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.
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.
Your Baby Sister,