• The only time I met my half-sister was when she almost died.
    When I was eleven years old, I went back to Orlando on vacation with my father’s family. We went to go visit my father at his job one day.
    There was a little pine-tree forest behind the resort my dad worked at. One half of the forest was covered in a white blanket of sand, and the other half was littered in pine needles. A soft, salty breeze combed through the trees. Pine combs jutted from the ground, pointing in every possible direction. A large lake was situated in the forest. The Epcot center stood at one end of the lake.
    “Daddy, birds!”
    Peacocks mingled with seagulls along the shore, locked in a battle of territory.
    “No, ‘Kenzie… the birds will get scared and fly away.”
    A man of dark complexion picked the small girl up. His towering, graceful figure stretched upwards to the white-hot sky. His eyes and hair were of the same pitch-black shade. There was a film of genuine kindness in his eyes – he believed there was peace on this land, and peace in the entire world. Justice and kindness would forever guide the nations and shower the earth in happiness.
    I hated him with a passion.
    The child he held was his daughter – my half-sister. She had more white in her appearance than Chinese or Dutch.
    After a lengthy conversation on his walkie-talkie, my father declared that he was needed elsewhere. He would return in a few minutes. My grandma – she was in a rented wheelchair, too old to walk the jagged paths of sand – was left to watch us. She held a water bottle in her hands.
    Mackenzie let out an uncivilized grunt and walked towards her.
    “Hello, my little meisje. Wil je wat van – would you like some water?” my grandmother asked in a blend of Dutch and English.
    Mackenzie’s eyes were on the water bottle, and nothing else. My grandmother leaned forward in her wheelchair to lend Mackenzie the bottle. The little demon grabbed the bottle, holding it close to her chest. She shuffled towards the direction of the lake and suddenly stopped; the bottom end of the bottle was now pointing, at an angle, towards the sun.
    My helpless sisters only watched, standing in pools of their own sweat, as Mackenzie gulped down the precious water.
    “Stop that,” I said in a commanding tone. “Stop hogging all of the water.” I approached her, meaning to take what was left of the water for my sisters. She automatically shriveled up under my shadow. The bottle was cuddled weakly against her chest again.
    “Tati, leave her alone. Let her drink.”
    Only my family called me by that nickname. It was a shortened version of my middle name, Tatiana.
    My grandmother wanted to let her drink all of the water. That was it; my sisters and I would die of dehydration, if not incinerated by the sun’s heat.
    My aunt Grace suddenly strode in from around the bend, a camera and tripod clenched in her claws. This would be the forty-sixth time we took pictures today.
    “Hold on one second, guys. Let me go find Gabrielle and Joshua. Uh - careful, don’t fall.”
    She organized us in a row in front of the lake and left to find Gabrielle and Joshua, our cousins. Mackenzie suddenly began to scan the ground for the water bottle. She saw the sun’s glimmering reflection in the bottle beside her. Mackenzie bent down to reach for the bottle with her stubby fingers, but couldn’t quite grasp it. Still in the same crouched position, she began inching closer to the bottle and closer to the water.
    A burst of wind sprung from out of Chaos. The turbulence drove against Mackenzie’s delicate frame like a drill, and toppled her over the edge. It wasn’t long before an audible “Ker-splash” echoed through the forest.
    Then the screaming came.
    Sometimes my sisters and I would pretend to drown in the pool, but I knew this wasn’t the same. My grandmother tried to stay calm and give us commands. My sisters, Chelsey and Sabrina, strained their frail little voices and shouted for help.
    “Tante Grace! Tante Grace, Mackenzie is drowning! TANTE GRACE!”

    Had everyone forgotten about their ability to swim? Our mother liked to imagine the three of us would grow up to be Olympic swimmers, so she signed us up for swimming classes. I hoped my grandmother wouldn’t scold me for getting my clothes wet. Kicking my sandals off into a pile of sand, I leaped into the water, prepared to swim a lap with death. Mackenzie’s hands protruded out of the water, flopping and bucking like salmon. I grabbed hold of her wrists to pull her head out of the water – and that was when I realized something very important.
    Mackenzie didn’t know how to swim!
    I took a firm hold on Mackenzie’s wrists and mustered up the strength to sling her over my back. I turned around to swim back to shore, but the shoreline was too high above the water. Looking around, I saw a shoreline of loose, jagged stones to my left – a tempting offer that I had to refuse. To my right, there was a small wall of a shoreline.
    I wanted to swim regularly, to seem more heroic, but then we would both sink. I was reduced to doggy-paddling as fast and hard as possible. I submerged my head under water, paddled, held my breath for as long as I could, and then lifted my head up for air. The process was not as simple as it seemed.
    When we were near land, I stretched my arms upward in a short burst of energy, and slammed my hands against the wall’s edge. Then, in a breathless, lifeless voice, I commanded her:
    “Mackenzie, climb up now. Get on my shoulders and climb up the wall.”
    Her tentacle arms suctioned onto my forehead and she pulled herself up, blinding me for a moment. She struggled to get her feet onto my shoulders. Finally, she was able to reach the top. She abandoned me, left me to rot, trudging away in a cavalcade of tears.
    “Wait, don’t go! Come and help me!”
    Like father, like daughter.
    After that, I could speak no more. Air passed through my lungs in convulsing, wet, choked little breaths. My back became an arch. I was still in the water, holding onto the dirt wall for dear life. Sheets of water slid off my face, falling back into the lake. I had to wait until Tante Grace or Pop came to my aid.
    Eventually, my Aunt Grace did come. She lifted me up to the sweet, stable ground by my arms, and let me sit on the bed of pine needles to drain for a while. And then, after my return to dry land, she interrogated me; she called me irresponsible.
    Why was she mad at me? When did Mackenzie become my responsibility?
    My father came back with towels from one of the hotel rooms. He usually had a little smirk playing about his face, but now he seemed embarrassed. Mackenzie clung to my father’s leg like a leech. My sisters had gone back to the cabin with Joshua to cool off. No one would let me or Mackenzie go inside because we would get the floor wet. I sat myself down on a parking stop, dripping with anger and immersed in jealousy. I watched Mackenzie and my father. The heat of hatred clouded my vision; I was absolutely teeming with disgust. The liquid rolling off my arms and legs was not water; it was lava from the river Styx seeping out of my pores. Fury had swallowed me whole. Nothing in the world could save me now.
    Mackenzie’s head slowly turned in my direction. She was smiling at me.
    She resembled a cherub with the soft, white towel draped around her shoulders. The brilliant sun fell down on her golden locks and lit up her face.
    Mackenzie was like a light in the shadows. It didn’t matter how obscure or mysterious the shadows were; the light would sweep all darkness away. That was exactly what happened – I was overcome by this pure wave of light. She wasn’t even an angel. She was only a child, younger than I was, and she still did this to me. The message my mother told me before I left trickled down the walls of my memory banks:
    Nothing that happened was her fault.