You're born into this world a comet: birthed by the cosmos, baptized in destruction, a star fallen across the black canvas of the sky and an infant home tucked neatly into the hills of Colorado. It is the inevitable give and take of things, your own personal spin on the karmic balance that defines the universe and its tragedy of a play. Your mother marries the one she loves, and for it, loses the support of the parents who came before her. Your sister is welcomed into life, as bloody and fierce as the day she will go down in fire, and for it, your father gives up hope of his dream. And you, oh comet, offspring of stardust and starlight –
You are born, and for it, your mother wilts.
A crime with a victim but no culprit, and one, of course, you can't be blamed for. In the eyes of fate, however, your life was equal to that of the woman who birthed you. Your price for life was her own. Your existence was built on the foundation of death – indebted to it, perhaps, penance you would pay for at the time of your own departure from this world.
Lorelei never begrudges you for this, placing the weight of her blame, instead, on a ghost. ("Why did you leave, Mom, why did you go?")
Your infancy passes like a dream, but still, your father looks at you and weeps. ("A murderer gone unpunished.")
A childhood, framed in Polaroids, dreamed of in flashes:
The green of the grass in your hands and the rush of the wind through your hair, mountain air breathing into you life like a clay mound made man. Your sister's hand in your own, her words in your ear: Frieda, precious, darling Frieda.
The candy store on the street corner – the creases in corners of library books worn with age – ghost stories over campfires and the truth, out there, waiting to be found.
Blanket forts at midnight.
(Hiding – hiding from men who speak to your father in explosions, who stare you down with switch blades for eyes. You're safe in your fort, Lorelei promises, stay there 'til morning and no one will ever come.)
Tickets to the baseball game, you've always wanted to go –
( – but where is the money from? Just last week, you went to bed hungry, your father's wallet coughing up dust.)
Snap a picture, smile for the cameras. A decade from now, they'll see you with cheer in your teeth and constellations in your eyes. (Backroom meetings, traded deals, scraping at Hell for a glimpse of Heaven; they wouldn't show up on film, even if you pointed the lens their way.)
Karmic balance. Lorelei graduates with honors, and your father dies in a “work accident”.
You don't tell anyone he'd been fired two weeks ago.
Money means everything in a world addicted to the dollar. You're flippant, tossing coins into machines and reveling in your gumball prize, but your sister faces a titan when freed from the school system, and – mortified – you watch her crumple at its feet. (Lorelei's never crumpled for anything.)
She works harder than any man or woman you've ever seen in your life, because in her eyes, there is no option but to conquer or die. You'll slip through her fingers, comet dust in the wind if she does not provide more than your father ever did – ever would, ever could. It can't happen. ("It won't happen.") The apartment she buys you with shifts that stir at dawn and only settle at dusk is filth-ridden. Cockroaches in the cupboards. Mice in your walls. But you love it: because it was done for you, all for you, and that is what makes a place home. And when you turn eighteen, you merely have to tell her a name, tell her a city ("Seattle University, duh!"), and she presents to you the moving van with a quirk of the lips and bandages on her hands.
But you're frightened of her gifts. More than that are you frightened of her and the gluttonous hole that stretches all the wider when she turns away. All things are give and take; losses for gain, sacrifices in the name of improvement; you know this because you were traded in before your name was Frieda Marlene.
This isn't worth it, though. Why can't you ever tell her your future isn't worth her own?