June 22nd, 2016
The poor guy fell asleep again. After all of that palaver, that stunning, authentic performance, he conked out for the second time. He was very intoxicated, in his defence. All it took was me to console him softly as I asked myself, what have you done? What have you caused? And as I looked out at the city lights and the full moon spilling through, and I wonder why I went to such lengths to connect with a stranger. It’s because Rose never should have died, my thoughts always tell me. You need to keep her alive.
I like to pretend that she is still dead. That she did die in that awful shooting, never to return, and that she’s nothing but bones and dissolved life, melded in with dirt and mud and whatever else lurks and flourishes underneath a graveyard. I like to pretend she never made it. I replay this beautiful funeral in my head, over and over and over until it’s like a movie on repeat, that I return to whenever I’m bored. I’ll pause it at the part when her older brother tries to hold in tears whilst mumbling her eulogy, with a voice so husky, so wobbly, so hollow. He’ll be talking about that tennis tournament she won in ’98 a year back, and he’ll throw in some light joke about how she threw a minor tantrum before the photo-shoot with her trophy, because the humidity on the court made her hair damp and spring out dishevelled curls. Sometimes I’ll return to the part where they lower her in her shiny mahogany casket with golden accents, and the sun coincidentally falls back into clouds, ripping light out of the world like snapping curtains shut. I like to pretend that she is dead, because she should be.
Then I laugh, because in the back of my mind, I know I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to daydream; I don’t have to imagine my brother actually showing emotions, or my sister with eyes so puffy and red, shocking against the icy blue of her irises, swelling with tears. I don’t need to ‘what-if’ my demise, or the denial and heartbreak of my parents when they realised it was all over. I don’t have to imagine her death, because she did die. she did die in that god-awful shooting in ’99, and she am nothing but bones and dissolved life. She just also happens to be alive.
She was born again; resurrected, they might say. She’s like Jesus Effin’ Christ; a miracle. She’s lived before and she lives again.
Well, kind of.
Parents can get a little desperate, can’t they? They can pop out as many kids as they wish but they’ll still act like each child is a treasure. They’ll never have them again; they’ll never feel that same kind of love again. And I’m pretty sure every parent has that one favourite child that they don’t ever mention out loud, and that’s the one that they’ll hold on to the most. Sometimes it’s the middle child; the precious middle child, who has the gift of responsibility for those younger than them and the fragility of being a younger sibling all the same. Sometimes it’s the eldest child – the first, the best. The influential figure, the precedent for any other of their kids to follow. And sometimes, it’s the last born. The baby of the family, the attention-seeking, attention-soaked kid who needs to be protected at all costs. The parents will think to themselves, and feel so guilty for it, that they would save that one child if they had to pick. They would leap into a burning house to pluck them out safely – they would hand over that ransom money if it meant they could hold that kid once more, even if the other kids are still tied up in that creep’s basement, and they won’t see the goddamn light of day ever again. Secretly, parents have a favourite child and they’re normally the poster-kid who wins all the awards, makes all the friends, gets all those A’s, makes the family look good at functions and events. Most of the time they end up being athletic or super-artsy, or like, budding heart surgeons or lawyers. Parents will have a few kids, and they’ll smile and point at that one child and be like, ‘That’s the one. That’s our job done perfectly.’ And they’ll kiss their fingers like Italian chefs and pretend they love all of their kids all the same.
I think that’s what happened with Rose. they couldn’t bear to let her go. So here she is, resurrected. Here she is, stalking old friends who are, like, millennia old now. She’s here in the form of me, in the year of 2016, making her way back to the cheap hotel a couple of miles away from Bret Walker’s apartment.
I don’t want to brag. I wasn’t a perfect child, but obviously I was worth holding on to. Sometimes I wonder if they would have gone through all that effort to keep Jacque or Jamie alive, and I tend to frown in doubt. I mean, they’re wonderful people, don’t get me wrong - but they were no Jennifer-Rose. They were not like me. I even got a hyphen name, for Christ’s sake. I was too perfect for just one name. I was a masterpiece. They nodded in relief when they realised their lastborn was their job-done-perfectly child.
And they couldn’t bear to see me die so young.
I had to keep going, for them. Jacque and Jamie Middleton were not enough. They needed their Three, their Third. Poster-child Jennifer-Rose needed to stick around.
Of course, you can’t honestly expect her to be the same the second time round, can you?
As I said before, parents can be pretty desperate. And my parents are the embodiment of desperation; they reek with overbearing love and hope, and their grasp on the things they cherish is strong enough to reel in a ship back to the dock. Despite my accomplishments and my awards, and all the friends that looked up to me, and all the boys that thought they loved me, they needed more of that reassurance that I was perfection, and that perfection cannot die. But oh, dear, we all die. Perfection and imperfection; heroes and villains; angels and monsters. Jennifer-Rose was never going to be immortal.
Then I laugh again, because maybe she was meant to be. Maybe she’ll re-spawn when she appears to be losing the game of life, and she’ll pop back up like a whack-a-mole into every new generation.
The Uber driver is silent the whole journey, probably tired and too lazy to ask questions like what a teenager needs a ride for in the early hours of the morning. I check my phone to find three missed calls from my mother. I don’t get her concern; I called her to let her know that I’ll be gone for a few days. I told her not to call the cops to play hide and seek looking for me, plastering my face on every lamp post and billboard. I told her I haven’t been recruited by an evangelist cult or a satanic ring, neither have I joined the circus or fled to Vegas to marry a rock star. I’m just a couple of hundred miles away, in the city of Presley, meeting up with an old friend. A friend I never knew, but the First me did.
When I get back to my hotel room, I throw off the beige cardigan I found amongst many other treasures in the attic at home. Reading through diaries of my First life, I clocked that it was something Bret would recognise. In Rose’s penultimate diary entry, she mentioned something about wearing it, and I know that was the last time she saw him; the last time I saw him in my First Life.
To everybody else, Jennifer-Rose isn’t the old Me. She is my ‘sister’ – the one who died in that God-awful shooting in ’99, and my parents grieved by popping out another one before the menopause could grab my mom by the ankles and drag her into infertility. That’s how everyone sees it. That’s how my parents wanted it to look. But there was always something sinister about the situation; the timing, the desperation for another child, and above all, the physical similarities. Friends and family can observe the tactically chosen framed photos of Rose in the hallway of our house, where she poses with her toothy grin, cheek dimples and soft grey eyes. My parents would tell me when I was younger, and back when I didn’t understand that she wasn’t in fact my older sister, she was me. If we weren’t born in different eras of time, there is no doubt we would be identical twins. It only makes sense; I am the resurrection of Jennifer-Rose Middleton.
My parents tried raising me well, bless them. They had to keep it all secret, because there was no way the news would go down well. You know Rose, your late sister? Well, Anne – that’s actually you. God answered our prayers, and He gave us you again. That would sound like one of the most absurd things one had ever heard. They just couldn’t tell me that, and I wholly understand. But you can’t keep secrets forever. They made a big move bringing me back into this world. It was only fair that I found out, and that I lived out my destiny. Three months ago, it felt like a tonne of bricks raining all over me when I discovered everything in the attic. It was something that had to happen – I had to know.
I always knew that all of Rose’s things were in the attic. I knew that my parents put out some framed photos around the house to keep her memory alive, but they kept everything else in the attic. They couldn’t let go of her clothes or sell them off, and I suppose they just kept them with the notion that I would be willing to embarrass myself in the future and wear such aged attire. I never felt like exploring, myself; I never had the instinct to unlock the attic and take a peak of what was there. At first, I thought it was just because I didn’t mind, and I knew that all that would be there would be possessions of Rose, things that hold no relevance to me. But I knew deep down that another part of me was just scared; I began to think of that place as Rose’s shrine, or tomb. It’s crucial to not disturb the dead, and as I was lied to all my life and told she was my late sister, I didn’t want to disrupt her peace by rummaging through her things. It became the one part of the house that was left untouched, except maybe by my father very occasionally, possibly to upkeep it and prevent any sort of pest invasion. I just accepted that the attic was not my place, it was Rose’s. But one day, my drunk ass decided that curiosity didn’t kill the cat at all, and the discovery I made lead me to believe that no, curiosity just reveals the cat’s fate.
It was the early hours of the morning on March 12th, and I had just celebrated a tennis victory at my high school the night before – that’s one thing I continued on from my First Life, or now I like to think that my parents coerced me into. Everyone I had invited over to my empty house was beyond trashed around three am. Around thirty kids were either high as hell, lounging out in the kitchen or the backyard, or moderately intoxicated, making noise or dancing awkwardly to new-wave trap and R&B in the second lounge. Once my parents told me they were dragging their old asses to Napa for a week’s vacation, it was an immediate impulse to call as many friends and friends of friends that I knew, to bring them over and drink until I couldn’t see. I pride myself for being one of the youngest kids in sophomore year that could still bring seniors and even freshman college students to my house for crazy get-togethers. I know Rose used to be the same, and I guess the natural social butterfly within her lived on too.
I felt weird all night, and I couldn’t describe how or why. I can admit that I had had a bit too much to drink and it was taking its toll on my state of mind, but I knew one thing for sure; the attic was calling to me.
The moment you discover something that tilts your life over, it’s hard to try adjusting to it. Nothing is ever the same again. And no matter how much I love my parents, I don’t think after what I found up there, I can ever look them in the eyes without feeling an uncomfortable pain in my chest every time. All I know is that I have to live it out now; I have to live past eighteen, flourish as the poster-child my parents wanted me to be. I’ll have to complete my degree and get married, and be the person I was always meant to be.
But before I can do that, I have a few kinks to iron out; a few unfinished stories to complete.
I check how much cash I have left in my bag. I get a guilty twinge in my chest, knowing I swiped my parents’ credit card before I left, taking out probably more than I really need for my expedition. I needed gas for the journey, before my car got towed half way through and is sitting lonely in another town’s impound - I know I’ll have to pay a fortune to get it out again (sorry, mother). I needed money for the hotel and living costs for as long as I’m not home. I’m gonna need travelling money for the journey home, or at least to get to the town where my car was towed. Though I do feel bad for stealing money off of my old parents, I don’t feel bad enough. That’s the least they deserve, for keeping secrets.
Sitting on my hotel room, I sift through my bag and wean out Rose’s diary. I’ve probably read through it a million times now. It spans around two years, but it’s the last year where things get really interesting. This diary is the tool that helps me fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s one of the gems I found in the attic, along with the other props. Once I sat through it chronologically around three times, I now just flip to whichever entry my fingers land on. This time, as I slide my thumb across an aged yellow page towards the end of the book, I land on the entry dated 4th of July – just over a week before she died. She’s angry with Bret Walker, angry with what he’s done. She’s angry with his infidelity and hates being any part of it. She’s protective of her best friend, and above all, she just wishes for him to do the right thing.
Just imagine, twelve days later, she dies.
He goes on to marry Sofia a few years later, which obviously meant he didn’t do it. Rose would only be turning in her grave at the thought of it.
I know if I’m to play this out properly, I just have to play at his conscience. But I must be as soft as a flower, as soft as an angel. To the New Rose, nothing should matter anymore. It’s all about resolve, not retribution. If he wants a second chance at doing right, whether it’s an apology or the truth, he has it now.
Just like I have my second chance at life. I lived before and I live again.
But like I said…