Dawn is my little sister. When I was 11 and she was just a tiny baby, I hurt her really badly. I didn’t know what I did was going to cause so much trouble. I just wanted to do something nice. Something that would make us happy.
My parents made me go away for a long time. I didn’t understand why everyone was so angry. I missed my sister terribly. Even worse, I felt betrayed by the people I’d expected to understand me.
After six years of hospitalization, I got to see her again. My parents had passed away in a car accident while I was gone and I went to live with my aunt and uncle. Both were psychologists. Both understood the problem I apparently had. Still, they believed I’d learned to cope with it over the course of my rehabilitation. And they were right. I would never hurt anyone again. The mere thought of it was abhorrent.
Dawn had no memory of me. Under the watchful eyes of my aunt and uncle, I was reintroduced to her life and I got to discover the wonderful person she’d become. She was even more perfect than I’d remembered. As I stared at her, I wondered if I would have the same inclination to hurt her that’d gotten me in so much trouble six years ago.
I studied her body: her small feet; her narrow shoulders; the way her thin arms terminated at her hands. God, her hands. But I didn’t feel anything other than happiness. No, I wouldn’t hurt Dawn. Not again. My aunt and uncle beamed when I kissed those little hands.
The first morning I was back, I woke up and went downstairs. My aunt was cleaning mud off the floor. Muddy footprints had covered the hallway and kitchen and had gone halfway up the stairs. Dawn, who’d gotten up before me, was getting a stern talking-to. Despite her protestations and claims of innocence, my aunt was having none of it. Dawn wasn’t to go outside before the rest of the house had gotten up. It was dangerous and, well, we could see it was messy. So no more. Dawn just looked sad. I didn’t know what to say. I felt a little flicker of hope.
Over the next two weeks, those muddy footprints showed up three more times. The first two times Dawn was yelled at. The third time was met with a spanking. I cried out to my uncle and begged him not to hurt her. I said it wasn’t her fault. In response, my uncle just carried Dawn to one of the footprints, put her foot next to it, and showed me. It was the exact same thing. My flicker of hope became a bonfire.
That night, I heard giggling outside the door to my bedroom. High-pitched, girlish giggles. My heart pounded in my chest. I closed my eyes and listened while I thought about tiny muddy footprints and my lips pressing against Dawn’s hands. Those silly, kissable little hands.
In the morning, Dawn was getting spanked again. There was more mud on the floor. This time there were handprints, too. While my uncle disciplined her, I began screaming at him “those aren’t Dawn’s handprints! Look at them! They’re not! They’re not!” In a haze of desperation and sadness about the unfair treatment of my sister, I burst out of the house and ran.
I ran for what felt like hours; arms pumping, lungs burning, feet slapping the wet forest soil. Finally, I got to where I wanted to be: about a mile away from our old house – the house I’d been taken from six years ago. Beneath the cluster of oak trees that’d grown even taller since the last time I’d been shaded by them, were ten, gaping holes in the dirt. The bonfire of hope I’d been stoking erupted into pyroclastic explosion of joy.
It had worked.
The forest blurred around me as I ran back to my aunt and uncle’s house. As I grew near, I thought I heard yelling. With each stride closing the distance, the yelling gave way to quiet. My last few steps were in silence.
I opened the backdoor and tried to take it all in. The beaten, mangled bodies of my aunt and uncle were in the corner of the kitchen. The floor was covered in mud and blood and decorated with countless footprints. Dawn was in the middle of the room, beaming. And the others were there, too.
When Dawn was born, I loved her so much it hurt. I wanted to be around her all the time. I would hover as my mom would bathe her and help as my dad would change her diapers. I refused to sleep in my own room. Even if she had to go for a checkup, I’d beg my parents to let me go with them. I couldn’t bear to have her out of my sight.
After a while, my parents had to have a talk with me. They felt my connection to my sister was unhealthy. They were happy that I cared for her so much, but they worried I’d grown codependent. I wasn’t allowed to be with her 24/7.
I was devastated.
One afternoon, when Mom was in the shower and Dad was at work, I was watching Dawn in her crib. She smiled and gurgled and waved her tiny hands at me. I kissed them. I kissed each little finger. Right then, I knew I could solve the problem of not seeing her as often as I wanted.
Dawn screamed as I bit off each of her perfect fingers. It didn’t take long. I felt terrible as I did it, but I knew it would be worthwhile in the end. I ran as fast as I could into the forest and buried them. They were never found.
Six years later, as I stood in the kitchen of my deceased aunt and uncle, I studied Dawn’s young face. She seemed confused by what was going on, but she was happy to see me. A safe, familiar face. She reached out to hug me, her fingerless hands clutching my back. Everyone else smiled. Ten Dawns, seeded from her little fingers so many years ago, joined in the embrace. My plan had worked. It took six years of my life, but it was worth it in the end. I would never have to be away from my sister again.