. Should I be excited? Are you having twins or something?” she cavalierly blurted out, baiting me to switch the focus off her. She fidgets while still wondering about the server. The moment I couldn’t wait to finally share had completely flatlined, and I felt uncharacteristically solemn. The presentation I’d rehearsed on the drive up has been mentally shelved. “Ted has renewed his contract with the Philharmonic and we plan to have a celebration next month at the house, with everyone there.” The server places the espresso on the table then, but Rosie didn’t even notice. She was fixed on me… curiously. She knew I was lying.
The traffic was backed up on I-95 as I made my way back to the city that day. I replayed the conversation with Rosie in my head over and over. Have I lost my sister forever? Is this our new normal? What will become of her? Of us?? I felt I’d let Rosie down in some way, that I had not been a good sister to her over the years, and was now living with the consequences. We don’t go deep anymore, we don’t share like we used to. She keeps everything in her life so close to the vest, all her secrets and plans. She’s completely unreadable. I can’t even follow her on Facebook anymore because she never posts anything. Her life is a mystery and I have no place in it. All the surface conversation at the café felt forced and after about an hour, I pretended that Ted had texted me for something urgent, which required me to get back to the city. Rosie seemed relieved for the interruption. My disillusionment was pushed aside as I tried to think of how to get us onto a different course. I would need to think more strategically. Traffic was now starting to pick up, and I was on the Bruckner Expressway when I decided to call mother.
“Darling, don’t worry. Rosie gets moody sometimes. She’s not as strong as you and your brothers,” mother rationalizes. Her attempt to soothe me doesn’t wash away my feelings of guilt and worry. “I feel that we’re losing her, though,” I say, my voice cracking. I think my hormones are making me feel more emotional and I’m about ready to cry. Mother, considerably attuned, tells me that she will check on Rosie later and make a plan to go shopping with her next weekend, so they can have some ‘girl’ time. I’m hopeful that mother will be able to get Rosie to open up, to allow her family to be more of a presence in her life, including me. Especially me.
The phone call I received on the morning of October 8, 2017, changed my life forever. The fragments of the call are still not properly pieced together, but the words “Rosie is gone” spoken from my daddy’s deep, gutted voice still plays in my ear. Everything else that was said during that call flew past me. I stayed stuck on “Rosie is gone” and within seconds, I’d dropped the phone and fell to the ground after my legs completely betrayed me. I was in the bedroom, so I’d fallen, uninjured, onto the plush carpeting. Ted was in the master bathroom without any knowledge of the call, or any idea that I’d fainted. He was shaving, preparing for a show later in the afternoon. It was a normal day… just a regular, ordinary day… until it wasn’t. I came ‘to’ on my own, still hearing Ted in the bathroom, the sound of running water, and his phone plugged into the speaker he uses, listening to Mozart’s Serenade No. 101. Momentary confusion dissipated when I saw my phone laying near me. “Rosie is gone.” Daddy’s voice was reverberating in my head, and as I tried reaching for my phone, my eyes started to well up. Just at that moment, Ted’s phone rings, silencing Mozart. I hear him answer and within seconds, he’s saying, “No, no… NO! Oh God, no.”
“Grace, I’m so sorry about Rosie,” says our neighbor, Liz Lockhart. Mother, looking poised and even, gives her a hug and soft smile, clearly appreciating the gesture. I stand beside mother, holding her hand, while my brothers stand on the opposite side of her, forming a bond of family, of unity. Daddy has not been holding up well and I fear that he’s back in the men’s room, isolating himself so he can cry. Rosie, his baby, is laying in a casket, dead. Ironically, she looks beautiful today, the healthiest I’d seen her in months. But, she is lifeless, gone. It’s so utterly tragic. I turn to find Ted and ask him to check on daddy again.
Richard and Ollie are so different from each other. Richard is shut down in his grief, while Ollie is very present, engaged. As for myself, I don’t know yet. I think I’m just going through the motions. It’s all surreal. There are still unanswered questions about Rosie’s passing. What we know is that she died in her apartment. The reports show that she may have fallen and hit her head on the corner of the kitchen bar countertop. The impact alone would not have killed her, but her neck twisted when she hit the ground. Other factors included evidence of alcohol and marijuana in her system at time of death. I imagine she was stoned and lost her balance when she fell and hit her head, rendering her unconscious. The neck twist would have killed her instantly and she would not have felt any pain. I think of Grandma Lena greeting Rosie as she passed, and that gives me great comfort.
Mourners approach us to give their condolences and we all try our best to spend proper time with each, receiving their blessings, and listening to their memories of Rosie. I spot Ted as he returns from the men’s room and he looks ‘off.’ I break away momentarily to have a chat with him, to ask about daddy. “Babe, how is he? Is daddy alright? Is he coming out now?” I implore my husband, who appears to be shaken. “Ted, are you ok? What’s wrong? What’s wrong with daddy?!” I ask him urgently. Ted takes my hand and leads me outside of Woodburn’s to the parking lot, for privacy. He tells me that daddy is not doing well, that he implied something about Rosie’s death being NO accident. Ted continues, “He kept saying, over and over, that ‘she’ did this to his baby girl. ‘She’ killed Rosie.” I’m blindsided by this revelation. “She!?” I urge him to disclose more. “Who… who is ‘she’!?” I press him hard to tell me. Ted, looking defeated, says “I don’t know. He wouldn’t say. I couldn’t get him to say. I tried, Mags, I did. I tried. He’s so broken. He was crying the entire time.” I tell Ted that it’s okay as I see him getting upset, getting nervous. I suggest we get back inside the funeral home, as we fix ourselves. I tell him that daddy is having a breakdown, he hasn’t been sleeping, he’s lost about 15 pounds. He might be delusional. We just have to get through the next couple days. We have to be strong for him, for everyone. Back inside, Ted takes his seat in the first row, next to his parents, who flew up from Fort Lauderdale. I go back to mother, where she is standing with Richard and Ollie, receiving mourners by the casket… the casket that holds Rosie… the only one who has all the answers.
“I’m sorry, Maggie.” Daddy has taken my right hand into his firm, steady hand. “It’s okay, daddy. It’s a difficult day. We’ll be fine. Let’s just stay together,” I whisper back. Let’s just stay together. These words mean so much to me right now as I contemplate the future of our fractured family. Does daddy know something about the night of Rosie’s passing? Is he just rambling on about conspiracy theories because he’s in shock, or denial? Why did he say ‘she’ instead of ‘he?’ Who is he protecting? I look over at my brothers, wondering if they know anything. I look at mother, and she turns to look back at me with swollen eyes and deepening frown lines. It’s then that she smiles, and I suddenly feel like someone has punched me in the stomach.