This time, though, I was old enough to understand the root of her despair, to know that she would slip into a pale shadow of herself for months. Besides me, only one pregnancy had been successful — my little brother, whose wide liquid eyes reflected my own anxiety every time the shroud fell over our home.
I could not help but imagine my ghost siblings. A rebellious, open-minded sister to share secrets in the middle of the night. A second, more mischievous little brother to bear the burden of lifting the funereal mood.
During my mother’s final pregnancy, our family was hopeful enough to name the baby: Patricia, Trish for short. After the miscarriage, I lay in bed and imagined alternate futures. In them, my little sister grew up to be an artist. Together, we published illustrated books, building impenetrable worlds where no one could hurt us, where we could not hear our mother sobbing in the next room.
I always carried the awareness of the dead babies my mother mourned. I felt the responsibility of making up for their loss, of being five daughters in one body. The smart one, the loving one, the goofy one, the girly-girl, the black sheep.
When my mother bought me clothing and fixed my hair, I smiled and let her, holding my arms over my head like a compliant doll. Even as a teenager, when I was no longer attached to sweet pastel frills and pearl necklaces, I let her swaddle me in fantasy.
When I took a creative-writing class during my first year at college, a fellow student critiqued my writing by saying, “Your characters are chameleons. They lack a strong point of view. They don’t know themselves. They are so unbelievable.”