blackbirdonline journalFall 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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(JILL, early to mid 20s, stands at a podium.)

I’m up here to talk about my sister. Evie.
Given she’s the one rotting in the casket over there.
An easy way to tell us apart, right?
Used to be I was Jill, the older sister. Or Jill, the one who climbs mountains.
Now I’m Jill, the one not rotting in the ground.

Speaking of rotting . . . how’s that for a segue? Up near the top of Mount Everest,
which I’ve never climbed,
there’s something called the death zone. Fun, right?
It’s the part of the mountain above twenty-six thousand feet. The Everest summit is twenty-nine
thousand feet. So, for those of you math impaired, that’s three thousand feet.
Of death zone.

Three thousand feet, where the oxygen is one-third what it is at sea level;
where the climber’s body shuts down its own digestive system and literally goes into the process
of decomposing, consuming itself, chewing on its own muscle and bone for its last remaining

And despite all that, these crazy-ass climbers drag one foot after the other up that final distance.
Incredible, right?
The power of the individual will—to do something so beyond the boundaries of human

It’s heroic.

Course, not everyone makes it.
Oh, here’s a fun fact: if you die that high on Everest, you can’t be buried. Anyone even
attempting to bury someone in the death zone would die trying.
Doesn’t matter really.
At those temperatures a body doesn’t decay.
It freezes.
So it’s perfectly preserved.
Except for a few appendages and the face, which get eroded by the ice and wind. It makes for
one of the, you know, more evocative sights on the way to the summit—
the frozen corpse of someone who died trying.
Someone like Rob Hall. Rob Hall anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
1996, one of four climbers from a single expedition who died.

(small beat)

My sister, Evie,
she wasn’t a climber.
I always tried to get her to do climbs with me,
but she always declined.
“I decline!” she’d say,
in that peppy voice of hers.
Though she did love to talk about it with me.
About how in the Bible, in mythology,
it’s always a mountain
that the hero ascends—for epiphanies,
or to talk to God, or to overcome a great trial.
Moses, Jesus . . . blah, blah, blah.
“It’s just a climb,” I’d say.
But that wasn’t enough for Evie. No, she had to
elevate it.
With meaning.

Evie’s mantra.
It’s what she used to ruin every damn holiday we had growing up.
I’m not kidding. Every one.

I’m twelve and all I want is the bunny and the egg hunt and some of those nasty marshmallow
things, whatever the hell you call them . . . puffs. Those are the best.

But then here comes nine-year-old Evie,
“It’s not really Easter if it’s pagan rituals we’re following.”
She insists, instead, that we get something more in line with the meaning of the holiday.
Something that celebrates the “Resurrection,” “the miracle of rebirth,”
“something sacred,”
“with possibility to redeem the world.”

She said that. I’m not kidding. Nine years old.
And so, instead of candy, my parents over there let Evie pick out a bunch of caterpillars in a
butterfly tent. And that’s all we got.

I hated Evie for that. And then a few weeks later, there she is, in the backyard,
holding this brand-new butterfly in her hands.
And tears are streaming down her face
as she watches it take those first slow-motion flaps of its wings:
the miracle of rebirth.

I was so mad at her for that.

For making me love her so damn much.


Saint Patrick’s Day.
That’s the holiday she ruined this year.
Her freshman year of college.
Not such a good time for Evie.
Even discounting the fact she died during it.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

Evie wrote a letter to the student paper,
a few days after Saint Patrick’s.
Maybe some of you read it.
She described her walk through campus,
dodging through all those post–Saint Paddy’s Day puddles.
The ones hurled from the students’ stomachs.
Made of beer, bile, half-digested corned beef.
Evie’s letter went on to describe
the two girls on her hall who told her that they were quote,
“pretty sure”
they were date-raped.
They were so drunk at the time,
the details were hazy.
She described the two other girls from her dorm who took trips to the emergency room.
One who fell down a flight of stairs at a fraternity party.
The other with alcohol poisoning.

I mean, here’s our sweet Evie off to college, suddenly encountering all these girls at such a
pivotal time in their lives, so . . . unhinged.
Disconnected from anything meaningful. Sacred.
It must have disturbed her.

“This may not be the most fitting way to celebrate the life of Saint Patrick,” she wrote in her
letter, in that ever-peppy voice. “I mean, Saint Patrick! His most famous feat was climbing to the
top of a mountain and fasting for forty days and forty nights.

I doubt anyone did. I didn’t.

Apparently the guy was fasting
in order to “win concessions from God,”
to help his suffering people.
Suffering, it seems, because God was angry and punishing them for clinging to their pagan
So Saint Patrick fasted.
For them.
To help them.
To get God to ease off.
And when God saw Saint Patrick’s level of commitment,
and his suffering,
he relented. Eventually.

After forty days.

Evie made it to thirty-six. Days. Of fasting.


She was in a stupid little room I guess she rented off campus.
Up on a hill.
With a bathroom.
And no kitchen.

So here’s a fun fact.
Did you know that the exact same thing happens to the body
during starvation
as what happens to it while climbing the death zone on Everest?

At some point in her kitchenless apartment, my sister’s stomach began to devour itself, her body
breaking down its own flesh for fuel.

They say it’s agony—when your body becomes a living, rotting corpse.

(quietly) And for Evie to go on, in the face of that . . .


The dean
and the head of student psychological services,
what’s their response, after they find Evie?
Campus-wide email, cautioning all girls against “the perils of extreme dieting.”
If you’re out there, you two morons—
it was not a diet. What my sister did was not a reaction to the “freshman fifteen” or an eating disorder.
It was an act of will.

To wrest concessions from God.

On behalf of those girls in her dormitory
who were suffering
for the same reasons Saint Patrick’s people did—for being pagans. For being lost. For
worshipping all the false gods she saw all these girls worshipping—

boys, sex, beer, body image.

For them she climbed her Everest. For them.

(small beat)

She didn’t leave a note. Evie.
So you’re all thinking this is what? Guess work?

I know she talked to some of these girls. And I’m sure they dismissed her. So then she wrote to
the paper. And there was nothing. From anyone.
So then what?

What would give Saint Patrick’s Day meaning,
provide the possibility to redeem the world,

like her goddamn butterflies?


I think . . . I think Evie believed,
believed that when she got to day forty,
God, as He did with Saint Patrick,
would relent.
He would intervene
and relieve these girls’ suffering.

Then she’d return to school
after day forty.
To let these girls feast on the sight of her emaciated body.
And maybe that would inspire them to see the light.

And next Saint Paddy’s Day they’d all fast instead of getting blind drunk
and having frat-boy mountaineers
climb over their every peak and valley.

So they’d find meaning, so they’d go beyond their pathetic limits and experience the world,
themselves, as . . . as sacred.

That’s what the extreme climbers say, isn’t it?
About why they risk death to climb Everest.
They say they do it to inspire others,
inspire mankind to go beyond their own limits.
To move closer to the divine.

So here’s one more fun fact for you.
When all is calculated,
about two out of every twenty-five climbers die
trying to reach the summit of Everest.
And those who make it,
they keep returning.
To try it again.
And again.
And again.
Until, most often,
they one day die doing it.

Rob Hall? The frozen corpse people pass on the way to the peak?
He summited successfully the first time. Got past the death zone.
And then . . . he went back and faced death a second time.
Then a third.
Then a fourth.
Then a fifth.

So I guess what I’m saying to any of you out there who have called my sister “disturbed” or
you better damn well say the same about Rob Hall.
Or Edmund Hillary.
Or Tenzing Norgay.

On the other hand,
if you’re one who calls these men heroes,
as I certainly do,
then you better damn well call my sister the same.

My beautiful, courageous sister.

You . . . you are twice the climber I’ll ever be.

But at least I get to bury you
and not leave you frozen in the snow.

(JILL walks off. Empty podium. End.)  

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