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I used to look up to her. She was the captain of her high school cheerleading squad and I can recall going to almost every basketball game to watch her perform. The blaring of the half-time buzzer sent me running with ears covered into my mother’s embrace. But then the cheerleaders would rush the gymnasium and peppy dance music wafted through the giant room, mixing with the bright ruffled pompoms and cheerleading skirts to form the perfect spectacle. Watching my sister twirl through the air was as mesmerizing to me as any flashy cartoon show to the average five-year-old. I used to run around the house waving her pompoms telling Mom and Dad how I was destined to be a cheerleader just like my sister. As we grew older, I felt as if I was the big sister who had to babysit the younger one. I used to trust her! Now I didn’t know what to believe anymore. How could I ever trust her again? It wasn’t me who was broken or different, or alone, it was her.
My whole life I thought my family was somewhat normal. Sure, we had our occasional fights but nothing truly out of the ordinary. Then one summer morning my mom sat me down and told me everything because “I deserved to know the whole truth.” Sometimes I wish she had never told me and I could keep living a blissful lie. At least life would have seemed better that way.
Throughout my live, my dad has always preached the importance of having siblings. They “shape who you are and make your live fulfilling.” Well, what good has that done to this family? I have a brother who is so distant he locks himself away from the world, and a drug addict sister.
“Hey Baby Girl! How are you?” I hate that name. I’m not a child.
“I’ve missed you so much!” Lie.
“I’m so glad you’re here today. It means so much to me.” Lie.
“I understand how it must feel for you to be here.” Lie.
“I’m so confident this program will work for me!” Lie.
“I’ve trying so hard to kick this thing.” Lie.
That’s all I ever hear from her. Lies. Later after the meeting we went back to the house where she was staying with the other patients. We sat down at the table and caught up on news from the “outside world.” Meaningless chit chat -- nothing serious. I could hear the other patients talking with their families as well. Some gushed about recent achievements while others sobbed into the shoulders of loved ones.
“Today, we’re going to discuss the 12 Steps. Now, how can we use these steps to help us change our lives?” the councilor preached to us as we were surrounded by empty faces. I chose not to participate. I stared out the window into the grey, muddy courtyard wishing I could be someplace else. Anywhere else.
Whispers from neighbors. Stares from women at the checkout counter. Cautious actions from friends and distant aquantanes. They look at us as if we’re dead. Contaminated. Unwanted. We received fewer phone calls and friendly conversations were cut short. What was so wrong with us? Hadn’t they heard of a drug addict before? To them, we were scarred and scorched from the fire of family discontent.
“I promise I’ll call soon! I can’t wait to see you guys soon!” she gushed. Lie. We walked back to our car and the crunching gravel under our tires was the only sound I hear. We rode in complete silence. After a while my father cleared his throat.
“Well, she looks better.”
“Yes. She seems…” my mother paused, searching for the right adjective, “optimistic.”
I didn’t say anything. She looked like s***. But I’m not surprised, seeing as that’s what heroin does to a person. Her baggy eyes and boney frame were a dead giveaway of her acts, not to mention the marks on her wrists. The rest of the ride was spent cooped up in our own thoughts.
It was never my choice to visit her. My parents piled us into a car and drove us three hours so we could sit in a dreary room while she discussed how she was willing to fix her life when I knew deep down the words she uttered were as hollow and meaningless as the bank accounts she cleared out in the past year with her lies and broken promises. I hated her. But I knew she’d make me regret it later.
I never wanted her here. She ruined everything. She was so buried in her Hell hole that no one could help her out. What had started as a one bad experience morphed into what would soon be her grave if these habits continued. I tried to get away from the depressing atmosphere. But then I realized what I had been missing this whole time. This oppressive, painstaking atmosphere was everywhere. I carried it with me. And if my sister didn’t seek treatment soon, it would always be with me.
“I can’t do it anymore! Please just take me home!” one girl wailed while she clung to her mother’s shoulders. All the mother could do was sit there and cry too. It hurt me to see the woman crying silent tears while trying to soothe her daughter. Why was I so moved by this woman, this complete stranger? She was just like me -- an innocent victim in the wake of dependencies. As much as we would love to fix every situation and restore our lives back to the faded memories of warm Christmases and gleeful summers, we can only watch everything burn.
After my sister was checked out of rehab, she came to our house and we sat down as a whole family and discussed her next move. After a while, there words dissolved into nothing but distant sounds. I got up and went to my room, hoping they wouldn’t notice my absence. Suddenly I heard the door slam and my sister stomp upstairs to the guest room where was staying. I heard my father rush in to catch up with her. I heard his defeated voice down the hall.
“Please, just listen! We want to help you!”
“No! I’m through with listening to you! Just. Leave. Me. ALONE!”
“Stop acting like child! We’re trying to help you fix your life.”
“Why bother? I don’t care anymore!”
“Why bother?! Doesn’t your life mean anything to you?”
“I don’t care if I die!” and with that she slammed the door.
She spent the rest of the week alone in her room, and when asked, she replied “I’m thinking about my future. Leave me alone.” And that was that. By the end of the week, her mood seemed to improve and my parents seemed more hopeful than they had in a while -- until my mother went upstairs to help her pack. I sat in my room reading when I heard a shout and all Hell broke loose.
“HOW COULD YOU?! You brought drugs INSIDE MY HOUSE! -- AROUND MY CHILD!”
My sister was speechless. Before she had a chance to speak my mother threw her remaining belongings in the suitcase.
“GET. OUT. NOW!” she screamed as my sister fled through the front door, down the steps, and into her old beat up jeep. Within seconds she was gone and my mother was irate.
“I can’t believe it. Within 24 hours, she relapsed!” words flew out of her mouth as she paced back and forth. I sat silent. Again, I felt as if I was a innocent victim trapped in some raging horror film; nothing to do but watch.
“Mom, I think if we just calm down and take a minute to think this through, it –“
“You don’t understand how serious this is! All the money, the time, the effort; we can’t get any of it back! It was all a waste! I’ve tried to be supportive, I really have, but I just can’t put up with it anymore. I’ve esasperated all that I have and I just wish things were back to normal. Ha,” she said, her voice laced with sarcasm, “as if that’s even possible.”
I didn’t see my sister again until I was in my early twenties. By that time she was beyond repair. She looked so… helpless. It wasn’t my sister. This couldn’t be her. Jail didn’t suit her well. But as I walked out of the cell after visiting hours, I realized something I could never forget – I was nothing like her. I was stronger, determined, independent, and I made sure that I never ended up like her. She had her chance and she lost it. I had to stop living under the notion that it was entirely possible for me to end up like her. I still loved her, but I didn’t feel a sense of guilt when I was with her. Granted, I missed those days when none of the drama ever existed, but she chose this life and I chose mine. And as I drove away, I overcome with a new sense: wisdom.