Regina’s Writings: The Candles Stand Forever

by Regina Cram

Just one more kiss: that’s all I wanted from my little sister. One more chance to say I loved her. One more birthday with one more candle, and enough breath to blow it out.

But the candles stand forever at 34, with no new memories and no more tomorrows. Just 34 candles, silent and still.

I was 2 years and 4½ months older than my sister, Marietta, and as a kid, I never let her forget it. I was a know-it-all and she was a pest, and we argued until I thought my parents would go crazy. I used to brag that I was much smarter than her; she’d retaliate by telling everyone I was the only girl she knew who wore a concave bra. Even the line down the middle of the bedroom didn’t stop the bickering.

But sometimes, we played imaginary games in the dark, and when we were older, we played guitar and sang funny songs until my dad howled, and we broke out laughing so hard we couldn’t keep singing.

Marietta made a stupid mistake when she was 12: she took a sip of beer. “It’s just one sip,” she told herself. “What harm can one little sip do?” But then it was two sips, then a whole can. By high school, she was shooting hard drugs into scarred veins as her grades plummeted and her world descended into a cyclone of darkness.

That’s how it was for 20 years. Twenty years of shooting up drugs in burned-out buildings where rats lived, sleeping in the back of someone’s car when it was 5 degrees outside, and spending money on drugs instead of buying food for her baby.

Eventually, Marietta contracted HIV. This was the 1980s before treatments were available, so life expectancy was brief. As her health declined, I often visited her in the AIDS residence where she lived. Together, we laughed about childhood stories, like when our other sister hit a boy over the head with a baseball bat because she had a crush on him. Sometimes, we’d sing our favorite songs until other residents yelled at us to stop, and we got laughing too hard to keep singing anyway.

And somehow, we tried to say goodbye. My sister said how stupid she’d been to start taking drugs and how unbelievably strong was the addiction. I told her I wanted to grow old together to share a room in the nursing home with an imaginary line down the middle. She said I should have 10 kids, and I told her to mind her own business, and together, we grieved for a future that would never be.

Marietta’s faith came alive during her illness. She knew, better than I ever will, that apart from God’s mercy, we have nothing. That gave us consolation, and yet her death left a hole in our hearts that can never be filled.

Oh, Lord, it was just one sip. What harm could one little sip do?

Regina Cram is a published author and parishioner of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish.