My little sister has died.

Her name was—is—Mary Jennifer Robinson Turner. She died in the same way our mother died, of a drug overdose, and at nearly the same age. All of us who loved and truly knew her had been expecting it, in a way, for many years. That's the way of things, when the person you love is an addict; you pray for them, and sometimes try to convince them to get help, but mostly all that does is make you feel just as crazy as they are. So you keep praying, asking and hoping for a miracle, because you know that even though the situation seems hopeless... well, you've seen miracles happen before, maybe even to you, in your own life. We have to keep the faith, after all.

We must have faith.

Because if God has created miracles in our own lives, miracles far beyond what we deserve... well, surely He will reach down and save someone else, someone far more pure and decent and childlike in their heart than we ever were or will ever be. Miracles do happen. So we keep praying. 

When Jennifer and I were little kids, we did what brothers and sisters usually do. We played together, fought, made up, and played together again as if we'd never been angry. Jennifer was the baby, three years younger than me. She and I clung to one another when bad things sometimes happened in our house. Whenever things began to feel dangerous we'd sometimes hide together. And when things were quiet, we played a lot of make-believe. I guess all of us played a lot of make believe back then. Back when there wasn't much faith. There was a lot more fear than faith.

When she was very young Jennifer was sweet and round-faced and beautiful. She had blonde hair and eyes the color of a perfect sky. I would sometimes tease her about her chubby cheeks, and one time I got mad at her and called her "hippo girl." I remember this very clearly. She adored me, I know now, and when I called her this name her face grew white with shame. I would give anything-anything at all-if I could go back to that place in time and take back those words. I wouldn't call her "hippo girl." I would tell her she was as beautiful as any princess in any fairy tale. I would tell her that when she smiled, something like soft innocence would fall all around everyone in the room like spring rain. I would tell her not to be afraid, that this time I would do a better job of protecting her, somehow. I would look into those amazing azure eyes and tell her that sweet spirits like hers should never have to see violence or endure betrayal, and I would pray with her now like I could not then that she would choose all the things in life ahead that were as beautiful and graceful as she. I would beg her to always remain as she was then, sweet and gentle and kind. I would hold her for as long as she wanted.

Being the youngest, Jennifer was the last child to graduate high school and leave home, and so not only had to experience the worst times of dysfunction in our house but also had to do so more or less alone. And being the most tender-hearted by nature, she would take more of the brunt of our mother's emotional illness related to bipolar disorder and addiction.

"What's wrong with Momma?" my little sister asked one day, as if she had just been made aware of some long-hidden secret. She had ducked into my room for sanctuary. And perhaps it was at times like this when I loved my little sister the most... and yet felt most helpless. Jennifer had always been the gentlest one, soft in spirit, easy to make smile or to hurt, and lonely somehow. I wanted desperately to protect her, but could not. She was always the quiet one, shy, and her question startled me, and startles me still.

"Nothing," I muttered, or something equally evasive, and tried to ignore her, to ignore everything. I just went on about whatever I was doing, pretending, fantasizing... Nothing's happening, nothing's wrong, just leave it alone. As a family we had stopped talking very much by then.  How desperately we needed each other, and how hard we tried to pretend that we didn't. And I can still see Jennifer's face, looking up at me, waiting for answers I could not give then, and in many ways cannot give now.