Ellie, you left. My cousin, you left unanswered questions and we can only wonder what you would reply. Nothingness fills up the space in your favorite armchair, but I still see the dent on the cushion where you used to sit. Words sneak through the shock as I search for crumbs of your memory, of our shared experiences. The more I think about you, Ellie, the more I realize that I don’t know you; I only have an interpretation of you in relation to me. To me, your life stands out as an example of courage and naiveté, nested in love full of treacherous warmth and whispered lies and numbing embraces that turned into chokes and nudged you towards your end.

I remember you from my childhood. You always accompanied your father to my grandmother’s house, where our dads would exchange ideas, materials, and tools. My father liked to fix appliances; Erik, your dad, has been a sculptor. He invented things, created intricate globes and heads and full-figure sculptures from scrapped metal that would pop up in the town’s parks as a giant Saint Nicholas, or something like a time machine, or—my favorite—a ten-foot-tall Baba Yaga fountain on metal chicken legs.

You were this small, dark-skinned girl, with a brown ponytail and deep-sitting black eyes. Four years older than you, I wore my blonde hair in pigtails and stared at the world with blue eyes when I was a child. The resemblance was written in our features, like two sides of the same coin, shadow and light, or depth and surface. As years passed by, you turned into a delicate young woman, who would sit in my room for hours, and stare at me with those eyes, munching on biscuits, in the silence that made the hairs on my arms stand, my body shiver, and my palms sweat. There was something unsettling about you, Ellie, something I could not pour into words, yet felt it in my pores. I did not know then about your urge to paint, to write, to mold dreams into art, and the poems ready to be born in the quiet of the night. I did not know that your twin sister died at birth, and that your life has reshaped itself as a dialogue with her, an ally from the other side. But you told me, in conversations and poems and paintings.  First, she appeared only in cigarette smoke, contorting into shapes until it evoked the shape of a baby. Then, like a veil, she swished around you, and as she gained strength, you could invoke her in mirrors and lakes and in the dusk of your room. You two had lengthy conversations, arguments, and confessions to each other, until finally she lived inside you and took over whenever she fancied it. You became her and she became you. No one could untangle the two personalities. “You are so alone that tomorrow shines through you,” a poem of yours read. Did you mean your sister or yourself?

When I found out about your decisions concerning your schizophrenia, that was proof of your courage to me. Your mother complained that you refused to take medications. They made you slow and sloppy, and life seemed to slip through that foggy lens. So, you skipped them and painted and wrote and searched for yourself in every stroke of the paintbrush, in beetle-like words running on the pages, and behind self-portraits with dark, bluish-green backgrounds, pictures of a white witch with seven hands, a penetrating gaze, and hair that turned into a river at the bottom of the paintings. I grew to admire you.

You uncovered your naivete to me when you sent me those Facebook messages. “Why could you travel the world, you whore, and I didn’t even get to see the Black Sea?” You wrote. In your anger, you did not realize that I funded my journeys by volunteering; I worked for free for other people, in exchange for the plane ticket, food, and accommodation. In your posts. you showed me that I was privileged, someone who had a choice. You tore the surface of my life open in the grotesque mirror of Messenger and showed me that my life was worth of envy. Your remarks brought me astonishment and joy, not the reactions you expected.

Last, you showed me the power of love. I remember when Bod, my fiancé, and I visited your parents’ house 13 years ago to hand them the invitation to our wedding, a local custom in Adony, my hometown in Transylvania. After the initial pleasantries, your mom opened a narrow door from the living room to a dark little bedroom and waved us in. We got to choose a wedding gift from one of her paintings. I barely dared to touch the frames. The canvasses seemed so fragile, yet most of them were large pictures, up until my waist, a mix of graphics, oil, and pastel. After carefully examining each one, Bod and I picked a pastel with a background of a blue and grey sky, and a family of storks gathered in the foreground on top of a lamp post. Three storks, two adults, and a nestling were preening in the straw nest. You could see the wires run into the sky behind them. What a perfect gift for a couple! I thought. Erik offered to frame it for us.

Later that evening, we sat around the table in the kitchen, and you fired questions in my direction about how one could make a living in Budapest, Hungary. I had just returned home after studying there for a year.

“You need a well-paying job to pay all the bills,” I said. “Why do you want to move there?”

“Ellie is in love,” Erik replied. “And the boyfriend cannot leave the country as he is under police supervision.”

I hesitated to answer. My uncle got up to put more wood on the fire—your family had a small, old-looking iron stove in the living room that I loved as a kid for its warmth—and sparks flew in the air when he threw the wood on top of the embers. I inhaled the faint smell of smoke. The air grew heavy with expectation. I could feel my cheeks flare up from your gaze. In my pores, I sensed that I tapped into something dangerous, a taboo I was not supposed to pry open.

“Love…can go away…you know.” I added at last.

You looked at me with flaming black eyes and screamed in a high-pitched voice.

“But this will never ever go away!” You snapped off your red-rimmed metallic eyeglasses, and rolled them with bony fingers, until the wire turned into a ball in your palm.

I knew then that the gesture was a cry for help to get you out there to be with him, to be free, to experience love in all its physical and psychical intensity. But there was something else, too. Danger? Darkness? I could not put my finger on it.

A week later, you and Erik popped up in our yard, your feet falling in step with each other, at my grandmother’s house, where Bod and I already lived together. You brought a cart with our picture in it, covered by some grey cloth. When we unwrapped it, I gasped. It was the most beautiful gift I ever received. The white frame echoed the storks’ color, and it looked like a windowpane. When we put it up above the bed, it was like another window out onto a secret, yet familiar street, where the lamp post imitated the ones in the town of Abony, and the storks were the same that were common in my town. I still have that piece of homeland in my house in Toronto. Did you know that, Ellie?

We never talked about the eyeglasses incident.

Now, looking back, I know. This love did stay. You moved back and forth between Budapest and Abony, and after I moved abroad, I heard from family that your chosen one stayed with you in either place. I never met him. But I know he had power over you. He held your life in his hand the way one would squeeze a small bird with one hand until it stops wriggling, until the moment one decides what to do with it: set it free or squish it to death.

When you chose to end your life, that meant the power of your love to me. You loved and you did not survive. I do not think of it as suicide. Rather, love killed you, a love that was dark, abysmal, and treacherous with a homeless ex-convict, who you adored so much that when he abandoned you, there remained only one thing for you to do: leave this life—forever.

Rereading your poetry reminds us all that death was a friend of yours, a close advisor. You wrote:

my flesh flows across the edge
my blood squawks at the effect
my body was my only home
my soul tethers on an ice platform
my vision cuts into a skeleton

Statue of the plain
tilts onto the drum
patch on a star
quenches my flame
Moon of Death
carries my life*

And the Moon of Death stole you away from us, didn’t she.

But enough with questions no one can answer. Instead today, on the sixth-week commemoration of your death, in this church, I am releasing you, Ellie, from the grip of society, from gossip and expectations and bad blood and judgement. I demand, let us untie the bells that had been tied at your funeral as a sign of your suicide. Let us toll them as loud as we can. Let us sing the psalms in strong voices. And let us forgive that you left.

Fly, little girl, and find your peace on the other side. We will care for your paintings, think of you when we listen to your favorite music, and cover our naked souls with your poems. Thank you for sharing your presence with us for a while. God be with you on your journey.




* Translated from the original by the author.