When You Grow Up Taking Care Of Your Big Sister

Shutterstock / Versta
Shutterstock / Versta

You and your sister shared a room ever since you were born. In fact, she was at your birth. She said she watched you come out, but you don’t think that’s actually true. But she said she loved you right away, and you know that’s true. She would watch you sleep in your crib, and sometimes you would wake up and see a gigantic, beautiful brown eye staring at you. It would make you cry and wail hysterically until it dissolved into laughter.

As you grew older, your crib became the trundle bed to her day bed. It would get tucked away in the mornings, your existence erased. The teddy bear wallpaper, rows and rows of bears with hats in between blue dots, housed a tiny collection of her boogers that she would pick straight from her nose and wipe onto the wall. Your parents never knew until they moved out, when they were stiff and tall like a tiny forest.

She taught you about boys and weed, and was the one to pluck your eyebrows so you wouldn’t get teased for having a unibrow in sixth grade. She protected you from your mother, stood up to your friends when they were mean to you, made you a beautiful graduation cake with all of your favorite things (butterflies and purple balloons). She was the one who came out to check on you at the pool party when that boy called you fat. Your sister, the beautiful one with the perfect makeup and shiny hair, the one who had all the boys chasing her. She brought you home presents all the time, she was sweet to you, and you could never upset her, never disappoint her.

But she upset you a lot. She never ate and even lied about what she wore the other day. She stole from everyone, including you. She hid things and relapsed and went to rehab often. She told you she was going to get clean. She promised. She always promised and you always believed her.

Until the last time you stopped believing her. You didn’t even know if you could believe her when she said her friend had assaulted her, showed up at her house, grabbed her, threw her around, raped her. You didn’t believe that she was clean and sober, that she was working the steps.

You had given up on her. You couldn’t take any more ups and downs, any more disappointments. You were done with your sister. You screamed at your mother, “Why is she even here? She’s lazy, sleeping on the couch all day long. She’s not working. She’s not even paying rent. Kick her out!” You knew your sister heard you. You didn’t care. “Good, I hope she hears me!” you screamed back. You have to pay rent and you’re only 16. She’s 21. She needs to get her life together.

The night of her accident, that’s all you can think about. That last time you saw her alive you yelled not even at her, but about her. Over her. You pretended she wasn’t even there. She was invisible to you.
So you prayed and prayed even though you’re not religious. You prayed that she would make it through, if only just to tell her how sorry you are. You didn’t mean any of it. She would make it through right? She would survive flying off of a motorcycle going over 90 miles an hour, helmet sliding off, landing on her jaw, cutting her tongue, breaking her face, losing her teeth, tire tracks on her belly, skin shaved off from the pavement, brain swelling with pressure and liquid.

Your brain is swelling with pressure, but a different kind, a kind of pressure from anxiety and guilt and dread.

She ends up surviving, against all odds. She has always been so stubborn. When she comes home, two months in a coma, four months in the hospital, wheelchair bound and knowing a handful of words, she throws up almost immediately from the lasagna you made, after only one forkful. It was her welcome home dinner. You were excited to have her home. Things would be okay. But she threw up the dinner. She wasn’t used to eating solid foods, so you can’t take it personally. Did she even realize she threw up? Would this be how she’d stay, a gummy smile like a baby’s, pupils like pancakes, shaved head struggling to stay aligned with her body?

Over the years, she improves greatly. She’s walking and talking and telling jokes and making greeting cards. But she still lies and steals. She calls your mother a cunt, a whore, tells her to go kill herself, screams that she fucking hates everyone around her.

You want to be the sister that she was to you. You want to protect her and feel an alliance with her, agree and say, “Yeah, Mom is the worst!” But you know that’s not right. You worry about your sister. You feel an incredible amount of sadness. Will she ever find love? Get married? Have children? More importantly, will she ever be happy? Will she be able to live independently, without being with your mother all the time? Will she ever be able to go to school and get a job like she’s been asking about for the last 10 years?

You want so badly for her to fit in. You worry about the day she will realize she’s different. Maybe she already knows this, but hides it. Is today the day she realizes that children stare at her? Is today when she realizes people ask what happened to her, but only after she is slightly out of earshot?

You’re ready to explain. You’re ready to defend her. You’re ready to cry, to fight, to scream. But no one challenges you.

Today is the day you realize the person you are ready to fight is yourself. TC mark

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