"My Sister..."

January 28, 2012
By Anonymous

The words came out clipped, but the lie had already formed on my tongue. All I had to do was spit it out, say that my sister was in dental school or that she was earning a master’s degree and holding a normal job. Then, the conversation would progress, and the lady sitting across from me would not ask me about my sister anymore. With this in mind, I began to speak, though I felt my blood rush to my face. I could only tell the lady what my sister should have been, not what she was. By chance, I looked- up mid-sentence and saw my own reflection in this stranger’s eye.

Suddenly, I was a child again, sitting in the backseat of the car as Mom drove my sister and me to the store. As I quietly stared at the rural landscapes outside my window, I heard a loud, hollow bang in front of me. In an instant, Mom jolted in her seat, stopping the car as my sister lifted her fists in a rage I had never seen before. After a pause that could have lasted either a second or an hour, I heard the eerie crack of bone-to-bone contact. It killed the silence in the air. My sister had punched my mom in an attempt to force the car door open, so she could run away. Unwilling to let her go, my mom hugged my sister tightly despite the welts that spread like chicken pox all over my mom’s body. As I watched from the backseat, I could not help but admire my mom’s determination to protect my sister and me, her little girls. Unfortunately, I had looked over the seat just as my sister appeared to be wiggling away from my mom’s hold. Several blows later, however, Mom still refused to give-up. This time Mom threw her shoulders into the strength of her grasp, her whole body recoiling after each blow. She looked tired and spent, but I had never before seen her eyes look so bright and alive.

My mom was finally defeated by a single blow to her jaw and the sickening crunch that accompanied the wash of blood that flowed out of her mouth. Horrified, I saw Mom’s eyes widen and her face contort with the shock; I heard her gasps of pain. At the same time, my sister tossed her hair and unlocked the car door. The next moment, she was gone, running away into the woods. Personally, I neither expected nor wanted to run after her that day because all I had was a pair of my dad’s old dress shoes to shield my feet. Despite that fact, I felt compelled to follow my sister so that I could save her from herself. Thus, with my dad’s shoes on, I opened the right rear door and slid out of the car. However, the shoes were made for someone much bigger than me, so they slipped off my feet when I hit the ground. As a result, I felt a jolt of cold shock as I stumbled and almost fell into the dust of snow below me.

My sister had a head-start, but I was fast. I knew I could catch her, so I ran. Through the trees I saw her shadow in front of me, her hair wild and messy and her steps awkward and impulsive. Gaining speed, I lunged towards the coattails that trailed a foot behind her. I reached for them. I missed. I reached again. This time I had her, but she turned on me, threw me backwards into a tree. I bit my lip and tasted blood. One more step, just one more step.

Pushing myself up, I braced my hand against the tree. The weathered bark was rough and cold, but my palm tingled when I ran my fingers along its layered surface. Looking through eyes bleared by tears, I felt a surge of adrenaline pulse through my body as I stood there gasping for breath with cool, sticky snot running into my mouth. Somehow, I had not previously noticed the brambles and sticks, which had cut the tender skin of my feet and threatened to leave them numb. Now, I felt the pain. But I knew the skin would grow back together, tougher and stronger, though slightly scarred.

Without pausing for long, I pushed myself away from the tree and pursued my sister farther into the unknown because the only thing I could focus on in those moments was my sister. I had neither the foresight to turn back, nor the sense to stay where I was. All I could do was move forward and hold onto hope. Thus, I knew she needed me, and that was all that mattered. Though, I did not know what ailed her or how to fix it, I was determined to help in the only way I knew how: I would give her a great big bear hug like she used to give me when I was sad. Then, I would kiss away her pain, and we would both feel better.

In the end, I have always regretted that it was not me, but the police who finally caught my sister. However, that reality did not stop me from chasing her for as long as my lungs could breathe and my legs could support the rest of my body. I hardly remember the remainder of that night, the long hospital stay, the wide, scared eyes of my dad, my Mom’s tears. But I do remember knowing that I had to keep going, one step at a time. I had to throw my whole heart into protecting the people and the things that I loved.

I blinked. The woman across from me was staring, a questioning look in her eyes. Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. Somewhere along the way, I had given up the chase. I had succumbed to convenient lies so that I could avoid the stigma of my sister’s illness. That had to stop. I took a deep breath, and then I took a baby step…

“She has schizophrenia. She’s my sister and I love her.”

The author's comments:
It was hard for me to write this piece. I have spent the last 7 years lying about my sister's illness because I was afraid that if people knew the truth, then they would think less of me and my family. Even as I composed this memoir, I kept debating whether or not I should admit that my sister was ill or whether I should just come half-way and say it was my cousin. I finally decided that in order to be true to myself and to my sister, I had to be completely honest. I want other kids and teens to know that having a mom, dad, sibling, or other relative with a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. If we all work together to be more open about mental health, then we can overcome the stigma that threatens society and isolates so many people.

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