The day my sister tried to kill herself my dad was late picking me up after a volleyball game. Sophomore year, license-less, and rosy nosed I sat perched on the edge of a picnic table in front of the gym. I was shivering and pissed. The sky faded from pastel counterparts of blue to pink, showing the slightest signs of dimming. When I entered the gold car, fuming, I immediately asked my father what took him so long. He didn’t answer at first. You could attribute my attitude to the fact that we had lost our matches but I didn’t care about that at all.
“Your sister is in the hospital,” was all he said at first. I acted without hesitation.
“Why? What happened?”
My father was silent again, we had just re-entered Sewanee’s domain and I tapped on the car’s ceiling.
I don’t remember if I cried or not.
My sister had been unstable for my entire life, although, because of my youth and subsequent innocence, I was ignorant to most of it. The climax of this mental instability began the summer before my freshman year, during two intense manic episodes while she, my mother, and I were out shopping. I remember walking straight into Nordstrom, welcoming its bright and dry interior, my back turned to my sister who had begun screaming at the black minivan which had nearly hit us. I left her under the drizzling sky and didn’t look back once. An hour later we were in WalMart, the tiles stark white and illuminated by the large hanging fluorescent bulbs above, I stared at them intently; slinking away from her crippled by embarrassment. She had begun cursing out an innocent man for accidentally bumping our cart. This behavior didn’t shock me, it seemed inevitable; however, nothing could have prepared me for the shame I felt at the sheer magnitude of the spectacle. If you asked me to describe the worst day of my life, that would be it.
In many ways I was my sister’s rock, the person she could turn to when everyone else would judge her. I think she valued my transparency, although it took some prodding to get to it. The only time I regret not being transparent was when she terminated her pregnancy. She bribed me to go along with the promise of Korean BBQ afterward. It took us ages to find the pregnancy clinic, but once we did, I was surprised to learn it was a Christian center. The visit was just a check-up and I was fairly certain she was set on having the abortion; however, knowing my sister, she was infamously indecisive. For much of the consultation I wasn’t allowed into the back rooms with her, so I sat in the waiting rooms wholeheartedly content with being barred from facing the harsh reality of life, real life. I read pamphlets designated for soon-to-be dads and shuddered at the thought.
When I was allowed back, I stared, mute, at the live ultrasound. The pulsation of black and white flesh encapsulating the tiny creature with a truly massive head astounded me. The technician turned to my sister, who was gazing up sheepishly at the monitor.
“Would you like a print with ‘Hi Mom!’ on it?”
One of the clinic workers who was in the room with us lead me back to the waiting room. She asked about our mom and dad and how they would feel about my sister’s pregnancy and her decision. I gave her the most sincere answer I could muster, she was a complete stranger, but I wanted to tell her anything and everything about me. I attribute this to her eyes, doe-like with amber irises bordered by delicate lashes; kindness made palpable. I don’t remember what the rest of her looked like. The final inquiry she put forth was how I, personally, felt about the whole ordeal. Although I was completely composed throughout the entire inquisition, that final question caused me to lose everything holding me together. The walls of the room were a dull salmon pink and that’s all I could see through the great deluge. My chest rose and fell sporadically with every sparse breath. I gasped for air to answer the question. My throat became stiff in that all too familiar feeling when I wept for my sister. At that moment, I allowed myself to feel weak; the lady gave me practically a box’s worth of individual tissues. I don’t remember my response, but I still have the tissues in my bag.
I only ever cry when there’s a reason to, when the agglomeration of emotion reaches an apex too unbearable to restrain. When the tears come, they’re healing and restorative. The last time I cried for my sister, I was sitting on my front veranda. It was a few days before she would fly to Alaska. Tears fell in intermittent drips, creating dark dots on my oversized t-shirt. I thought of our time together in Seattle that past summer, walking back from the bookstore. The sun was eye-level at this point, blinding at times when it wasn’t concealed by foliage. It bathed everything in the kind of ethereal light you only see in edited photographs, too good to be true. Wild blackberries we picked from roadside bushes stained my fingertips and lips, their seeds refusing to dislodge themselves from my retainer. Her announcement to move 4,000 miles away didn’t shock me. Nothing she did shocked me. I could have been angry with her, for tainting a few of the most formative years of my life and then leaving so abruptly. But this was her final frontier, another chance at redemption. I had to let her go. Back on the veranda, wiping the tears away with the inside of my hand I understood why I cried. Though never willingly admitted, I would miss her.
If you asked me to recall the best day of my life, I would say that the sky was a uniform heather grey and laden with moisture, teasing rain but never following through. My sister took me on one of our famous drives through rural Tennessee to the ‘somewhat-cities’. I can still feel the wind lapping at my face as I leaned out the window to get a closer look at fuchsia and purple morning glories which climbed the stop sign to my right. We arrived at the Coffee County library, the scent of worn paper and hands intermingling into a single homogenous feeling of safety. My book of choice was some kiddie retelling of the King Arthur legend, my 8-year-old interest piqued by a recent modern film depiction of the story. I don’t believe I looked up once on the drive home.