My sister died at a party, which felt strangely apt in hindsight. She loved a good party. She sat through lots of bad parties too. If she could have chosen somewhere to die, a party would have been high up on her list. That or a beach in Spain. But death is never ever that easy. Watching it. Hearing about it. Waiting for it. The worst kind of death is the unexpected sort, one that comes when you’re doing nothing, not bothering with the world until everything changes. Suddenly your life is divided in two: before and after. I’ll never forget how we discovered her death. It came through social media. How else? Facebook. My mother saw them first. Imagine that! I’ll never forget how pale she looked, all the colour disappearing from her skin despite the fake tan, the Scottish version of moisturiser. I had to ask what was wrong, because I knew something had happened. When she told me, I asked again. Stupidly, I asked a question when the answer had literally just been given to me.
I dealt with her death in silence, which has always been my way. Later, it came to me that I’d written about her in several books, each one featuring a substitute for my sister, all of them dying. Without realizing it, I’d been using my fiction to cope with real life. Honestly, I had no idea until fairly recently when Happiness Is Wasted On Me took off. That book is the closest thing to an autobiography I’ve got, though slightly tame compared to the real thing. But in my old forgotten fiction for young readers, she’s there in different forms, living and dying over and over again. Some of it is so dark.
I never cried at her funeral. Somehow, I struggle to cry. For a long time I was terrified something wasn’t right, because crying is a human response. A funeral is an event where you should cry and I didn’t. But as you get older (if you’re lucky enough), you realise the world isn’t so easy and expectations are useless. Not everything happens the way you want, including yourself – but you start to appreciate what makes you different, rather than hating what marks you out from everyone else. My sister’s death taught me that I’m stronger than I ever realised. I think she helped teach me that, because my sister went through a lot. A glorious lesbian who came from a working class background, a tough life that pushed her down. Her choices sometimes made her distant from her family, but she always found a way back. Sometimes she irritated the hell out of me. My sister always needed money. Her lifestyle was fabulous, too grand for her wage. Do you have money? Can you give me a tap until Tuesday? Worse, she was never off her phone. Every part of her life revolved around her social circle, which she carefully cultivated using a touchscreen and nights out at the clubs. If it had lights and music, it had her as well. She could turn a living room into a mini bar at a moment’s notice – including my living room.
My sister might be dead, but she certainly isn’t gone. Sometimes she returns in music. An old Madonna song (Open Your Heart, for some reason). Kylie. Sheryl Crow. Her last gig was the Sugababes, the original version. She was there at The ABC at one side of the room with me at the other. We had a great night. The last, it turned out. Sometimes I’ll see an old John Hughes movie and think of her, particularly Some Kind Of Wonderful, which was her film. Pretty in Pink belongs to my other sister. I suppose that makes The Breakfast Club mine?
This week was the anniversary of her death, which happened a few years ago. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about her, because I prefer to write my world into fiction, reshaping it into alternative lifetimes. But somehow it felt wrong to let this pass without some acknowledgement. Her birthday is always tough too, but far less than it used to be. Time doesn’t heal because I can’t ever feel the way I did before she died, but I’m far more settled into my life after her death. Sometimes I convince myself she’s just away on a really long package holiday somewhere bright and sunny, a beach where there’s a party, the best party ever with the best music. This, for me, works. This endures.