After months of not being able to read any book beyond its first twenty pages or so, I devoured this book in a matter of three evenings.
I love it so much that I do not wish to return it to the library. Perhaps I could simply keep it for as long as I can, until the overdue fees threaten to exceed the cost of the book itself. Of course, an easier solution would be to simply purchase a copy of this gorgeous, heartbreaking yet heartening book, but whenever have I striven to take the easier path?
It was the title that grabbed my attention at first. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance.
And then that first
You disappeared on a school night. Nobody was more surprised by this than me. If I believed in anything when I was thirteen, I believed in the promise of school nights. I believed in the sacred ritual of homework, then dinner, and then the laying out of our clothes for the next morning–something Mom insisted on from the very beginning.
It is about two sisters, Sally and Kathy Holt. Kathy is three years older than Sally and is a source of endless fascination for the younger sister. Kathy falls in love with a high school senior and local basketball star, Billy Barnes, and Sally too is infatuated with both Billy and his love story with her sister. And then, a tragedy befalls the trio, Kathy's disappearance in an incident in which Billy and Sally are the survivors.
The entire story is about how Sally copes with her sister being gone and how her relationship with Billy changes through the years. The book is written from the point of view of Sally, as though she is talking to Kathy, narrating everything to her older sister, they way she used to when Kathy was still around and the two sisters would chat at night about boys and life and all the things Sally felt clueless about and believed that her older sister had the answers to.
And even though the characters are young adults, or perhaps because they are young adults, there's a rawness and sincerity of emotions that I haven't come across in a book in a long, long time.
There are so many tender lines in the book. So many raw emotions expressed in the simplest of language that I wanted to hold Sally's hand and thank her for all the times she lent words to the very things I've felt often and not known how to make sense of! Most certainly a nod to the genius of the author, Alison Espach!
These are the kinds of books I'm drawn towards. Books that are not about a bunch of people trying to save the world, but about how a single person's world can be upended by a single quirk of fate.
Because in the end it is not the world that needs saving but our very souls. And while that might seem like a rather insignificant task, it is probably the most important thing we could do in our lifetime. Save our own souls.
I'll leave you with a bunch of excerpts here because any description I could give for the book would be sorely inadequate.
You pulled out one of Mom's beauty magazines and we did a personality quiz that determined whether we were Yellow People, Green People, or Red People. I didn't know these were kinds of people, I said. But you acted like it was science. You scored our answers and then announced the results.
"You're a Red Person," you said.
Even before you read the description, I knew it was not good. A Red Person liked symmetrical shapes, place mats, and feedback. A Red Person was rational, sensible, reliable.
"What are you?"
"A Green Person," you said. A Green Person was chill. A Green Person was ready for anything. A Green Person liked dreams, open seas, and crystals. A Green Person wore a string bikini to the pool and said things like, "Nudity is what you make of it, you know. In Europe, people are naked all the time and nobody cares."
And a Red Person felt upset by this. "They are?"
That couldn't be. An entire continent of naked people? But then again, Europeans were often naked in the paintings and sculptures we studied at school and our teachers acted like it was no big deal, pointed to their genitals with their fingers, and said, "What Michaelangelo is doing here is celebrating the beauty of the human form."
"I just mean, Americans are such puritans," you said.
"You're American," I said.
I sat there and felt the fuzz covering my legs, two hairs almost out of every follicle, which was an outrage to me, but apparently my fate, according to Mom. "You're half-Italian, half-German," Mom always said. "This is what life is going to be like for you, Sally." And yet she still wouldn't let me shave. Mom hid the razors on the top shelf, then dragged me to the salon every six weeks, and I didn't understand–why did I have to keep my leg hair but was not allowed to keep the hair on my head?
Now she's talking about Hurricane Kathy, several years later.
Mom is sitting close to the television like we had as children, as if she is in love with the weatherman and maybe she is. Maybe that's what happens to the old women who have nowhere to go. They stare at the sea on TV and they lose their vision and inch closer and closer until they fall in love with the weatherman.
"I can't believe this storm," she says. "The weatherman says it will be a bad one."
"The weatherman is paid to be dramatic," I say.
Right now, he is explaining how we will all die in the storm. He claims that if we do not drown in our beds, then our windows will shatter and slit our throats. If we do not die by glass, then we will die by blunt force, high winds, and waves that will take the house. Like someone cleaning a countertop, in one sweep, and everything is gone. If the house stands, then we have to consider other dangers, things like flooding and electrocution. And we should definitely not go downstairs to get that thing we think we need but don't need at all, because downstairs, in the flooded basement, is where people die.
"It happens all the time during hurricanes," the weatherman says.
The weatherman seems excited about all of the death that is to come; he makes it sound like the different ways of dying are like different trails up the mountainside.
Mom looks at the ocean on TV, which is flooded with surfers on their boards, waiting patiently, like you are something to have faith in. I feel I might scream. All of a sudden, I can't stand it here for one more second, the smallness of our house, the constancy of the waves, the inevitability of disaster. I can't stand how even now, after all these years, I sometimes look down the hall and expect to still see you, coming out of our bedroom, brushing your teeth, toothpaste building like sea foam.
Because you never are. You are dead–I know you are dead. I saw it with my own eyes. I read about it in the autopsy report, over and over again, and now I know too much about your death. Fun facts that are not very fun, things you do not even know about yourself, like that your brain weighed 1,360 grams. Three times what youre heart weighed. And your aorta, it was smooth and glistening. Teeth, hemorrhagic. A laceration on your left eyebrow. Cuts on your lower lip and chin area. Rigor mortis present in the upper and lower extremities. A contusion on the chest, and a broken right ankle, which somehow seemed beside the point.
And yet, I used to sit up at night, saying your name, waiting for you to appear before me, waiting for you to turn into Kathy again. Waiting for you to say something. Just one little thing. A simple "hello" would have sufficed.
But it was only silence that followed. And this silence made me feel so stupid. Your silence, it has always been the most perfect punishment.
And now, my favourite bit. The last few words of the book.
In the morning, when the power comes back on, the weatherman cuts through our house and wakes us all up. From my bed, I can hear him announcing what will happen to you: You will go north. You will become a tropical storm. You will make it all the way to Labrador, and that is where you will come apart. That is where your winds will spread over the ocean until you are no longer Kathy, until you are only air.
But you will return to us, I know. When we are repainting the house or making pancakes for breakfast or digging in the garden or laughing at something funny with our heads back and our mouths wide open–the way you always laughed–we will breathe you in without even knowing it.
~ Excerpts from Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach