I was in the heat of my sophomore slump, at the beach for the weekend with friends I felt could not possibly love someone as flawed and unsure as I was, when I got the call. My 15-year-old sister had been sent home from boarding school with a severe eating disorder. It was out of the blue, a complete surprise to me, who was used to knowing everything about her, and my first emotion was not worry but loneliness. I felt double the loneliness, hers piled on top of mine, a loneliness I thought would drown me if I didn’t move. So I went to the beach and I walked for hours while my racing, tortured mind came up with this poem:
Today there’s something scary about the beach
That used to be pretty but now just looks bleached
So many people, everyone but you
So are you alone somewhere? I wish that I knew
Because all I’ve ever wanted is for you to be
Completely and painfully honest with me
I wish that you knew that I could never be
Disappointed in you, just be honest with me
And happy, just happy, like we used to be
But now I don’t know, was it all an illusion?
Did we get tricked by a world of confusion?
And pain, and loneliness, how can we get out?
Or is this just what growing up is about?
‘Cause you’re over there and I’m over here
And I know in my heart that we have the same fears
People say the world’s small but it feels way too big
For two people who just need each other to live
And there’s deadlines and judgments and it all just keeps moving
So if we slow down how will we know what we’re doing?
And if we stop now is there no coming back?
But that’s if we could even get off the track
And if we did stop would it even be fair
To expect those who love us to be there, to care?
But we wouldn’t need them, we wouldn’t, I swear
If both of us stopped, if we stripped out lives bare
It all sounds so easy so why’s it so rare?
Because people would look at us with downcast eyes
And they’d say those poor girls how they’ve ruined their lives
But we wouldn’t hear them ‘cause we’d be alone
And unlike those people who only press “Go”
Those who climb mountains, who reach all their goals
They conquer the world but do they have a home?
If only it wasn’t so hard to let go
But it is, and that’s why I’m here and you’re there
With way more between us that miles and thin air
But when we’re apart we both don’t have enough
And I know this is more than a hand of bad luck
So I want you to know that although I can’t stop
Though I’m a coward on my way to the top
Under all this I’m as lonely as you
And I think that things could change, if only you knew
So you’d think it would be easy, after that, to call my sister and tell her these things, but it wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t tell her until a week later, standing beside her hospital bed after she’d gotten much worse. I didn’t tell her because there is a lot of risk in being honest, especially, I think, with those we love the most – What if he gets angry and shuts me out? What if she stares back at me blankly? What if I have it all wrong? But what I’ve learned from this is that it’s worth it. It’s worth it because in the best-case scenario, two fearful people do not equal double the fear, two people in pain will not suffer double the pain, and two lonely people will no longer be crushed by double the loneliness. Instead, while it may not go away, the fear, the pain, and the loneliness will suddenly seem smaller. It will go from seeming to transcend the ends of the earth to something you can hold in the palms of your hands, together. Love conquers fear, pain, and loneliness any day, all we have to do is be vulnerable with those we love. And we have to do it now.