Oh, Sister.

My first sister was born just before my second birthday. I don’t remember it but my mom said I was so mad about it that when she first came home from the hospital I refused to talk to her for days. I believe it, that sounds like something I would do.

Despite my mom’s attempts to make Rebecca and I be alike, we weren’t. The matching dresses and hairstyles couldn’t make two girls that were total opposites be the same. I was loud and independent and always wanted to be the center of attention. Rebecca was quiet and shy and never left my mom’s side.

Growing up, we were not close. She was my mom’s favorite, I was my dad’s and that was that. We didn’t share secrets or friends, we didn’t stay up late together talking about fashion or crushes or, well, anything really. We shared a bedroom and I would occasionally crawl in bed with her when I got scared, but it wasn’t because I loved her, it was just because I was scared of the dark and she happened to be there and I didn’t want to get in trouble for waking my parents up. I never felt any sort of big sister obligation towards her and in fact, I wasn’t even particularly nice to her. I never let her hang out with me and my friends and when her friends wanted to hang out with me instead of her, I gladly obliged. She would cry, but I didn’t even care that she was sad. I was not a good big sister at all…until I was about 10 years old.

Just before I turned 10 my parents had my sister, Kimmy, and I was crazy about her. I loved everything about being a big sister to her. I would take her to my friends houses and we would take her for walks in her stroller for hours. When she started to crawl and walk, I didn’t mind chasing her around. She had long ringlet curls and I remember sitting on our porch in the summer and watching her run around with the curls bouncing on her back. In the winter, I hated the snow but she loved it so I would bundle up to go out and make snow angels to make her happy.

My youngest sister, Kari was born when I was 13. By that age I was so embarrassed that my mom was pregnant that I didn’t tell anyone! I knew the baby was coming in the summer, so I figured that most of my friends would never have to know. But when she arrived, I instantly fell in love with her. She was the cutest baby I had ever seen and I was an even better sister to her than I had been to Kimmy. By the time she was a toddler I had my drivers license and I took her everywhere with me. These two little girls were more like my own kids than my sisters and I would have done anything to make them happy.

I remember as a teenager one time that I was so upset that I was crying uncontrollably because I didn’t want them to grow up. I recently asked my mom about this to see if she remembered it. I thought it was a single instance but my mom said it happened a lot, “all the time”, she said. I don’t remember that but my mom was sure of it and said I cried because I was worried that they would die. I wonder now if I had some sort of premonition of what was to come.

When I got married, the girls were still pretty young and they spent a lot of time at my house. I loved having them around and it gave my parents a break. I had my first son when Kimmy was 10 and Kari was only 6, so they especially loved being around then.

I got my first taste of what it was like to have teenagers long before my own child got there. I’ve heard people say that parents “check out” with their last kids, and my parents definitely loosened up. I don’t know that they checked out so much as they just lot control, but things got really bad when Kimmy and Kari got older. There was a lot of drinking, partying and staying out all night. Our next door neighbor’s daughter, who was around the girls age, was killed in a car accident right before Christmas and I remember praying “please God, don’t let anything bad happen to my sisters.” Little did I know then how hard I would be praying that in the coming years.

There are several years that are kind of a blur when our family just sort of started unraveling. Lots of things happened that contributed to it, but one thing in particular stands out – Addiction.

In 2009,  my cousin called me in the middle of the night. I never talked to her and I have no idea how she even had my phone number, but she called to tell me that my sister had just called her. She said she needed help, that she was high and she didn’t know where she was. My cousin was panicked and now I was too. I called my sister over and over and she never answered. I was up all night worrying and praying “please God, don’t let anything bad happen to my sisters.”

That night came and went and I don’t remember exactly what happened. She probably called me the next day and told me my cousin was crazy. She would tell me that a lot over the next couple of years. My parents were crazy when they told me their stuff was missing. My other sisters were crazy when they told me that she was hanging around people that were using drugs. Her boss was crazy when she called me looking for her. Everyone except her was crazy.

Rebecca and I got really close over those years. There was nobody else to talk to about this because when your family appears to be normal, who do you tell that it’s falling apart? Rebecca is amazing and strong and became one of my favorite people and I often feel sad that I missed out on a relationship with her before this.

The day I realized my sister was really in trouble I remember that I was sitting on the floor with Rebecca one day at my parents house and Kimmy was sitting in my dad’s recliner. I don’t recall exactly what had lead to the conversation but we were talking with Kimmy about her using drugs. She was downplaying it of course and acting like it was no big deal, like she didn’t have a problem. Then she scratched her arm and the sleeve of her burgundy sweater went up a little and I saw all of these dots on her arm. I lifted her sleeve and asked what those were. Flea bites, she said. But I felt my heart sink and that was the very moment that I knew things were bad.

Still, we went on pretending that things were alright. We had spent a lifetime covering up the addiction in my family, first my dad’s, now my sister’s. If you want to know what it’s like to be the sober relative of a drug addict you can read more about that here. I’ve written a lot about it but haven’t published most of it because it’s just too hard. It’s honestly the most difficult thing that I’ve dealt with in my entire life. I think it would appear that to be the addict would be the toughest thing, but I’m not sure that’s true. To be the one who loves an addict…that’s not easy.

With this addiction I’ve learned about all sorts of new things – arrests, overdoses, convictions, probation, parole, rehab centers, etc. Before this, I had never had any experience with these things and now I could probably teach classes on them all. And all these new lessons, I learned them from my baby sister – the same little girl that I watched chase butterflies and play in the sprinkler.

My role as a big sister changed from fun loving babysitter to friend to constant worrier to jailhouse visitor to caretaker and guardian of her son. For years now, I have had very little left in the sister department to give to my other two because I am exhausted from the addiction of the one.

Although we’ve had some decent moments since this new addiction joined our family, most of the memories we’ve made in the past decade are overshadowed by it. Holidays are marked now by whether or not we’re all together – which is basically code for “was she in jail or rehab or the hospital or was she with us”.

Being a big sister is tough. And although there have been times in my life that I think I’ve done alright, there are lots of other times that I’m embarrassed of or feel like I’ve failed them. But still, I love my sisters – all of them – simply because they are mine.


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