Chapter 1:

The Weight of a Dandelion

The Weight of a Dandelion

My husband often asked me what I was like when I was younger, but since there wasn’t much to say, I talked about my sister instead. We lived in a rural town in the north, so our backyard was a big open field, forests, and ravines our mother warned us not to go near. As kids, we went out and played. I made myself dandelion crowns, and my sister teased me for being too scared to climb trees when I complained it wasn’t fair during hide and seek.

Over time, she’d talk to me less and less. Eventually, she became like a different person.

Quiet. Cool.

Mysterious, as older sisters typically seem at that age.

With all that came a coldness. In my memory of that time, she was always too busy to play. There was a band at school or something like that she was in—she played guitar. I often asked her if I could come listen, and she’d shoot me a look to disapprove.

It was always like that. My husband said that maybe she just reached an age where she couldn’t relate to kids anymore. I think I understood that on some level back then—that she was too smart to bother with me.

The teasing had been replaced with a look. Disappointment always written in her eyes. Everything I did felt stupid in front of them.

When her eyes became too heavy to hold, I made a habit of looking away when she looked, freezing when she walked in, and shutting up to listen carefully when she spoke. I’d repeat her words in my head before writing them out in a notebook to attempt a close reading. Thinking they were keys to becoming close to her again.

She talked more often with my mother, though still not much. When asked about school, teachers, or homework, she responded with single-word answers before going to her room and shutting the door. My mother hated it when we shut the door to our rooms and wondered out loud why she loved her children if they wouldn’t love her back.

One day, a friend whispered to me that my sister was dating someone in that band she was in. This was a shock, not because I hadn’t noticed—obviously I wouldn’t—but because our mother had forbidden us from dating. She was strict and protective. We weren't allowed to be out much with friends or in general, really. Especially since she was upset that neither of us had decent grades. We were to stay inside and study. No distractions. Definitely no boyfriends.

I understood that my sister’s relationship was a secret. I understood that for about a few weeks before letting it out in front of my mother after an unexpectedly nice talk had put me in a talkative mood.

I can’t remember how she reacted immediately. I know she went into her room and tore out a page full of lovey song lyrics from her notebook and showed them to me as if it were obviously a great wrong.

They fought. There was yelling. I couldn’t hear it well because I was scared and had shut my door.

At the time, it was a relief that my sister hadn’t gotten angry with me, but now I’m always wishing she had.

She looked at me the same as always.

A few weeks later, my sister invited me out.

For the first time, it seemed, she invited me out.

She wanted to go to the field behind the house together. The muscles I’d used to talk to her as a child must’ve weakened over the years because I couldn’t muster anything but faint Umms and an OK. She said the sunset looked pretty this time of year, and we sat on the grass to watch it. Then,

“You know, I turn up the flowers on dandelions just to see what it feels like to be under them.”

She stared at me, I think inviting me to say something.

Completely different than how she usually looked at me. An almost smiling, tender look that made me want to cry and hug her and say sorry.

But I didn’t.

Maybe it felt beyond us. Maybe I was busy repeating the words in my head, interpreting them.

I don’t know.

“They get heavier every year,” she said, I think finding my silence uncomfortable.

The next day, an officer came to our house to tell us my sister had slipped off a tree into a ravine.

My mother wept. Not that day or at the funeral, but every night in between. I wrote my sister’s last words in my notebook.

Mealtimes had become quiet. We never looked up from our food.

It hadn’t felt empty or like someone was missing then. My sister never sat with us anymore, but her weight had piled atop us. I thought I’d be crushed under it. Everything was a greater effort than it used to be.

I ran into that officer again near my house and asked him about my sister. I received condolences for my loss. For the terrible accident.

A terrible accident.

I asked how he knew it was so, and he more or less said something like What else?

I’d had a thought.

That my sister had climbed the tree and fallen off on purpose. That those were parting words under the sunset. Because there was that fight with my mother? Maybe she’d been in pain, and I hadn’t noticed. I never noticed anything about her.

I understood this had to be a secret, especially from my mother. It would be too much for her to bear—to say anything close to It’s your fault.

I know if someone had said those words to me back then, I’d have collapsed under them.

I turned up the flowers on every dandelion I saw in the field, peeking under them, hoping for an epiphany. I picked them and held them over my head. I kept some in a cup by my window. Once, I thought her words might’ve been song lyrics for something with her band. I rummaged through her notebooks, looking for something. I don’t know what.

That’s when I finally gained the sense to ask whoever she’d been dating. At school, I asked around for a boy with the name my friend had whispered to me. But once I’d learned that my sister had been in a girl band, I got confused and gave up on the lead. I did talk with them once, but it seemed they had nothing to offer but their condolences. I never found a boy.

I realized many years too late that I was an idiot to stop there.

At that point, I’d already moved to the city for work, then married, and had long lost any method of getting in touch with those girls again.

Idiot. My sister was right to look at me the way she did.

I was an idiot.


I asked my counsellor her thoughts, and she asked me what I’d hoped the words meant. I asked my husband, and he asked if it mattered much anymore.

I had no answer to either.

There was only a feeling I couldn’t voice and the memory of how she looked at me that evening.

Finally, I asked my mother. I said that we’d gone to the field the day before to watch the sunset together. Then I repeated the words. I asked her only what she’d thought my sister meant.

She suggested it was nonsense. My sister wanted to look cool, so she said something cryptic that I’d remember her by. Something I’d fuss about trying to decipher for a long time. My mother told me not to worry about it—that my sister had just wanted to tease me once more like she used to.

It seemed plausible hearing it from her, so I decided to see it as she said. I said it was a great relief, and she smiled.

Of course, I realized too late that my mother’s suggestion was strange. And that it was based on the premise that my sister knew she’d die the day after.

Had my mother considered it? All this time?

Of course, she had.

I was still an idiot.

I cried that night and wished I hadn’t let her break her back bearing the weight of that premise on her own.

She and my sister both.

They were buried next to each other.

I moved back north to our old house and visited their graves with bouquets of dandelions I’d picked for them.

A bouquet of ten, wrapped in a handkerchief. Easy at first, but became difficult as I grew old and weak. I used to pick many at a time, sometimes using too much force as I handled them, accidentally popping flowers off their stems.

But now, at my age, they were different.

Sturdy and heavy, like my fingers would be crushed under their weight if I held them for too long.