By Jodi Picoult
No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
—CARL VON CLAUSEWITZ, Vom Kriege
In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister. Sometimes the recollection is so clear I canremember the itch of the pillowcase under my hand, the sharp point of her nose pressing into my palm. She didn't stand a chance against me, of course, but it still didn't work. My father walked by, tucking in the house for the night, and saved her. He led me back to my own bed. "That," he told me, "never happened."
As we got older, I didn't seem to exist, except in relation to her. I wouldwatch her sleep across the room from me, one long shadow linking our beds, and I would count the ways. Poison, sprinkled on her cereal. A wicked undertow off the beach. Lightning striking.
In the end, though, I did not kill my sister. She did it all on her own.
Or at least this is what I tell myself.
Brother, I am fire
Surging under ocean floor.
Ishall never meet you, brother—
Not for years, anyhow;
Maybe thousands of years, brother.
Then I will warm you,
Hold you close, wrap you in circles,
Use you and change you—
Maybe thousands of years, brother.—
CARL SANDBURG, "Kin"
WHEN I WAS LITTLE, the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why. The mechanics Iunderstood—my older brother Jesse had filled me in—although at the time I was sure he'd heard half of it wrong. Other kids my age were busy looking up the words penis and vagina in the classroom dictionary when the teacher had her back turned, but I paid attention to different details. Like why some mothers only had one child, while other families seemed to multiply before your eyes. Or how the new girlin school, Sedona, told anyone who'd listen that she was named for the place where her parents were vacationing when they made her ("Good thing they weren't staying in Jersey City," my father used to say).
Now that I am thirteen, these distinctions are only more complicated: the eighth-grader who dropped out of school because she got into trouble; a neighbor who got herself pregnant in thehopes it would keep her husband from filing for divorce. I'm telling you, if aliens landed on earth today and took a good hard look at why babies get born, they'd conclude that most people have children by accident, or because they drink too much on a certain night, or because birth control isn't one hundred percent, or for a thousand other reasons that really aren't very flattering.
On theother hand, I was born for a very specific purpose. I wasn't the result of a cheap bottle of wine or a full moon or the heat of the moment. I was born because a scientist managed to hook up my mother's eggs and my father's sperm to create a specific combination of precious genetic material. In fact, when Jesse told me how babies get made and I, the great disbeliever, decided to ask my parents thetruth, I got more than I bargained for. They sat me down and told me all the usual stuff, of course—but they also explained that they chose little embryonic me, specifically, because I could save my sister, Kate. "We loved you even more," my mother made sure to say, "because we knew what exactly we were getting."
It made me wonder, though, what would have happened if Kate had been healthy.Chances are, I'd still be floating up in Heaven or wherever, waiting to be attached to a body to spend some time on Earth. Certainly I would not be part of this family. See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn't get here by accident. And if your parents have you for a reason, then that reason better exist. Because once it's gone, so are you.
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