Dear Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I laughed nervously while talking to the neighbour today, it sounded like your laugh. I said something and I can’t even remember what it was, because I was too busy thinking how much I sounded just like you. As I gave a half of a grin I could feel that my face was doing exactly what yours used to do. Upper lip raised on the right side, eyebrows doing that thing. Remember when people used to guess we were twins? I never got that. You were two inches shorter than me, two sizes smaller than me, two shades darker than me, twenty-two months older than me, twenty-two pounds lighter than me. I used to agree more with the people who said we couldn’t possibly be sisters. Yet, here I am thinking I’ve heard your voice coming out of my own mouth.

Remember when we used to draw pictures of floor plans and say that we were going to live in a duplex with a door that connected the two places? Yet there was that year when we didn’t speak to each other even once. You told me I was going to go to Yale someday, you thought I was really smart. But one whole year out of the only twenty I was going to get with you, wasted in silence, seems pretty dumb to me.

Remember how we used to sing together? We would pretend to be stars on a stage, singing Little Richard’s version of Itsy Bitsy Spider and the whole of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album. We were always singing. Why didn’t we sing more when we grew up?

Remember how you taught me to ride a bicycle? You took my training wheels off my Strawberry Shortcake bike and said you wouldn’t let go. I turned around to see if you were still holding on and you weren’t. I got mad, but then you told me how I didn’t need you holding on anyway, I’d done it all by myself. I never forgot that. Your confidence in me always outweighed my own.

Remember all the trouble we used to get into? That night we were in Adam’s car racing Mom back to the house on the back roads, only Mom didn’t know it was a race. That was so funny at the time, but so reckless.

I remember going to homecoming with you and your friends. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gone. Even though you said at the time I was only tagging along, and it hurt my feelings, I know now that you wouldn’t have taken me if you didn’t want me there.

There were times I hated you. And because I feel everything with such passion I remember once when I was fifteen swearing I wouldn’t care if you died. I’m so, so, so sorry I said that. I thought for sure you’d be there to welcome me into my twenties and thirties just like my teens, with your footprints always being two steps ahead of mine, but I didn’t know your timer didn’t have as much sand as mine. Yet that time I was sixteen and said I was going to kill myself (and thought I meant it) you stopped everything and called Dad in to yell at me until I got out of bed and kept going.

I let you down, Sarah. I was not as good as you. You might have been way more of a trouble maker than I was when we were kids, but when it really mattered, look who was the angel then. But me… I think I took you for granted.

I wish I had called more often. I wish I had spent more time with you. I look back now and I don’t know what I was doing wasting what time we had with so many people I don’t even speak to anymore.

I wish when I called home, your number could be one of the ones on the list. I wish you and I could get lost in daydreaming once more about how our futures would pan out, in juxtaposition because we’re sisters, and because of all the times we were all each other had.

I wish when friends talked about the day they just spent or the conversation they just had with their sister, I didn’t have to feel a blade of jealousy and sorrow piercing my chest.

I wish the new experiences I had with you weren’t confined to what happens when I’m asleep. But I don’t mean to be wishing those dreams away… I love them. I cherish them.

Like that dream where you were piloting a helicopter and you came and picked me up. You showed me the beauty of the city lights and the land and instead of taking it all in and laughing with you and your little half-grin with raised eyebrows, I turned to you and said, “Why did you leave me? Don’t you know I needed you?”

And all you did was look at me with that familiar facial expression that I knew was saying, Well, what do you want me to do about it? It’s happened now.

It’s happened now.

It’s…

happened. Past tense?

But don’t you know you’re not just something that happened?

You are part of me, Sarah. When my lip raises and my eyebrows do that thing, I can feel my face becomes yours. When I do that nervous laugh, that’s your laugh.

For all the times we played together, made trouble together, daydreamed together, laughed, fought, stood together… those were the things that made me.

I want you to come and hold this bicycle again. But even though I’ve been riding for the past six-and-a-half years on my own, and I know you think I can do it, I’m still mad. There’s no more of your footprints in front of mine.

But there are supposed to be two.

If you were here I’d sing with you. I’d do all the reckless tagging along you wanted. I’d do whatever it took to build that home we drew.

I’d appreciate you.

I’m smarter now. I don’t hate you, I just hate that you’re not here. Except for where you are. And I love that.

I love you. I miss you. You’ll forever be my star.

-Baby Sister

wpid-2015-06-25-11.22.59.jpg.jpeg

Advertisements

A Bittersweet Goodbye

Warning: may trigger strong emotions toward cats or feelings of grief for lost/departed pets. An absolutely true and heart-wrenching story.

One summer when my eldest half-brother was visiting us at my childhood home, one of the greatest loves of my life wandered into the backyard suddenly and without warning.

He was young, jet black with a tuft of white hair on his chest and a roundish head, eyes that were an orangey-yellow and the moment they looked at me, I immediately loved him. He seemed to return the feeling as he came and rubbed against my leg and mewed with that voice my ears would come to adore.

He belonged to the woman who lived three doors down and was full of playfulness and zest. He climbed trees in the blink of an eye, hunted mice and birds in the neighbourhood, and gave the most exquisite hugs.

He would wrap his little cat arms around my neck, place his forehead against my chin, and purr as long as I would hold him. He soon decided I was his human and laid claim to his territory by intimidating any other feline who wandered onto the property. Growing tired of sitting outside, noisily waiting for one of us to come and open the door, he took it upon himself to rip holes in the front and back screen doors so he could jump up, wedge himself between the screen and solid door, and push until it opened. My home was now his, he decided. And I was more than happy to accommodate him.

On weekend mornings during a lie-in, if the doors were locked he’d sit on the air conditioning unit protruding from the window and with the sun shining behind him, his cat-sized silhouette would be there, giving shape to this persistent calling, telling me to wake up and let him in. If he stayed in for the night, he’d sleep curled around my head or the shelf just above, whether I wanted him to or not. I could stand in front of him and pat my chest and say “Here, Blackberry” and he’d jump up and give me his trademark hugs. If I patted my back he would jump up and sit with two legs on either side of my neck, lounging on my shoulders. There he would sit purring, hitching a ride with me as I meandered about the house. I’d feed him by hand and sometimes he would even do tricks for the food.

He would bring me gifts of various sizes. It started with the standard mice, but one day he brought me a bird. He sat there looking up at me and simply sounded, “Meow.” Being a girl of only eleven at the time, I freaked out and threw the bird out the door as quickly as I could. In my state of horror I threw him out, too. After his little time-out he wanted back in so I let him, at which point he sat in front of me once more and regurgitated the bird at my feet with a following look on his face that said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted it chewed. Is this better?” Once again I freaked and threw him out.

When I was at school, he’d prance through the house at three o’clock every day calling for me. “She’s not here,” my mom would say and he’d jump out the door again. He’d come find me as I walked home, emerge from behind some house and walk with me the last few blocks back home. If I went away for a few days, he’d go back to his other house until I returned. As soon as I called his name he’d come sprinting, or he’d be waiting by the lilac bush already until he saw the car and tried to beat us to the door.

I was his and I loved it. He was the greatest companion I’d ever known and I’d come to rely on his company. He developed an immense sense of trust in me and would communicate in the most extraordinary of ways.

As he got in fights he would sometimes become rather injured; He would come to me and I’d clean his wounds and take him to the vet if necessary. I’d have to put him in a carrier which he hated so much he broke the door trying to get out, and once injured his own paw trying to do so. I hated seeing him hurt and felt awful for putting him in this confined space, but if let out in the car on the trip there he would become loud and difficult and dig his claws in my thighs with anxiety.

From his battles he earned a notch out of his ear and scars on his arms, but after a while I noticed his arms were getting injured in exactly the same way on a repeated basis. It was like they were swelling and bursting, not falling victim to the claws of another.

He never had a litter box as he always went outside, but one day he called at me until I looked at him and asked him what he wanted. On a large piece of cellophane on the floor, he urinated before me. There was blood in it. He looked at it, looked at me and mewed. He never messed inside, so I knew something was wrong, and after another trip to the vet he was given pills to clear up what they told us was a urinary tract infection. Another time, he showed me he had loose stool. I was nonplussed at having to dispose of it, but took him to the vet again with more crying and objecting from within the carrier.

He would have times of seemingly perfect health, but occasionally his behaviour would change and he would become withdrawn, finding a cosy place in my mom’s fabric stash to stay for days. He stopped responding to food and water as often and his once vibrant gaze became one of exhaustion. The vet said he had feline leukaemia and an upper respiratory disease. He administered a few treatments but told us it was terminal.

He started staying in the fabric stash permanently. I’d sit with him and stroke his fur and talk to him. At my young, weird age I’d learned to make the same meowing noises he’d made to me when he was content. He wouldn’t purr or give hugs anymore. He looked like he was in so much pain. Finally after speaking with the vet about his not eating or drinking anything for several days, he said we should put him to sleep or he would starve to death. I was heartbroken as I was going to lose this lovely creature who had been my only friend at times when I felt so alone and alienated. He was the one being I could count on to love me unconditionally and without fail.

As he was so lethargic I carried him to the car without the carrier he loathed so badly. For the first time he didn’t object. I walked into the vet’s office with him and was told I’d have to sit and wait for the vet to arrive. I don’t know if it was thirty minutes or three hours, but it seemed like an eternity.

While we were waiting, as if he’d saved all his strength for this one occasion, he was emphatically hugging, pawing, purring and kissing me for the first time in I didn’t know how long. I don’t know where all the energy came from, but I felt he knew what was happening. I was sobbing so much the receptionist started crying, and when she announced the vet had arrived, my heart sank. I didn’t want all the hugs to end.

As the vet prepared him for his passing I held his paw and stroked behind his ears with his forehead to mine. I said goodbye to my dearest and most cherished friend as he took his last breath and passed on.

The weeks after that, one of my teachers approached me asking, “What’s wrong with you? You used to smile sometimes.” I felt silly for saying “My cat died,” because to most people a cat is just a cat, but not Blackberry. He was so much more. A kindred spirit. A soul-mate, just not the same kind most people have.

I volunteered at homeless pet charities, paying special attention to the black cats. They were never like Blackberry. I decided I’d probably never meet a cat like him again.

But on one glorious, beautiful day, I took a new route home from school and the strangest thing happened. A black cat with orangey-yellow eyes and a roundish head came out from behind a house. I called to it, and it came to me, calling in what sounded like that same familiar voice. I patted my chest, and the cat jumped up. It hugged me, and purred, and put its forehead to my chin. I caressed its ears and noticed there was the same kind of notch in the same place as Blackberry’s. I noticed it had the same little tuft of white hair on its chest and the same scars on its arms. For ten minutes or more I stood there on the sidewalk hugging this cat, until I eventually put it down and resumed walking. It followed me a few paces. I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back it was gone.

Despite repeating that route from that day forward, I never saw that cat again.

112

The Accident (And How Money Changes Everything)

062

This is a story I originally posted on a thread on Amanda Palmer’s Facebook page. If you don’t know who Amanda Palmer is, I’d encourage you to have a look. She is one of my favourite artists, who does things like this:

Amanda Palmer was sharing a fundraising page for a woman who was in a terrible car accident. They needed money for her recovery process. This struck a chord with me because I have a similar experience and something to say about it.

Here we go:

My sister was in an awful accident about six years ago. The twelfth of October, 2008 to be precise. I was expecting her to come to Montana from Utah that day. The weather reports were unusually bad in Montana and I’d urged her to wait another day. She’d insisted the roads were clear. She left around 2pm.

At 10pm her partner (whom I refer to as my brother-in-law), who’d not travelled with her, was on her cell phone calling me. I picked up the phone expecting to hear her voice.

“Kirsten.” says Jim. She must not have made it out of Utah.

“Uh… what are you doing on Sarah’s phone?” A feeling of deep dread fills my soul before he utters another word.

“There’s been an accident.” Her two young children were in the car with her. Where are they? They were doing fine in the hospital the next town over. Sarah had been life-flighted to Ogden Hospital.

As the nurse listed her injuries I kept waiting for the part where they would say, “But she’s going to be okay.” It didn’t come. Six broken vertebrae in her neck. Skull fracture. Broken pelvis. Lacerated spleen. And the list kept going… Ten days on machines and the only family reunion in her life later and it was over.

She was gone.

There are no words for the dread you feel, learning of a human injured so badly. It is a hard thing to witness their loved ones fall to pieces. I remember seeing Jim standing against the wall outside her hospital room, slowly sliding down with his head in his hands and sobbing. Sobbing. If there had been a guarantee of money available for support, the machines probably would have stayed on. She was a half a point above brain-dead on the neurosurgeon’s scale. The surgeon refused to say there was no hope, indeed there might be. The determining factor was that each day on the machines was so expensive and for this family that was already struggling, (she was making the trip for a job opportunity) whose insurance was about to run out, they could likely become homeless very soon. If she did survive, but was paralysed forever, they would be unable to afford what she would need.

So many arguments. So much pain. She was only twenty-two. My big sister.

I hold onto the comfort that two blind people were given the gift of sight from her eyes, and her bone marrow helped someone recover from something. Her skin helped burn victims heal.

But her children are motherless. And there’s always the “What if ____?”

Is money really what stood between my niece and nephew knowing their mother and not?

People shouldn’t have to make these decisions. Money during a time like this is all the difference.

The unspoken part of people recovering from injuries is the extensive damage that trickles through to their family and friends. Fissures in familial relationships, wounds which never heal. I saw some true colours through this ordeal I’d prefer to have not seen. Almost every aspect of it was a tragedy.

Am I to believe it was a blessing my sister didn’t survive because the social security claim might not have been successful anyway? Is the system really counting on us dying so they won’t have to pay out?

One of the most hurtful parts was when we were all gathered around to say our goodbyes, a lawyer called who was representing the people in the car behind Sarah’s who had t-boned her on the black ice. They had escaped with a collarbone injury and a broken leg, collectively.

They were suing.

I had to take the phone off Jim who was clearly troubled by this injury claim lawyer.

“Excuse me, you do realise Sarah’s not going to make it, right?” was my first response to his aggravating remarks.

“Uh, um, uhhhh… I’m so sorry. Have a nice day.”

Indeed.

Hers was the twenty-sixth accident that day on a five-mile stretch of road along Willard Bay. Where was the responsibility of Utah Highway, shutting the road down after the fifth slide-off, perhaps? Third roll-over? No? A sign of warning on their multi-million dollar digital display installations to SLOW DOWN, BLACK ICE?

They waited until there was a helicopter rescue necessary to act.

Twenty-six accidents, involving ten slide-offs, eight roll-overs, and several collisions.

By the way, her birthday would have been on the twelfth of this month. She would have been turning twenty-nine.

Now I know why injury-claim law practices are so lucrative; they’d rather we harass one another in times like this than take care of us in our hour of need, despite the taxes we pay.

Without helping one another, there is no hope.

By sharing this story I hope that it gives perspective on a subject that many don’t, or won’t, discuss.

I also share this story to provide a background on another subject close to my heart.

Post to follow expanding on that.

Take care, everyone, and if there’s bad snow or crazy weather around you and someone says to stay home, please think about staying home.