Separation squeezes her eyes shut tightly and burrows under the bed covers, trying to savor the last moments she has before she needs to get out of bed. It’s too early to be awake, she thinks, but the blaring sun streaming in through the window tells a different story. It takes a moment for the lack of darkness to register with Separation, but then she shoots up, squinting to find the numbers on the clock. It’s already past 7 o’clock, which means her mom forgot to wake her once again.
Tossing off her blanket, Separation throws on dark pants and a worn sweater (her sister’s fingers clawed into her sweater pulling minuscule threads loose desperately grabbing onto anything she could as she slid onto the ground blood spreading across her t-shirt) before she finds her way downstairs. Her mother is at the stove, frying eggs and bacon, while her father reads the newspaper and her brother babbles on his phone. No one acknowledges Separation as she walks into the kitchen and sits down, slightly apart from the rest of her family. Her mother scoops food onto plates for her brother and father and puts the rest on a third plate for herself, and then her eyes catch sight of Separation’s hunched figure at the other end of the table.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Separation. I didn’t even think to make you any breakfast,” she says, attempting a hint of sadness in her voice, although they both know she doesn’t mean it. Separation waits a few seconds, hoping for a belated offer of breakfast, but her mother takes her place at the table without another word.
Separation sighs and rises, grabbing a brown, mushy banana and her backpack before heading out the door. She can hear her family discussing something, probably unimportant, but Separation still longs to be a part of it.
The walk to the bus stop is short, and Separation is the first one there. She pulls out her phone and checks it for messages, but as usual, there are none.
A cold wind stings Separation’s cheeks and ruffles her hair. The familiar roar of the bus’s engine sputters as it comes to a stop at the corner of the street. (The car sped around the corner the driver staring at her phone waiting for a text from her boyfriend not watching the two sisters joyfully galloping across the street). Separation boards and drops into her usual seat at the front, all alone.
When they finally arrive at school, Separation is the first one off the bus. She looks around her at the clusters of students walking into the building. They’re all different, yet the same. Long hair or short, dress or pants, sneakers or boots, they fit in. All except for Separation. No matter how hard she tries, she will never be one of them. Nonetheless, she precedes into school, pretending like she has a group of friends, pretending that she exists.
The first four classes of the day blend into a single interminable period, a life sentence of high school. Separation sits at the back of the classroom, keeps her head down whenever the teacher looks for someone to call on, and takes dutiful notes with crooked penmanship that strains her eyes and cramps her fingers. Overall, the boredom is painless. She doesn’t drop her binder, spill her water bottle, or draw the wrath of a teacher by forgetting to turn in her homework. Maybe it will be a good day, she marvels.
But then she remembers. Lunch. Separation’s least favorite part of the day. (The picnic basket swings back and forth in her sister’s arms lemonade and sandwiches and cookies and watermelon and love packed tightly inside threatening to escape the confines of the basket).
Separation selects the longest line in the cafeteria, pretending to like whatever sticky meat is being served today. She slowly pours herself a drink and walks all the way across the cafeteria to get her utensils, but finally she can’t prolong it anymore. Separation finds an empty table in the corner and begins to eat, eyes focused on her plate, refusing to look at anything but her food.
Suddenly, someone taps Separation on the shoulder. She turns her head quickly, praying it’s not someone who only approached to tease her. Instead it’s Kindness, whose beautiful blond hair distinguishes her from everyone else in the school and seems to emit its own light. “Hi, Separation!” Kindness choruses. “How are you?”
Separation schools her look of surprise into a shy smile. “I’m okay. What about you?”
Kindness’s grin widens across her face as she says, “I’m amazing! I was wondering if you wanted to come sit with us? You look kind of lonely over here by yourself.”
Heart thudding, Separation nods, trying not to sound too eager or desperate, even though this is the happiest she’s been all day. (She’s only being nice to me because my sister died because now I have no one left). Separation follows Kindness over to her table and sits down next to her as if she’s done it everyday. Kindness’s friends draw Separation into a maelstrom of chatter, a rapid-fire exploration of weekend plans and the outfits to go with them, of history essays and the sadists that assign them. It feels almost real, like she’s part of their group.
The rest of the day is a shimmering blur of happiness, warmth, and belonging for Separation until the bus ride home. This time, Separation takes a seat in the back of the bus, a bold expedition deep into the territory of the cool and popular. As she pulls out her phone, she catches sight of two of Kindness’s friends climb onto the bus. Separation is about to call out to them, but she notices that they’re engrossed in what looks to be a heated conversation. When they slide into a seat two rows in front of Separation without even looking at her, Separation leans forward to listen.
“Why was that girl sitting with us at lunch today?” one of them asks.
“Yeah, that was Separation, always alone, no friends,” the other replies. “Kindness invited her. You know Kindness; she felt bad for her, so she had to reach out. But hopefully that doesn’t happen again. She was so obviously trying to be one of us, but she could never.”
Separation’s heart pounds in her ears, and her breath comes quickly. (Sirens blare in the distance but it’s too late her sister’s life is failing her breath is becoming slow and shallow and labored and she gasps for air anything that could save her life). She doesn’t know how she makes it to the end of the bus ride, but as soon as the bus pulls up to the corner, Separation runs off the bus and toward her house. (Separation sprints back to the house screaming for her mother and father someone has to hear her someone needs to help anyone please my sister please help).
Separation takes the stairs to her room two at a time and collapses onto her bed. Memories rush up, unbidden. There used to be a time when Separation was well-liked, was included, but all that ended when Separation lost her twin sister, Belonging.
Separation reaches under her bed for the picture she keeps there. Her entire family is in it: her mother and father stand side-by-side, glancing at each other with love in their eyes while her brother holds a basketball, longing to get back on the court. But Separation doesn’t even look at them; she focuses on herself and Belonging, who have their arms wrapped around each other in a sisterly hug, both smiling wide at the camera. If only they knew what was to come.
Tears trickle down Separation’s face as she remembers when she always had a partner for projects, when she had a best friend at recess, when she sat at lunch with people who actually wanted her to be there, when she belonged.
Suddenly, Separation hears footsteps on the stairs, and a second later, her mother enters her room, and her eyes immediately catch on the picture in Separation’s hands. Grabbing it, she cries, “Oh, I remember this day. You’ve really changed since then.”
“I just really miss when it was all five of us together,” Separation replies. She squints against the blaring sun streaming in through the window, which doesn’t feel right for some reason.
“Five of us? What are you talking about, Separation? There’s only four of us; there’s always been four of us. But come downstairs for breakfast, it’s time to get ready for school!”