Since our first session, Dr. Marshall had been trying to convince me that things weren't my fault. That Cass leaving had led me scrambling to fill her place for my parents, which was impossible because I was me, not her, so instead I'd tried to be everything she wasn't, which led me right to Rogerson. She'd told me it was all right to be mad at Cass. That it didn't make me a bad sister any more than her leavingand leaving me to deal with her absencemade her one. So now I thought about Cass, and all the reasons she might have had to do what she did. Maybe they were the same ones that Corinna had as she stood by the highway in Tennessee, coaxing her little Bug to take her that much closer to the West Coast. Dreams, and plans, and a stark desire to change your life, all on your own. I wanted that too, but I didn't want to have to run away to do it. After my session, I went back to my room, where Ginger was just leaving for crafts class. We'd done macaroni mosaics the week before, and were just about to jump full-?throttle into clay sculpting. Ginger had been through this before, and had two lumpy, lopsided ashtrays she kept on her part of the windowsill to show for it. “You coming?” she asked me. “I heard we can make bird feeders this year. Big rehab fun!”
“I'll be there in a minute,” I told her. “Save me a seat, okay?” She nodded, shutting the door behind her, and I went to my desk and picked up Cass's letter, feeling its small weight in my hand. Then I put it back on the desk. Picked it up again. Stupid, I thought. It's Cass, Caitlin. Just open it. The letter was folded neatly, and fell into my hand when I ripped the envelope open. Cass's careful script filled line after line, my name written big at the very top of the page. Caitlin, I don't even know where to start this letter. But if there's one thing I've learned in the last few months, it's that sometimes you just have to close your eyes and jump. So here goes. I haven't been really proud of myself this year, with everything that's happened. But I don't regret leaving, or making the choice I did. Maybe you'll never understand this, but in a way it was a relief to know when I walked out that door that I was letting everyone down. I'd spent so much of my life working hard to make Mom and Dad happy, to be what everyone thought I should be. Coming here was like starting from scratch, and scary as it is sometimes, I like it. I've been thinking a lot the last few days about that time when we were kids and I cut your face with that stupid shovel. Remember? I think you know I always cringe when I look at that scar over your eyebrow, blaming myself for something I can't change. It's funny.
I don't even remember doing it. Do you remember how Stewart and Boo took care of us that time that Aunt Liz died? (You might notyou were only about four or five.) I remember Mom had bought us a bunch of new toys to keep us out of their hair: a Play-?Doh factory, books, puzzles, new Barbies for each of us. I was running around playing with everything at once, ripping open boxes and half-?assembling puzzles before losing interest and moving on to the next thing. I remember that Stewart was exhausted, trying to keep up with me, and finallyI remember this so well, it's like it is burned in my mindhe sighed, so tired, and glanced over at you, so I did too. And there you were, sitting quietly on the rug with your Barbie in your lap, quietly concentrating on reading a book. You were just so still, and focused, and I remember that was the first time I envied you that, too. You used to tell mejokinglythat you hated me for being “perfect.” But it wasn't easy, Caitlin, to always have Mom and Dad's expectations weighing so heavily. You were always able to make your choices based on you and what you wanted, nothing else. And as this summer ended, I realized that Yale was the last place I'd be able to do that. Up here, away from everyone's notions, I can be whatever I want. And that's crucial to me now. I've been crying off and on ever since I heard what happened to you. From that day at Boo and Stewart's to right now, you've always been able to make your own choices: some good, some bad. But they're yours.
And during this time we've been apart, it's you I've thought of when I'm at my weakest, and you who have pulled me through. Please write me back ifor whenyou're ready. And always remember how much your crazy sister loves you. Cass I read the letter three times before I folded it and stuck it in my desk drawer. Then I reached over it, farther back, my fingers exploring until they pulled out the tiny plastic bag where I'd put the pieces of my own picture after I'd ripped it up. I shut the drawer, and dumped the bag out onto the smooth surface of my desk. It was strange, but I didn't remember that day at Stewart's. It's funny how someone's perception of you can be formed without you even knowing it. All along, my sister had been able to make out her vision of my present, and future. I only wished she'd once turned my head and made me see it as well. The ripped pieces of the photograph were small, but I could still catch a bit of my skin here, or a slice of background, there. I spent a few minutes turning them all right side up, like the way you start a jigsaw puzzle, getting everything in order. Then I picked out a corner piece, smoothing its edges, and taped it carefully to the back cardboard cover of one of Ginger's discarded crossword books. I can be whatever I want, and that's crucial to me now. I found another corner piece, this one the opposite diagonal, fastening it the same way. It's you I've thought of when I'm at my weakest, and you who have pulled me through. The third corner was the biggest piece yet, almost an inch long.
Remember how much your crazy sister loves you. I found the last corner, taping it in place, then sat back and looked at my work. Four edges, like the face of a picture frame waiting to be filled in. I scooped the rest of the pieces back into the bag. I'd do the rest of the puzzle bit by bit, day by day. I'd take my time, being patient, and watch the images as they came into being right before my eyes.
Dr. Marshall said I shouldn't expect to forget anything about Rogerson, and in a lot of ways I didn't want to. At night, when I dreamed, it was his face I saw more than any other. Sometimes he was just out on the fringes of some complicated dream, leaning against the BMW, like he'd waited for me outside of cheerleading practice all those afternoons. Other times it was only him, his face right up close to mine, angry and red, ready to lash out at any second. Those were the dreams I woke up from sweating, the covers tangled around my legs, my hair damp and sticking to the back of my neck, panicked at not recognizing the room around me. Ginger was always sleeping soundly in the next bed, breathing through her nose in tiny gasps, and I'd close my eyes and concentrate on that sound until I fell back asleep.
But, strangely, the worst dreams I had about Rogerson were the ones he wasn't in at all. Instead, I was always trying to get someplace to meet him, with so many obstacles thrown in my way. Sometimes they made sense, like pushing through body after body in the hallway, running for the turnaround. Other times it was more surreal: my legs just wouldn't work, there was some long, involved sub- dream involving a baby who wasn't really a baby, or I had to make sandwiches but couldn't find any bread. They would have been funny, these dreams, except for the ongoing, steady sense of panic that I felt, knowing he was waiting for me. It built like a fist closing around my neck and I'd shake myself awake, heart beating, only to doze back off and pick up in the same place, again. Dr. Marshall said this was a way for me to work out my issues with Rogerson, to fight through them even as I did the same thing in her office over endless Jolly Ranchers. And I had told her everything: about the trivia, and the drugs. About how he'd taken me away from that party, how sometimes still I felt this tiny soaring of my heart, so misplaced, when I thought of him. “It's not a switch you can just flip off,” Dr. Marshall had told me once. “If you didn't love him, this never would have happened. But you did. And accepting that loveand everything that followed it is part of letting it go.” I was trying. I knew, also, I had to accept that girl in the picture who I was slowly piecing together each day. The girl with the stoned eyes, and the fading and fresh bruises, who had kept silent, drowning, by choice. It hurt me to even think of her. But she was part of me, as big a part as what I'd been before her and what I was now trying to become. I wasn't trying to be the girl I'd been with Rogerson, or even the girl before that. I was thinking further back, to the one who sat on Stewart's rug, so focused, who was able to just be alone, at peace, and still. There were so many places in my time with Rogerson that I wished I could go back to, hitting the stop button at just one moment to stop everything that came after. I had so many If Onlys: If Only I'd stayed with Mike Evans, or If Only I hadn't been allowed to leave with Rogerson on that first date, or If Only I'd told my parents, or anyone, the first time he hit me. But each place I thought to stop meant missing something that came later, like Corinna, all my photographs, even this time at Evergreen that was helping me find that bit of peace again. I needed it all, in the end, to make my own story find its finish. Sometimes, I only reached as far back as that day so recently when we'd sat at McDonald's. The sky had been so blue, the breeze mild, and I could remember perfectly how I'd looked at him and wondered if, in another life, things might have been all right in the end. Rogerson, I'd called out, to ask him what an eon wasa billion years. He'd lifted his head up, feeling that breeze too, and smiled at me. Rogerson. I sometimes still called it out, late at night, even though I knew he couldn't answer me.