SO, HERE WE are, Dave and I. The two of us, alone in my room, with no adult supervision, ostensibly engaged in homework. My sister, Callie, is downstairs watching a thing on the Internet about carnivorous plants. Or at least that’s what she was doing the last time I checked, about forty-five minutes ago, which is usually how long I tend to go without checking in on her.
The thing about Dave is that he’s tall, like, six two, and he’s got these real broad shoulders, and he’s always wearing these baseball hats but only for teams that don’t exist anymore. He’s better than me at social studies, and I’m better than him at reading, writing, and most of the sciences. We actually do do homework together sometimes, but that’s not what we’re doing right now.
“Did you hear that?” Dave says, pulling away from me for a moment. And I do hear it: Downstairs there is a crashing and gnashing, a weeping and moaning.
Oh no, I think, and I run downstairs.
On the floor I find Callie, her eyes wide open, her legs curled up into herself while her arms flail around, as if she’s trying to dig her way through the air. For a second all I can do is stand there, looking at her on the ground, making sounds. Like what, I can’t even try to say.
Dave’s been around Callie plenty of times, but he’s never seen her like this before. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen her like this before. Callie gets these fits sometimes, and I’m usually pretty good at calming her down, but this one is a bit scarier than what I’m used to. And I think I need to get Dave out of here and help my sister.
“Dave, I’m really sorry, but I have to take Callie to the hospital and—”
But before I can finish, Dave is picking Callie up off the floor. He’s telling me to get my keys, and I do, and then I’m grabbing our coats and closing the door and clicking the dead bolt to lock it. I head out to the driveway and see that Dave’s already got Callie in the backseat, strapped in and everything. And then there’s Dave in his car, backing out of the driveway to clear the way for me, and then he parks by the curb and sits there waiting to watch us go off, and he looks at me, and I know it’ll be okay.
Well, “okay” isn’t the word. But I know that Callie’s big fit and my leaving Dave so abruptly isn’t what’s going to hurt whatever it is we have together. I smile at that, and then I don’t, because I don’t really know what this is with me and him—I don’t really know what I want it to be. But, as I’m sure you can imagine, I have bigger things to worry about right now, like my sister, Callie, and her weirdly giant fit.
Weird for Callie, that is. Lots of people these days have fits, sudden loss or acquisition of new language, mild levitations. Last month 60 Minutes ran a piece on a group of children in India who went to bed knowing only their native language and woke up speaking fluent French. When I was little I knew some kids who claimed they could move things with their minds, but I never saw any of them pull off that comic book trick with my own eyes, so the jury’s out on them. But the other stuff is real, and this is just how things are around here on earth these days. You read an article about a mother lifting a car to save her baby, and there are way more explanations than just “adrenaline rush sparked by maternal instincts.”
Callie’s pale green eyes lock with mine. She’s looking at me like she wants to say she’s sorry about all this. And also that this hurts and she doesn’t understand it either. She’s looking at me like “Yes, we both hate this,” and I want to tell her, “I know, I love you, it’s okay.” And I do, I say it out loud, and then I tap out the words with my eyes just for her. I turn my head from the road for a moment and blow her a kiss. I think she tries to too, but she can’t make her mouth work right right now, so instead she just keeps looking at me with those sorry eyes.
You’d think after sixteen years of Callie not talking, I’d be used to it by now. You’d think after sixteen years of having a sister who can’t speak, or read, or even understand any language at all, nights like these wouldn’t bother me much. That the way Callie is wouldn’t keep surprising me day after day.