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

Out of the Woods

Part 6 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters

Growing up, my favorite set of books was, undoubtedly, The Chronicles of Narnia. My big sister gave me the box set for Christmas one year, and I devoured the entire thing in nearly a week, pausing only for the occasional rare activity such as eating or sleeping. 

Most people begin their journey through Narnia with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, clueless to the fact that there exists a prequel to this story, in which the entire world of Narnia is born. It is there, in that first book, that C.S. Lewis describes the (in my humble opinion) most intriguing place I’ve ever read about.

“The Wood Between the Worlds”, he calls it.

There, in the mysteriously quiet, magical wood, there exists a series of shallow pools – each one leading to a different world. It’s a pit-stop, of sorts. An in-between place. A doorway leading to other doorways.

And although it’s obviously imaginary, a part of me has always believed that it exists, in some otherworldly place. A place that we’re only granted access to a finite amount of times in our lives.

I know this deep in my heart. And – believe me or not – I’ve seen it for myself.

During my time there, it wasn’t a forest.

It doesn’t always have to be, you see.

Because it’s not really a PLACE in the physical sense of the word. It’s an energy. And it doesn’t matter what it looks like because it presents itself all kinds of different ways, for reasons beyond my ability to contemplate.

But once you’ve been there, you’ll get it. You’ll understand what I’m saying. You’ll recognize it for what it is.

A gateway. A meeting place. A beginning. An ending.

A place, of captivating beauty… and of absolute peace.

My story, goes like this:


It was November of 2018, and I was fast asleep for the first time in several nights, inside my tiny apartment nextdoor to the hospital in Kotzebue, Alaska. I wasn’t on call that night, which means my quality of sleep was phenomenal, as any person who takes call can attest to.

Hours prior, I’d cried myself to sleep. A result of work-related stress (mostly self-imposed) and a slew of other lifestyle factors that I won’t get into until a later post. 

I was honestly at the end of my rope, and had carried that sentiment along into the dreamworld, like a bloated, overstuffed, suitcase. 

I don’t recall what I’d been dreaming about, but I vividly remember that the dream I’d been having was abruptly, and forcefully swiped aside, like a millennial swiping left on a lackluster Tinder profile.  

Suddenly I was standing in a dimly-lit, cozy, sitting room, devoid of people but loaded, wall-to-wall with all sorts of comfy seating accommodations to choose from. 

There were large, puffy armchairs with circular, velvet buttons, lone pillows strewn expertly across the carpeted floor, and a myriad of plush couches in varying sizes and colors.  

A fireplace was crackling near the center of the room, and a small coffee table sat in front of it, bathed in the soft light of the ambient flames.  I made my way over to it, admiring the stately decor of the room, which was minimal, but gave off both an air of importance, and at the same time,  one of significant welcome. 

The walls were paneled with a deep cherry-colored wood in some places, and painted a beautiful royal blue in others. 

This room, looks like it belongs in the White House, I thought to myself as I eyed the magnificent detail of the sconces jutting out from the walls, holding their half-melted white candles as the wax dripped slowly down their opulent shafts.

I’d just chosen a soft, cream-colored, loveseat and sat carefully upon it’s rectangular cushions when I heard a door squeak open on the opposite side of the room. 

Although I’d failed to notice the door when I’d first arrived, as it blended perfectly with the wood paneling of the wall surrounding it, I wasn’t surprised at all to see the outline of a person as she made her way through it. 

I’d somehow known ever since I’d arrived that I was waiting for someone.  But I still wasn’t sure who it was I was waiting for.  A woman, with short gray hair, had her back to me, as she turned to quietly ensure that the door was sealed behind her. 

There was something familiar about her silhouette, but the light was so dim that I couldn’t make out her features.  She quietly, purposefully, crossed the room, and headed for the couch directly opposite mine. 

As she reached the area of the fireplace, the light struck her face, and I let out a tiny gasp.  My grandmother.

As she softly descended on her chosen cushion, she smiled at me warmly.  I was happy to see her, but also extremely confused.  I hate to admit this, but my grandmother and I had never been that close.  I’d visited a few times as a child, but had a million other cousins to compete with for her attention, and we’d lived thousands of miles away from my grandparents for nearly my entire life. 

One of few pictures I still have from visits with my grandmother as a child.

I adored her despite all this, but had trouble understanding why she would go through all the trouble to arrange this meeting, when we’d barely spoken to each other while she was still alive. 

Certainly she had more important things to attend to, a busy schedule to keep up with in the afterlife?

I sat uncomfortably and pondered all this. She smiled at me knowingly.  Can she hear my thoughts?  I wondered.  A jovial glint in her eye gave me the answer.  She was amused by my reaction, I could tell.

After what seemed like ages, I finally couldn’t take it anymore and came right out and asked, ‘Ummm… what am I doing here?’

She didn’t speak.  She simply held her hands out in such a way that I got the hint.  

I was to do the talking.  Not her.

And so I opened my mouth, and began to explain. 

I told her about my last few weeks at work.  How difficult they’d been.  How the pressure was choking the life out of me.  How I felt as though I was a failure.  That I was letting everyone down.  That I couldn’t take much more of it, and that I was so very tired of everything.

If time existed in this place, I’d have said that I talked for hours.  But there’s no way of knowing how long it lasted at all, because time is an Earthly measurement.  And wherever I was,  I knew one thing for sure – it was not the world I was accustomed to.  It didn’t feel Earthly at all.

Despite my incessant rambling, my grandmother listened attentively.  She hung on every word, nodding her head understandingly. 

She never spoke.  She didn’t have to.  And as corny as this sounds, all I felt from her as I sat pouring my heart out in that comforting firelight, was absolute, pure, unequivocal love. 

It was pouring out of her.  From her. Within her.  Around her. 

She was absolutely drenched in it.  and she somehow had the power to transfer some of it to me.

As I wrapped up my final thoughts on the subjects I’d just covered, she stood up and walked around the mahogany coffee table that separated us.  Her warm, loving arms circled me in the most complete and total hug I’ve ever received. 

With her arms still around me, I felt her warm breath on my neck, as she whispered quietly, finally speaking for the first and only time.

It’s going to be okay.

And then, leaving me with that sentiment… she crossed the room, and exited through the secret side door, and I knew without being told – I was not allowed to follow. 

Once again, I was alone in the room.  But with remnants of her hug still clinging to my clothes. 

As I turned back towards my side of the room, I glanced upward and my jaw dropped in awe. Above the mantelpiece, was an enormous, hand-painted oil portrait of my grandfather, who is still alive. I admired it for a moment. The detail was incredible.

 Then I walked out a door of my very own. 

And woke up, remembering everything.


September 8, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

Tiny stars are dancing on the periphery of my vision.  The blood is pooling in my face and I can feel the tiny capillaries in my eyes beginning to burst, like over-filled water balloons.  

My hands are beginning to clench involuntarily, the rope around my neck pinching off their necessary blood supply.  I can feel my brain demanding oxygen.  The world is starting to go black.

I picture the room from my dream 8 months ago, that dignified sitting room. 

The room between the worlds. 

And I know, undoubtedly, that if I want to, I can go there now.  That the side-door will be open. Unlocked, for the first time. 

That I can cross beyond it if I so choose.  

But if I make that choice, there’s no going back. 

There’s no peeking.  I know that without being told. 

I can enter the doorway, but it will shut behind me.  And my family will be stuck on the other side of it. 

I picture my mother. Screaming and banging her ineffectual fists on the solid doorway.

Picture myself, jiggling the knob, trying to open it.  Hearing her cries, wanting to hug her, to comfort her. 

And not being able to. 

Trapped in another place. While she attempts to follow me to the in-between. And gets lost there. Hopelessly lost.

And with that searing image burned into my oxygen-deprived brain, that powerful, gut-wrenching image, a jolt rushes through me, and my wobbly knees forcefully straighten once again.

I turn reluctantly from the open door, unlocked, with the light pouring out of it, and walk the other way, back through my own.

As I do, I let out a sob.  I don’t want this.  I don’t want to go back to the pain and the hurt. 

But I’d rather feel my own pain a hundred times over, than watch helplessly from afar while my mother shoulders hers.  I can’t be the source of her pain.  I won’t.  

I reach up, thanking God that I used a slipknot, which can be loosened if the height is right. 

And as I struggle to pull it upwards and feel the knot go slack, I hear the distant screech of a door as it swivels on it’s hinges. 

The resounding click as the lock pops back into place.

I fall to the floor in a sobbing heap, and feel my grandmother’s breath lightly pass over my neck.  


It’s going to be okay.


To be continued…

Lake of Fire

Part 5 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters


** !!! Trigger Warning !!!  ***

This post contains the narration and description of suicidal thoughts and acts, which could definitely be triggering for some people. 

If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, or have suicidal thoughts yourself, you may want to abstain from reading. 

On the other hand, I’m sharing this very vulnerable story with you because I feel it needs to be discussed and especially because it may help others understand what exactly goes on in the mind of a severely depressed person. 

Too often, I hear people wondering why and while I don’t speak for every suicidal person, I do believe the thoughts and feelings conveyed here are much more common than society would have us believe. 

So whoever you are, please know that you’re not alone.  And that if I managed to survive this horrific episode… there’s hope for you too.  

I love you, friend.  Keep fighting. For both of us.



09/30/2019

Detroit, MI

Dew still clings to the grass below me as I crouch down over the damp lawn of the empty playground.  Although it’s midday, the sky is overcast and the breeze is chilly. 

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports, sky, shoes and outdoor

I reach up with two fingers, placing them delicately on the skin of my neck.  Feel the thundering of my pulse underneath. Count the repetitions.  Wait patiently for the pace to slow.

I perform my final set of burpees before collapsing on the wet grass in exhaustion, flopping my head sideways to peer at the glistening dewdrops all around me. 

A hint of movement catches my eye.  A tiny lone ant, struggling to scale the soaring precipice of an impossibly tall blade of grass.  It’s bitty legs are scrabbling maniacally up the smooth, wet surface, and a squint of the eye reveals that it’s got a crumb of food in tow.  The effort seems magnanimous.  I smile softly in admiration.  

Such perseverance.  Such a strong, abominable will to survive. 

To keep living, no matter what.  Whatever it takes.

But is it really something to be admired at all, this survival instinct?  Is it a trait of strong character, or is it simply coded into the DNA of every living thing on this Earth? 

Why do even the smallest, most insignificant beings have a compelling need to keep existing? 

Why do even ANTS seem to hold their own lives so sacred?  

Where do these feelings come from?

And why do I, as a human, seem to feel the exact OPPOSITE? Did God cross the wrong wires when I was created?

After all, it was less than three weeks ago that I desperately sought to snuff out that stubborn pulse, still hammering away beneath my skin. 

Only three weeks ago, that I’d narrowly escaped the overwhelming compulsion to die. 

An instinct – to self-destruct. An instinct I’d felt then, just as surely as this ant feels the need to live now.


September 8, 2019

Minneapolis, MN

A dark hotel room

$40.36.

It  costs exactly $40.36 to die.

There are cheaper ways, of course.  Obviously.  But time is of the essence, and bargain-hunting isn’t really something you worry about when you’re not planning on being here tomorrow.  

And I don’t.  

So I splurged and purchased a fancy ‘over-the-door’ chin-up bar from Wal-mart, along with a hunting knife, and the most important material of all: a thick, nylon rope.  

I’ve learned from prior experience that the rope material makes a big difference.  Cheap, scratchy rope irritates the skin as it tightens, making for a rather uncomfortable affair. 

Rope that is small in diameter is also undesirable, for similar reasons. 

It must also be strong, obviously.  But not so strong that you can’t pierce it with a knife to adjust the height.  

And so I’m very particular about my rope. 

I’ve chosen this one carefully.

I nod in approval as I secure my new rope around the freshly-assembled chin-up bar.  This will do just fine.

Amazing really, that I managed to choose an appropriate rope-type, in my current condition.

On the outside, I look fine.  Normal.  Okay.

I’m not.

Inside, I’m burning alive.  

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been absolutely engulfed by invisible flames. 

Ever since I’d missed my shift at work.  Since the panic attack.  Since my life fell apart, for the umpteenth time.

I haven’t slept.  I haven’t eaten. 

I haven’t done anything but cry and shake.  For 24 hours.

It’s happened before, but this time it’s worse.  Inescapable.  Indescribable. 

So much pain.  So much hurt.

It’s not just mental, either.  I can feel it in my body.  My skin is crawling.  I feel both hot and cold at the same time.  Like I’ve come down with a fever.  

Goosebumps cover my body, along with a paradoxical sheen of glossy sweat.  My head is throbbing and I can’t tell if it’s from the lack of sleep or the constant crying. 

The nape of my neck is caked with dried blood.  I tend to scratch myself there compulsively when I’m anxious.  I don’t know why.  But I know it stings.  

I read somewhere once that a black hole is so heavy and dense that the entire mass of the Earth is smashed down into a space as small as a golf ball. 

Can you imagine?  A golf ball that weighs as much as Earth?

I can. 

Because I’ve felt it.  In my chest.

Whenever I’m in this state, my chest feels so compressed that I’d swear the weight of the Earth is resting inside it. 

And just like a black hole, it gobbles up every source of light in it’s vicinity.  Every twinkle of hope, every tiny spark of happiness. Nothing escapes it’s infamous Event Horizon.  

It. Is. Hell.

I fight and crawl away from it, but after a time it drags me right back. It becomes too much. 

I’m being crushed from within.  My mind has ignited with imaginary flames, and I’m writhing in agony, alone in a dark hotel room. 

I’ve fought it for so long.  Years and years of torture.  And now I’m so very tired.  I need respite.  I need to douse these flames, somehow, and the only way is through the loop in this rope. 

A simple slipknot.  Any boy-scout could tie it.  

I scribble a quick note to the only people who have ever managed to put out my sporadic fires.  I tell them I’m sorry.  I want them to know how much I love them.  But the flames are licking at my feet and just can’t take it anymore.

I step up to the gallows and place my head in the coil.  Sink down to my knees, and feel the tight squeeze of death’s embrace.  Close my eyes.  

Gag, and sputter.  Choke. Cough.

Soon now. So soon.

Praying that God will forgive me.  

And all the while, the fire roars around me.


To be continued…