Game of Survival



To my middle sister. Who’s always fought for me:

Dear Suzanne,


It was sometime in the late 1990’s that it happened. I was in the 7th Grade. I wonder to myself if you remember.  

I was sitting in my bedroom, crying quietly to myself, lamenting the fact that this was undoubtedly, my last day on Earth. 

Tomorrow, I would die a painful and violent death, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

As the tears rolled down my cheeks and the snot hung from my nose like a Mastiff, I heard a light tap tap on my door.  

“C- C– Co-Come in…” I sobbed, and in you walked, with the ghost of a sentence on your lips that evaporated the minute you saw my tears. 

I’m not sure why you’d knocked or what your original intent was.  Perhaps you’d come to retrieve one of the many items I was forever stealing from your closet.  If that was the case, I was as good as dead anyways.  You’d warned me before that if I didn’t stop borrowing your things without asking, that the punishment would be severe.  And I knew for a fact that if you were to dump my hamper over at that very moment, you’d find a pair of your favorite soccer shorts in the bottom of the pile.

Teenage you. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist…

But what did any of that matter, really?  I mean, if I had to choose between being raked to death by your familiar fingernails in the privacy of my own home, or being bludgeoned by the fists of 6 angry 8th-grade girls in front of the entire middle school… well, I’d much prefer the first option.

And so I sat there, chin raised in defiance and heart steeled in noble acceptance of my own impending mortality. 

But instead of performing a detailed excavation of my laundry to unearth your belongings, you surprised me.  

“What is it?”  You’d asked sympathetically, “Why are you crying?”

“I d-d-d-don’t wanna saaayyyy…” I wallowed, wiping snot onto my sleeve before it dripped onto my down comforter.

“Tell me right now.  Julie.  Come on.”

And so I reluctantly recanted the events from a few hours prior.  They went something like this:


I’d been sitting at the lunch table with 5 of my friends, enjoying the taste and complete lack of nutritional value of my $2 square of undercooked pizza. 

We were minding our own business, chatting among ourselves, when all of the sudden, the most feared person in the entire cafeteria and maybe the entire school, took great interest in our table. 

We all seemed to shrink in size as her shadow slowly crept up the wooden surface, blotting out the lights with her looming presence, like a total eclipse.  

We all fell silent and froze mid-bite, praying that by some miracle she would confuse us with statues and walk away scratching her head in confusion. 

But alas, this did not happen. 

Instead, she looked directly at my friend, Katie, and demanded to know, “WHY are you staring at my friend?”

A million hypothetical answers cropped up in my mind, the most prevalent of which included maybe because your friend bares a startling resemblance to Doby the House-Elf from Harry Potter? 

Or

Because she chews with her mouth open?

But I wasn’t Katie and so I didn’t presume to know the answer to this question.

Poor Katie looked up at the towering excuse for a Middle-School preteen and simply stuttered, “I… I don’t know?”

The bully, was not satisfied with this answer and continued to cajole her.

Over and over again, like Chinese water torture she repeated, “WHY ARE YOU STARING AT MY FRIEND? ARE YOU SOME KIND OF LESBIAN?  WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO GO BACK AND TELL HER, HUH??!!!”

By this time, the cafeteria had fallen silent and I could feel the sympathetic eyes of all my classmates boring into the back of my head.  Katie was positively quivering in terror.  

Answer me!!  What should I tell my friend?”

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.  In a moment of complete and utter insanity I stood up, staring directly at the belly button of this massive specimen of a girl and defiantly said:

“How about, you tell her to FUCK OFF?”

Gasps immediately cut through the lunch room, and as I sat back down, I knew, without a doubt, that I had just signed my own death warrant.

Not only had I just insulted an entire TABLE full of girls a grade above my own, but I had just publicly challenged the biggest, scariest creature that ever walked the halls of Anchor Bay Middle School. 

I’d given her no choice but to pulverize me into a pile of dust, lest her reign of terror be tainted by my momentary lapse in judgement.

My hands began to shake as I reached for my tiny carton of 2% milk and pretended to sip.  It’s best to act calm in these types of situations.  It throws the bullies off for a moment and gives you a chance to run. 

But I had nowhere to go, and this became rather obvious as, throughout the rest of the day, each of the 6 older girls took rotating shifts to torture me in the hallway as I scurried from class to class in a frenzied panic.

Weighing about 90 pounds soaking wet, I was no match for this angry hoard of bloated hyenas, and so I bravely endured it as best I could. 

I was shoved into walls, body-slammed into lockers, and had my books snatched from my hands so many times that my lower back began to ache from bending down to scoop them up off the floor. 

And at the end of every terrifying encounter, was the constant reminder from all of them…. a whispered threat that no one but me could hear:


You’re dead.  Tomorrow.  After lunch.  


I’m dead… tomorrow…. after l-lu-lunch…” 

I sobbed, as you stood over me with your arms crossed, hanging carefully on every word.

Rather than comment on this enthralling monologue, you simply turned on your heels, and disappeared.  I was quite puzzled at first, until you returned minutes later, carrying an item in each hand. 

A yearbook. 

And a permanent marker.

You sat on the edge of my bed, and laid out the instructions.  I was to go through the yearbook with a fine-tooth comb, and find the pictures of every girl that had bullied me earlier that day.  I was to circle their faces, with the sharpie, and not LEAVE ANYONE OUT.  When I was finished with this assignment, I was to return the yearbook to you.

And so I did as I was instructed.  And I returned the yearbook, no questions asked.

The next day, instead of perishing in the middle school parking lot as expected, I was approached by EVERY SINGLE ONE of those girls, independently. 

And apologized to. 

Profusely.  

Almost poetically, the final girl, was the bully herself.  She was downright TREMBLING as she explained, “I had no idea you were Suzanne Peters’s little sister.  If I had known… I never would have touched you.  Please, please tell your sister that I’m sorry.  Please.”

I never found out, just what exactly you did or said to inspire such fear in the hearts of those wretched girls. 

But I was never bullied again, by anyone, right up until the day I graduated.


Suzanne Peters’s little sister. 

That’s the thing – I was never just ‘Julie Peters’ in school.  I was Suzy’s little sister.  A title which I wore proudly, as though I’d done something honorable in procuring myself a nearly-identical strand of DNA to yours. 

It gave me street cred, even when we were kids.

My relationship with you was slightly different than that of mine or yours with Christel. 

You were only two years older than me, for one.  Just close enough to receive all the same toys on Christmas, albeit in different colors (mom was very careful about that), but just far away enough for it to be supremely uncool if you had hung out with me as often as I’d liked.  And I totally get that. You had a reputation to uphold, after all.

Of course, you occasionally took pity on me and let me tag along with you and your friends as you went about on all your older cool-kid adventures, but I was never really on the same level as you, popularity-wise.  

While I spent most of my childhood and even adult years trying to BE Christel… I spent an equal amount of time trying to get YOU to be my best friend.  

But there was one tiny problem:  You already had a million of them. 

That awkward girl in the 80’s windbreaker suit off to the right? That’s me trying to blend in, unsuccessfully.

You’ve always had this strange gravity about you that just draws people in. 

It’s magnetic. 

You were ALWAYS surrounded by copious amounts of friends, and people trying to garner your attention. Growing up, I just assumed it was because of your gorgeous looks and infectious charisma, but now that I’m older, I see that this was just one part of a much bigger equation.

People, hell even ANIMALS, gravitate around you, not because of your beauty (which still holds strong to this day)…

…but because you are the most FIERCELY loyal person I have ever met. 

You’d throw yourself under a bus if it meant protecting someone you love. 

I’ve never seen you waver, or back down from a battle, if it meant that someone you cared about would be damaged if you did.  And it’s just as true today, as it was back then.  Maybe even more so.

And I don’t mean to paint you as this hot-headed maniac, either. Everyone knows you, the REAL you, knows that you have a fucking heart of gold. You are truly one of the most caring, kind people I’ve ever met.

I think that as we’ve gotten older, as you’ve gotten married and had kids and raised a family, you might feel a little bit like you’ve lost that gravity I spoke of earlier. 

I think you might feel like you’re taken for granted and like nobody can see how hard you work, or what an amazing job you’ve done raising the most well-behaved children I’ve ever met. 

After you and Saede won the ‘Wife-carrying contest’ in St. Cloud

But I want you to know that I see you. 

That you’re no less magnificent to me now than you were when we were children.  And that your magnetism, your larger-than-life gravity, has never wavered.

You’ve always fought all my battles for me.  I’ve never really suffered any damage, whether it be mental or physical, because you’re so fiercely protective of me.

When our parents got divorced, and Christel was off at college, you took me under your wing. You shielded me from so much of the ugliness of the world. And we white-knuckled that horrible situation TOGETHER.

I’d have never made it through that if you hadn’t been there to teach me how. And to take the brunt of the damage in my stead.

You’ve taken every blow ever thrown my way.

I can never thank you enough for what you did… what you STILL do, to this very day.

But this battle – the one I’m engaged in now, well… I can’t hide behind you anymore.

I can’t circle the bullies with a giant magic marker.

Because the bullies, are in my head.  

And so rather than hide behind you, I  instead draw inspiration from you. 

I feed off of your own bravery and follow your daring example. 

I’ve channeled you when I’m at my weakest and drawn from the deep pool of your lionhearted energy…

… and I always, always think to myself

What would Suzanne do right now?’

The answer, is always the same – The bravest thing imaginable.

You are my armor.  Even when you’re not here.

Always.

Love you my big sis, My protector, 

Your little sister, 


Julie

Sister

To my Oldest Sister, Who wrote to me when I was Missing:

Being back in Detroit, I’ve been looking for a way to pass the time while my medicine kicks in.  And so the other day, I went through some old photographs in mom’s Hope Chest.  

As I was chuckling to myself at the old familiar glossies, I came across one that made me stop dead in my tracks.  I placed the rest of the towering pile down, off to the side so that I could study it – give it my full attention.

At first, I didn’t recognize the tiny, round face framed so softly with the dirty-blonde locks of shiny curls.  But then I looked closer, and recognized the expression, and the piercing blue eyes that seemed to jump off the picture with their intensity.  It was you – as a baby.

And suddenly, I realized.  I’ve never taken the time to actually look at any of your baby pictures before.  I’d had no idea what you looked like before I was born.  Had never even given it a second thought.

Why is that?  Why had I never cared enough to even thumb through your baby book, not even once?

And as is the case with most introspective questions, I already knew the answer before I asked.  It’s simple, really.  I can’t picture you as a baby, because in my eyes, you never were one.  You aren’t allowed to be.  You’re my older sister.

I’ve never known you as anything else.  Since the day I was born, you’ve always been this constant, calming presence in my life.  Something that was just, always there.  No different than the sky or the sun or the stars.


When we were little, I wanted to be you so desperately.  Because you always knew all the answers.  Because you were a perpetual fountain of knowledge and earthly wisdom.  Because you were never afraid, or sad, or all the things I seemed to be growing up.  You were perfect.  

I’m the one with the pizza. ALWAYS.


You’d think that this reverence would have faded with age, but it never really did. 

When you went off to college, you left me all your Human Anatomy notes from Ms. Erfert’s class in the 9th grade.  I pored over them, breathing in every word like they were the original stone tablets chiseled with the 10 commandments. 

The following year, I signed up Ms. Erfert’s class, and breezed through it like it was third grade math.  

When I was in my junior year of high school, you came home to visit for a few days.  You were living in Boston at the time, working at a large hospital as a respiratory therapist. 

I still remember the night that you were saying your goodbyes, like it was yesterday.  Because you came into my bedroom last, and as we hugged I said, “I wish I could come with you.”  To which you responded with, “What’s stopping you from doing that?”  

I had stared incredulously at you  and sputtered out something to the tune of, “Be… Be-cause… I don’t know.  I can’t just go off to Boston for a week.”

“Why not?  Give me one good reason.  You’re on break at school.  You’ll be back in time to go to class.  You have no reason not to go,” you’d insisted.

 Eventually, I ran out of excuses and found myself in the passenger seat of your trailblazer at 9 PM on a weeknight, crossing the border into Canada with a few pairs of clothes and some toiletries. 

It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world.  And not only did it shatter all my false beliefs about spontaneous travel, it also inspired a strange new desire to get out of Michigan and SEE THE WORLD in all it’s glory.  It set the tone for the rest of my life.

You became a traveling respiratory therapist a few years later, and flew me out to San Francisco while you were on assignment there. 

Then you took me to Costa Rica. 

And finally, right after I graduated X-Ray school, you brought me to Alaska to live with you while I tried to lock down my first job out of college.  

Do you remember when we were on the plane to South Dakota, moving there together from Anchorage?  That girl behind us, she started having an asthma attack.  She was panicking, and  the flight attendants had NO IDEA what to do. 

At one point, it got so bad that she was hyperventilating behind us, and you’d looked over at me, sighed, and handed me your infant son.  

“Hold this,” you’d said.  

Then you’d turned and explained to the petrified girl who you were and just how you were going to help her. 

You’d held both her hands and forced her to breathe along with you, all while simultaneously ordering the flight attendants to radio overhead for an Albuterol inhaler from one of the other passengers. 

I’d watched in awe while you magically calmed that girl down, got her breathing nice and slow again. 

By the time the ER doctor from a few rows up came back for a look, he’d simply said, “well, it looks like you have this under control…”  and gone back to his seat.

It was one of the many moments in my life, where I’d wanted to stand up and point to you emphatically and scream to the crowd of onlookers, “That’s MY sister!!”

 Every major step and decision in my life, you’ve been there… holding my hand through it, like you did with that girl on the plane.  Coaxing me to ignore the little nagging voice in my head, and to do the things I am terrified to do. 

A lot of those things, I only had the courage to try, because I knew that if I fucked them up, you’d be there to fix it.  Because you always have been. 

And up until now I’ve taken all that for granted.

You see, I realize now that I’ve never allowed you the opportunity to NOT be perfect.  I’ve never expected anything less than that from you.  So when I was missing a few weeks back, and I saw that you’d posted my suicide note and all the details of my mental health struggles online, I’d been very very angry. 

I’d resented you for that for a little while afterwards, because in my eyes, it was handled imperfectly.  


But what IS the perfect way to handle that situation?  I mean, what precedence out there exists for, “My sister has gone fucking crazy and I desperately need to find her?”  

And so I’m sitting here several weeks later, looking at your baby pictures, and for the first time…

…I mean really, truly, the first time…

…I’m allowing you the right – TO BE HUMAN. 

And I’m realizing that throughout our entire lives, I’ve never ever given you that.  Never allowed you that.

Never allowed you to be vulnerable. 

Never allowed you to be anything other than perfect. 

And I’m so fucking sorry, Christel.

I really am.

I’m sorry that I held you to an impossible standard.  I’m sorry that I’ve expected you to fix everything that’s gone wrong in my life.  I’m sorry that I’ve let you down. 

And I promise to do better.  To try to my hardest to BE better.

All I’ve ever wanted, is to be you.  But I’m not.  And never will be.  And that’s okay. 

You are still, to this day, my absolute idol and the constant source of solidity in my drastically wavering life. 

And all I want, right now? 

Is for you to know that.

Love Always

Your Baby Sister,


Julie