Everyone in Amanda Barrett’s immediate family is dead: her husband, her parents, her brother, and her sister, Melissa. This essay is about Melissa—her struggle with addiction, her ugly death, and Amanda’s struggle to come to terms with what happened to Melissa, and why:

When Melissa was using, worry hovered just below the threshold of my conscious thoughts, never not there. When she was sober, especially after our parents died, I mostly liked having a sister. She taught me rehab slang like “future tripping,” which meant focusing on uncontrollable things to come rather than one day at a time. She told me stories about the people she met, like the roommate who asked her about the difference between arugula and a rugelach. The actor I had never heard of who got kicked out for having heroin mailed to him in a bottle of shampoo. The woman who got three DUIs in twenty-four hours—I said I didn’t think that’s what “one day at a time” meant. Melissa laughed and said, “She ended up in prison. Not jail. Prison.”

Sam told me that when the texts from Melissa stopped on Christmas Eve, he knew she was dead. He had been visiting his family in England for the holidays, and though he had returned to San Diego on New Year’s Eve, he couldn’t bring himself to check on her until the next day. He asked the police to go with him because he thought he didn’t have a key to her new apartment, but when they got there, he remembered he did. They made him wait by the door, and when they saw her, they told him not to go inside. As the gurney passed through the doorway, he placed his hand on the black body bag shrouding Melissa’s leg. Even now, he recounts this scene with a strange, tender smile.

I would not have touched the body bag.