Have you ever had a loved one come so close to the edge, to teeter on the brink of life and death, and you know it’s your fault that they went that far? Watch helplessly as they struggle, knowing you caused it? Knowing that, if it wasn’t for other people, they’d be dead?
Well, I have. And this is my story that I’ve never told anyone.
My parents divorced when I was nine, I was one of the first in my grade to start puberty, I’d lost my best friend to another school. I thought I knew about struggles, at least a little. That’s when October 28, 2016, kicked me viciously in the gut.
“Ella, what’s wrong?” I whispered to my twin sister on the other side of the bathroom stall. My answer came in the form of a sob, barely whipped into words.
“I want to kill myself.”
Just like that, the process started. It was as if I was given the sun to swallow. I started to cry.
“When Toby said I didn’t need the makeup to be the pyscho, he had no idea how close he was,” she said.
“Have you ever been to the edge?” she said.
“I came so close, once,” she said.
I took her to the school counselor, because what was I to do? I was a twelve-year-old kid! Now, I know I didn’t do enough. I should have told my mom. I should have spoken up.
Instead, I stayed quiet.
It was for another month when the police showed up at school. After one of her friends called a suicide hotline. A friend that should have been me. Finally, our parents found out. They sent her to therapy.
But they didn’t see the food she wasn’t eating.
They didn’t see the first scars that climbed up her arms.
But they did pay attention. Suddenly, I was in the background. I never got noticed anymore. I could go through a day with my mom saying fewer than ten sentences to me and hundreds to my sister.
I finally told my mother that I was feeling neglected. I could tell she cared, but it wasn’t the biggest thing on her mind by far. We ended up discussing Ella again after about two minutes. I was slightly crushed that day.
We turned thirteen shortly after, but otherwise, nothing huge happened. I started walking alone. I’d spend hours locked alone in my room, but no one noticed.
I was weighed down by so much guilt. I noticed that she would throw away her lunch sometimes. I noticed the first scars. But I thought her therapist would handle it.
It was about a week later and a half later, January 11, 2017. We were just back from winter break, and Ella was really depressed. She was getting worse. She’d cut the word please into her skin. I nearly broke down crying when she showed me, but we were surrounded by a bunch of other middle schoolers, so I couldn’t. I just had to bit back the tears and try to comfort the voices crying inside me. But that wasn’t why this day was so horrible.
I got picked up from basketball practice that afternoon, having had a really bad day, and it got 10 times worse. The first thing my mom told me would almost ruin me.
“Get in the car. We’re taking Ella to the hospital.”
I gasped and my jaw dropped almost to the ground. My words came out as a frail squeak. “Why?”
“She told me she really wanted to kill herself. I asked her if she would kill herself tonight and she said –“
My mom barely bit back a sob.
“What?” I asked weakly.
“She said I want to kill myself every day.”
The voices inside cried again, but my eyes stayed dry.
When we drove into the waiting room of the hospital, all the lights from the sky were gone, seemingly sucked into the florescent bulbs in the hospital’s garish rooms.
I waited for my dad to pick me up so I could spend the night with him. While I was trying to wade through some homework, doctors came in to ask Ella questions, take her blood pressure, do some tests, etc. But I really only remember one thing.
One nurse was asking her questions about her depression. One of these questions was, do you have a plan of how you would kill yourself?
And she replied, with complete composure. “My mom likes to cook a lot and she had a lot of knives. I would probably just take one and stab myself.”
That was the closest I came to crying. The lump in my throat was blocking all reason. But I had to stay strong. The voices inside could cry. But I could not.
My dad finally picked me up and I hugged my sister so tight, I don’t think she could breathe. I think I whispered how much I loved her, but that might have been just in my mind.
I remember I had to finish my speech for a debate in English the next day. My topic was Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal? and my side was negative. I remember being horribly upset about even the mere mention of suicide. However, it did help me make a good speech. I did lose the debate (unfairly), but I am proud of my speech.
Finally, when I was alone in my room (actually it was Ella’s and mine, but I tried not to think about that), I let the tears come. And they did, hot and thick down my face. They pooled on my chest and dribbled down my pajamas. I just kept crying and crying. Finally, my eyes were too dry to hold more tears and I was reduced to holding my knees and rocking back and forth like a child, hiccupping pitifully.
I’m not sure how much sleep I got that night, but I know it couldn’t have been more than three or four hours.
Ella was taken to a suicide hospital the next day to remain there for a week. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
School passed in a blur, and I took to blaring music and sitting alone in my room in my free time. My mom was a wreck, so I tried to stay strong for the both of us. But I wasn’t strong. I was so weak. My knees threatened to buckle and I could have collapsed into a pool of tears at any instant.
Little did I know that that would be much easier than when she came back. I thought when she came back from the hospital, she would be better. She wasn’t. Not that much, anyway.
School became a looking-after-Ella ordeal I had to go through every day. For me and her friends. She was pretty unstable. Sometimes my mom would keep her home for the day. Sometimes she’d only go for half the day. Sometimes she took huge gaps in the day to go to some appointment or another. But she did sometimes go full day. And it was scary. I remember one day she was really bad.
We were in STEM class (that’s actually a class at our school) and it was group work. Our STEM teacher is young and not experienced and if we look like we’re doing work, he won’t pay attention if we’re talking. The class hummed with energy and I was working with two of my friends. We were actually working, even if we did get sidetracked every once in a while. I was having a generally good time. Then one of Ali’s friends walked over and whispered urgently to me.
“You should come over and help. Please.”
My good mood immediately dissipated. I quickly moved to Ella’s seat and she was holding onto the end of a pair of scissors. The other end is held by Ella’s friend Laila.
“Please give them to me. You don’t understand!” Ella growled, but it was another voice that came from her tongue. It was a voice of pain and misery.
I quickly snatched the scissors from both of them and stalked across the room to put them away. I returned to see her trying to claw her way out of her friends' grip to the drawer of scissors. I pinned her down, but my hands were shaking. I tried to speak calmly, but the lump in my throat was too big.
“Ella! Put your head on right! You can’t hurt yourself! We’re in class!” I snarled at my struggling sister, one I finally composed myself.
She just kept struggling and clawing, tearing my heart in the process. She didn’t make her way to another pair of scissors and luckily the class was busy enough that she didn’t attract everyone’s attention. Her next class was with a strict teacher and she couldn’t hurt herself again. She didn’t come to school the next day.
Nor did my heart. That stayed with my sister.
She still came to school on and off, with more time off than on. She was getting a little better. The only time she did really seem like she was going to kill herself again was right after her boyfriend broke up with her.
I would go into more detail about this occurrence, but I don’t for two reasons.
One, I hated the guy and was frankly a little pleased to see him go.
Two, it was a horrible day and I don’t want to start crying as I’m writing this.
Actually, I was wrong. There was one more time where she could have killed herself. It was maybe three weeks after she came back from the hospital, and she was still very depressed. I heard from her friends one thing that would have chilled my blood if it hadn’t already been frozen solid from the past few months.
“If I don’t feel better by Friday, I’m just going to drink bleach and die.”
It goes without saying that she stayed home under the watchful eye of my mother all of Friday. She stayed alive.
That doesn’t mean I paid attention in school that day.
There is one more thing I will elaborate for you, dear Reader. And this is where I feel the worst. Because I wasn’t there.
I’d been invited to go to a leadership conference in Chicago with nine other members of our Student Council. I’d immediately accepted. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was possibly the best and most inspirational weekend of my life. Because I didn’t know what happened while I was gone.
I’d missed the Middle School Valentine’s Day dance while I was gone. Ella went, against my advice, but what did I know? I was only thirteen. Her therapist recommended it. So, she went.
Her ex-boyfriend had asked her dance. She’d said no, with the voices of her friends in her ears. They kept whispering bits of fractured advice and fragments of gossip.
She ran outside into, which was forbidden. She ran and ran. No one could find her. Not for a while. But they did. Eventually. And that’s where Ella made a huge mistake. eight words.
“I don’t want anyone else to get hurt.”
She ended up being picked up from that dance early. And she was not allowed to come back to school for six weeks.
And I missed it.
She eventually got better. Those six weeks helped her. She returned all better and does not want to kill herself at all. I can enjoy happy memories with my sister. But no amount of good experiences and happy memories will keep the bad memories away.
I will always remember crying in the bathroom, her going to that hospital that night, taking those scissors with trembling hands, missing that dance where she was left alone.
And I will always remember that this was my fault. If I told right away. If I’d noticed better and not been afraid to speak up, we might not have ever gone through that.
And yes, I say we and not she. Because it was an ordeal for everyone involved. Her friends, my friends, my parents’ friends, our family. Everyone.
So, I’m sorry I brought you to the edge, dear sister. I know this doesn’t make up for much, but it needs to be out there. And I do want you to know that, however much I have hurt you, I love you with all my heart. As battered and bruised as it is, every part of it is yours for the taking.