Once, we were sisters. We shared clothes and did nails. We pushed kittens in doll strollers. We played “Baby Face”on a cassette player and tap danced on kitchen linoleum. Silver rickrack on scarlet bodysuits.

Once, we were sisters. We rode double on a banana seat bike, full speed down a country road. You went flying off and landed face-first in the gravel. Blood and tears streaming down your dusty cheeks, carving fresh 11s before dropping from your jaw like lemmings off a cliff. I nearly fainted.

We were sisters. We shared a bedroom and arm wrestled for the top bunk then worked all afternoon turning the bottom into a hospital bed. We hung old sheets on all 4 sides and called it the private suite. We lay together, ringing for a nurse on a make-believe buzzer. Above our heads, a Ziploc bag filled with Kool-Aid dangled from a hair ribbon. Our ingenious intravenous.

Sisters — we buried our pets in velvet-lined cardboard out by the swing set. Sat crisscross in the shade of pine trees, wearing go-go boots, reciting the Lord’s Prayer. At night, we hovered silently outside our parents’ bedroom door listening for the arguments, the rage and the tears. Words that wouldn’t be forgotten. We were fearful. We were lost. We filled in the gaps. We made our own meals. We made our own decisions.

Two kids raised in a house filled with conflict, deception, and lack of protection. Two kids whose identities were built on quicksand. The more we struggled, the faster we would sink. But in the absence of parents can we call ourselves kids? In our house the roles were reversed, the boundaries distorted. The hierarchy of our family was inverted, with adults exploiting children to have their own emotional needs met. We scrambled to follow arbitrary rules. We were scavengers for love in a family where demand outweighed supply.

Eventually, sides were chosen in this rigged game. By the time we realized we’d been drafted to opposing teams it was too late. The stakes were too high. Our parents’ attention was the trophy held for ransom and neither of us could afford to lose.

Once we were sisters and then we were not. We were good guy and bad guy, criminal and cop. We were reluctant Lords among Flies — governing ourselves and battling for the conch. The grief that once bound us together split us in half. A slow erosion that ended in a catastrophic chasm. We betrayed one another quicker than we liked and deeper than we understood. We’d come undone after years of arguments, rage and tears. Words that wouldn’t be forgotten.

Nothing soothes the grief of letting go. There’s no memorial to visit, no commemorative date to mourn. The pain is lingering and persistent. We know relief will come once we move on and so, we stop rehashing the details. We stop assigning blame. We let our questions go unanswered and we watch as they stretch for miles, like moonlit cornfields out the windows of cars.