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There she went.
I watched helplessly as the car faded into the distance, headlights fading taking the depressed eyes and faint silhouette that had once been my sister away within it. Suburban roads’ silence and serenity broken with sirens and bright flashing lights, the tangible authenticity was sickening. The past year of my life flew before my eyes like an uncontrollable slideshow that had unexpectedly began, quickly escalated, and become uncontrollably heartbreaking.
It all began when I had entered high school, a mere freshman trying to fit into the established, intimidating high school standards for being liked, accepted, and popular. It all began as my older sister, Renie, entered her junior year of high school, for the third year trying to be noticed, at the very least acknowledged. Quickly finding companionship in the likes of upper-classmen and those centered in the high school social agenda, my first few months of high school went surprising smooth. Embraced by various groups and invited to many parties, I was finding it hard to believe that my sister had referred to high school as only a torturous prison holding adolescents back from the real world. I began to resent the negative attitude Renie had designated for the new environment that sung quite a different tune for me.
Did I at times realize that it might have been hard for my sister to see my abrupt ascendance to a popularity so foreign to her? Truthfully, where my focus was concentrated became far extended from the likes of my older sister, even when we were to face each other. In the hall, subconsciously, my trained eye would overlook the unenthused and obviously uninformed crowd that countered the one I called my own, even when ‘those’ included my own flesh and blood. People forgot we were related; I may have forgotten as well. As my fascination with labeled clothing, high-end shoes, and Mary Kay’s makeup tips grew tremendously, my sister’s physical and physiological decline became a subtle detail I failed to transmit into relevancy. I would go out and while at home fill the silence she created.
Holidays came and passed that year with my blind self-absorbed attention creeping further away from the one I called sister. Soon enough, however, I would be placed within the shocking presence of reality. The new year brought a new fashion concern and materialistic mindset for me and a new, dubious crowd and equally as foreboding black wardrobe for Renie. Just different, expressing herself in an odd way, the girl who I used to be so close with became a stranger to me as I failed to understand the life she ran from, the depression she felt, and the pain she endured.
With May came the long-awaited prom season. Expecting invitations from the older guys I had spent the year idolizing, my mind habitually found reserves far from the immediate issues that truly lay over my life. It wasn’t until halfway into the month on prom night would I realize the extreme to bring me to my senses.
Arriving home from school, ready to prepare for Junior prom, it hadn’t occurred to me that Renie should be going. As I quickly, lightly galloped up the stairs and entered my room, there was a note on my desk. With the beautiful penmanship that had become so foreign to me, I recognized it was my sister’s illustration of ‘Catherine’ on the front of an envelope. Reminiscing upon the notes she always used to leave me, seemingly ages ago, I slowly opened the letter enclosed.
My dearest Catherine, wherever you may have gone. I love you and wish I could
have been stronger. Good-bye.
Deep breath, panic, what has happened? It was my fault; it was my parent’s fault; what did it matter at this point who’s fault it was? I ran out of my room into hers, a trip down the hall that felt longer than any distance I had ever run before. She lay on the ground, her unlived life flashing before my eyes, pills sprawled out next to her.
In shock, in utter disbelief, I screamed. Stepping back then forward then running to grasp her cold hand, it couldn’t be too late could it? My mom ran upstairs, then my dad, then the police, the paramedics. I watched the ambulance fade into the distance, stammering words and robotic motions into climbing into my mother’s SUV to follow the fleeting lights. The black interior and exterior of the vehicle revealed the foreboding destiny I had been surrounded with, yet completely unaware of. My divine happiness and naïve, untouched countenance had finally become dually tainted. Pain had knocked on the door and invited itself in without our acceptance or forewarning.
After stomach pumps and tubes and wires, her fragile body lay drained and exhausted with starvation, self-inflicted torture, and hope for death. “She would be okay,” they stammered, unable to look at us in the eyes placing obvious blame on us for the ecstasy Renie endured. “What have they done?” they so blatantly wondered. They were right in my mind, making it even more difficult to bare. Where would we go from here?
All of a sudden my breathing became abnormally heavy and I gasped for the air surrounding me feeling helpless and terrified as I collapsed on the floor. Awakening hours later in a hospital bed, the eyes of my mother revealed the fate I would be faced with would be unfortunate. As I slowly scanned my surroundings I saw Renie across the room, peacefully having just woken from her unconscious slumber, one in which I wished would simultaneously wake us all up from this horrible nightmare.
I was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition: HCM. Restricting an individual’s physical abilities, exercising capacity, and stress levels, all of these mediums if exceeded could end in my death. Never before have I faced such injustice, it wasn’t fair! How could a diagnosis have so much control and power over my life? My physical limitations festered resentment towards an attribute I had no control over. Then, I saw the concern in the face of Renie. We were all here for her and she was concerned about me!
I called the nurse to my bedside and asked if I could have my bed pushed up alongside Renie’s. Hesitantly she obliged and started wheeling my bed towards my sister’s. Renie just stared in my direction as her eyes welled with tears. When my bed ended right next to hers I reached for her hand and squeezed it gently. “I’m sorry,” she quickly whispered and I quickly reiterated the sentiment in a tone that sought a forgiveness I did not deserve. We lay there that afternoon realizing the levels it had come to for our similarities to be noticed and acknowledged. Hand in hand we cried for our hearts’ pains were different, but we were sisters and that day made a covenant to optimism and recovery. Illness would be fought and only eye contact allowed for her to realize that she was worth more than the torture she rudimentarily assigned herself. She was not bound by depression, depression had bound her and she needed someone to help her escape. I was not bound by the expectations of society, I had been held victim of its intoxicating influence and needed my life to be put into perspective. That day was the start of a new life for Renie and me.
The loneliness she feared so much I pushed away revealing a hidden independence she had avoided. The reliance on other peoples’ acceptance was pointless and extraneous to what should be gotten out of life: love, happiness, and laughter. Both of our illnesses needed diagnosis, but treatment plans could be invested within one another. Sisters’ hearts hurt, differently, yet with the most effective refuge rooted in the same place. In our battle it is just the beginning with miles yet to go, but in initiating our efforts to fight, I will forever remember what we were able to give each other on that day: hope.