I got my sister’s birthday wrong. She was born on May 31st.
“You’ll find her at the corner of Hansel and University at the edge of an orange grove.” I answered the phone at 3am. The phone attached to the wall in the kitchen. It’s years before cell phones. Phones still had cords.
Her friends left her drunk at the side of the road. I found her in the dirt, rocking, her knees pressed against her chest. An orange had landed beside her, too heavy for the tree to hold onto. Abandoned. Lost from the rest. She had been treated like a pariah. She was 13. A kid in need of help like a toddler who can’t find her mom because mom has walked into another room.
I was 16. It was a good thing I drove and knew where the keys to my parents’ car were. I hoped she wouldn’t be sick in the car. Helping her get into the car was like moving a bag of pastry flour from the pantry to the counter. It takes two hands. She is dead weight with no handle.
There was no conversation on the way home. I left the radio off on the chance that she might want to talk. She was silent. A stone settled into mud. A body settled into leather.
Once home, I helped her to the toilet. I had to pull her pants down. Unzip her so she could pee. I left her alone, giving her a little bit of privacy. Ten minutes later and she was still on the toilet. She had passed out.
Somehow, I managed to get her into bed. Fortunately no puke gathered in her lap.
I pulled her desk chair beside the bed and sat. Someone had told me that a drunk person could get sick and drown on their own puke. I was a big sister taking care of my little sister. I was a light from a flash light, the beam steady on her face. Even passed out, she was beautiful.
So, if you read my blog a few weeks ago, you know that I ran into her again after seven years of no contact. She is 49 today. She looked like a homeless crack addict. It saddens me to know I can’t dump her into bed and watch her. She hasn’t telephoned yet. She remains lost to me. It hurts. I am tied to her like a helium balloon to a string in the hands of God. Hopefully, when the ballon pops, it will be reeled in and given the chance for new life. Not thrown in the trash but smoothed out on the desk. A picture of a kid playing in water on its rubber surface.
The first thing my sister said to me when I ran into her after 7 years of no contact was “Wow, you’re still alive.” And then my uncle said to me yesterday “I bet you didn’t think you’d see 53.”
It is true. I had no intention of living to 53. A driver has no intention of holding up traffic when her truck stalls out. I have had somewhere between 15 and 20 suicide attempts in my lifetime. The last one was in 1999. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to die since then; that’s simply the last time I attempted. Maybe the East Indian doctor with the soulful dark eyes, smelling of lavender, rubbed off on me. She told me at my bedside in the hospital ICU that I had a lot of life to live. That I had something special to offer. A five-year-old gets excited when she opens the door of the restaurant for her mother for the first time, offering entrance. I got excited about my book being published in 2014. It documented my recovery from schizophrenia and alcoholism. And yes, my time away from my last suicide attempt.
I have been free from the obsession to die for sometime now. That thought had plagued me like wanting a cigarette, needing a cigarette, in a smoke free coffee house. All thinking got set aside as I prayed for God to take me after swallowing handfuls of pills.
I am very bad at dying. It is hard to kill one’s self. I believe that those who do die from suicide were meant too….I can’t tell you why I believe this. Some ice cubes in a glass of tea float to the top while others remain at the bottom. I can’t tell you why all the ice doesn’t float to the top, getting in the way of the straw.
I am in the way of death. I have floated to the top. God removed my obsession to die. Life is new to me on a daily basis.
I remember the first time I tied my own shoes. I was excited to be able to do this on my own. On occasion, my shoe becomes untied while walking on the treadmill. I push the pause button and then bend over to tie my shoe. Ready to walk again, I hit a button and the treadmill resumes.
Life resumes. I love breathing. I love eating cake with butter cream frosting. I love that my cats woke me up this morning wanting kibbles. I take care of two living things. They thank me by curling up against me while I’m on the bed napping, writing, or reading.
There is no time to die today. Afternoon approaches. I know I will eat vegan chili, salad, and cornbread. I know I will wash my hair later. I will leave the house today to go to a sobriety meeting. I am 53 and loving it. So I say to my sister “I am alive and well.” She responds with a “thank God” and “it’s good to see you.” It is good to be seen. It will reach a 115 degrees here in the desert. And then there is air conditioning to be found inside.
Two friends let me know they wanted to know how I felt in my last blog; how it felt when I broke my wrist and got called a boy. I thought how I felt was implied in the actions I took. They said not.
When I walked myself from the two teachers, without talking to them, to the nurse’s office I felt alone and my wrist hurt as if a big foot had snapped it in two. I was a shy third grader, too afraid to ask for help yet showing up at the nurse’s office like a colt on the way to a blacksmith for the first time.
Dressed in pants with my hair short and my body long I was mistaken for a boy. One particular time, I was walking down the street with my grandfather. We were heading home after getting ice cream. A neighbor called to my grandfather and asked if I was his grandson. My grandfather replied “granddaughter.” The damage was done. I was hurt and embarrassed; a small dog wet from a bath looking like a rat. My grandfather tried to make good by bringing up my report card. He said he was proud of me. All A’s.
I ran into my sister at my psychiatric clinic. I was there to get medication. I heard her say “Kristina.” Looking up from my book, there she was. She had deeply wronged me years ago so I had walked away from her. Until that moment, I hadn’t had any contact with her since my father’s funeral seven years earlier.
Seeing her was terrible. She looked like she was suffering. She looked haunted. A friend said of me decades ago that I look haunted. Now I know what she meant. It’s something to do with the eyes and expression of the face. A child waiting to be scolded for licking all the frosting off the cake.
My sister is a drug addict along with being mentally ill. It has never been more obvious. She no longer has her Sandra Bullock good looks. She is missing her front teeth and the teeth that she does have look rotted. Her face is tanned like that of a person who can’t get away from the sun, who has no shelter. Although it’s not cold, she is wrapped in a blanket. Her pants are hospital issued and her white t-shirt has seen happier days. It is no longer full of air and breeze like soft cotton is when new.
I give her my phone number but am not particularly kind to her. All said, she is still my baby sister. I wish I had been more welcoming. It’s been six days and she has yet to call. If anyone reading this knows her, please encourage her to get a hold of me. I am an older sister wanting to erase some of her strain, wanting to offer her a hot cup of coffee laced with vanilla syrup, wanting to embrace her in a hug that is intended. All said, I do love her. It hurts to know she suffers. It hurts like frost bite on a winter day, so unnecessary if simply clothed. There but for the grace of God go I…..
Change the pants and you change the person. I read something similar to this and agreed with it. When I was in first grade living in New York I wore skirts with tights in the winter. On my way to the bus stop one morning I slipped and tore up the skin on my leg, shredding the tights. Had I been in pants, I would not have bloodied myself. This wasn’t enough for me to stop wearing skirts.
In third grade, I leapt form the top of the monkey bars on the school playground. In flight like a pigeon before it lands on a bread crumb. I had done this before. This time, though, my skirt got stuck on one of the protruding metal bars on my way down throwing me off balance. I landed wrists bent in front of my face in order to prevent myself from breaking my nose. Something happened to my wrist. I knew this as I knew the color of my skirt was mint green. I approached the two teachers who were monitoring the playground. They were talking amongst themselves and being the shy girl that I was, I didn’t interrupt them. I took myself to the nurses office and explained to her that I had broken my fall with my hands and that something felt wrong with my wrist. She said it was probably just a sprain but phoned my mother anyway. Mom came and got me and had the where with all to take me to the doctor’s. The doctor took an x-ray and determined that I had broken the two largest bones in my wrist. Had I been wearing pants, this would have never happened. I took to wearing pants.
My hair was cut in a pixie. With my hair short and my body tall, people mistook me for a boy. I still remained in pants like a male skater in gear, warding off the cold and protected should he fall. No shorts. And certainly, no skirts.
Pants were and are freeing. No need to cross my legs in fear that someone will look up my skirt. Able to do cartwheels and stand on my head. Able to fall and get up from the dirt and simply brush myself off.
My person was definitely change with my change of apparel. I gained confidence despite being called a boy. Years later, I grew my hair long. It’s amazing how life changing that simple gesture was, also. Yay for jeans, coordination, and a pony tail. When feeling feminine I will still wear a skirt. Just no splits or cartwheels.
I think this blog lacks charisma. Sigh. I’m still determined to blog weekly. Thank you for reading. Always, thank you for your support.
So I let my friend, Gloria, know that I would be posting a blog every Monday. Letting her know this makes me accountable. I’m a say what you mean and do what you say kind of woman. I will indeed make an effort to post every Monday.
Rather than write, I’ve been doing a tremendous amount of reading. Sometimes I flash back to 1998 and the two years I spent depressed, in bed, wishing I would never wake. When I did wake, I read. It was two years of chocolate cake, cheese danish, and reading. I was so sensitive to sound and stimulation that my grandmother’s feet shuffling down the hall outside my bedroom door infuriated me. I was the stalk of a sunflower who had lost all her petals and could only dream about the color yellow. The stalk I was, rotted. I had to morph into the roots of a potato, a yam, something of the earth that was sturdy enough to withstand long periods of drought. Waking was brutal.
I have an enormous fear of depression. I never want to find myself confined to a bedroom for long periods of time again. I don’t want to rot in my own mind.
I have a friend who is severely depressed. I share with her where I’ve been. I might as well be talking to a snail. She doesn’t respond to things I say, but then, I could not perk up from pep talks, either. I could not fathom that someone else could have been locked in the tunnel, also. No light. Little breath. Short gasps. And me, tucked beneath dirty sheets.
Thank God life has moved on since then. I read today and remind myself I am not chained to books. I can put the book down and fix myself a spinach salad. I can put the book down and shower, allowing the water to massage my shoulders. I can put the book down and wash my sheets, making myself comfortable in the family room. I answer the phone. I put gas in my Fore-runner. I drive to work. And I do work.
I may have a dark night, but I don’t have dark weeks. I am free to roam outside my home. I love being alive the way my cats love watching the wind rattle the bushes from their perch on the window sill. The light pours in. I am alive. I feel my cats rub against me and I do love.
I’m reading a young adult novel The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall. A young adult novel because I’m interested in writing a young adult novel. And yes, the main characters in the book are ghosts.
One of my closet friends has been a ghost hunter, recording paranormal activity. Obviously, she believes, without a doubt, that places can be haunted. I don’t know that I believe this. I do know that I feel my grandmother and mother near me at times. I don’t know if that’s because they truly are or because I will them to be with all my might. My cats, Grams named after my grandmother, and Annie named after my mother, do often stare at space intently as if they’re watching something move about. Their ears prick up and their eyes focus. I imagine a gust of fog entering my bedroom like smoke trailing from a lit cigarette in somebody’s hand.
I’m also listening to Andy Cohen read from his diaries. I wonder what makes his drinking coffee and buttering toast more interesting than someone else doing the same thing. Seeing as his diaries made it to fourth on the New York Time’s Bestsellers List he must be doing something right. The mundane becomes extraordinary. I wonder if he can make flossing teeth entertaining simply because he’s Andy.
I write memoirs. I must think, like Andy, that something I’ve done is worth telling. I’ve listened to people say “write what you’d want to read.” So I’ve done this. I’ve written about hope despite the fact that I have schizophrenia and alcoholism. My sweat is no sweeter than others; I’ve just managed to wipe my brow on page ten and change my socks for a clean pair on page eleven.
Writing about my life is hard, is fun, is something I hope to continue doing even if or when someone tells me I’m boring.