There’s a time where you realize how far you’ve come. You slowly watch yourself get taller, smarter. You become more mature. Your ideals shift. Then, there’s a time when you realize how different your family is. Your siblings grow up; your parents’ hair starts to grey; your grandparents start to pass on.
I knew changes would happen. I expected my family to age with me. Never did I think I’d see my younger sister age faster than me. She became hunched over and thin. New wrinkles seemed to appear each time I saw her. She could’ve passed for my mother. I knew of her addiction and how it was changing her. “I’m going clean, don’t worry,” she’d tell me. “I’m getting better, I promise,” she’d say. She wasn’t getting better. Our mother found her, passed out on the floor of her apartment’s bathroom; heroin still in the needle on the floor next to her. Our parents staged an intervention right after she woke up.
It’s been a couple of days since then. In that time, they seemed to have found the perfect place to send her. That place is in the neighboring state that I live in. They asked me if I could be the one to drive her over. After not seeing my sister for so long and hearing about her condition, I couldn’t refuse. Her form sits next to me, shivering, wrapped in a knitted thick coat. She fidgets with a ring on her finger. She’s gotten skinnier since I last saw her. Her cheekbones are more visible. Shadows hang under her eyes. She hasn’t been sleeping. Her hairline has been pulled back, and her brown hair has gotten thin. Ever since her overdose, she hasn’t been able to be alone without our parents being all over her. She must be having withdrawals. I sigh to myself. Time hasn’t been kind to you, dear sister. How I wish I could’ve been more available for you to talk to…
Her eyes move over to me. “Are we leaving now?” she says.
“Yes,” I respond. I buckle myself up. She does the same.
“I’m so happy to finally be out of that house,” she breathes. “They had to know what I was doing, when I was doing it, and I never had any alone time!”
“They were like that because they love you,” I say, glancing over at her, “We all care about you.”
“I know,” she says, her head looking down. She wants to say more, but the words don’t come. “How long is the ride from here to there, again?”
“About forty minutes,” I answered. This is the first time I’ve felt happy my parents’ house was on a state line. She hugged herself and sat back in her seat. There was another silence. This one felt more comfortable than the last one.
“I missed you,” she says as she sniffles.
“I missed you, too,” I pause, “I want you to know that you can always rely on me. And that I’m sorry for being so distant. After Jacob’s death, I really turned into a workaholic. The last thing that I wanted was to be in silence, so I focused only on work for a while. I’m sorry I didn’t focus on our family instead.” Jacob, our late older brother, passed too soon. It’s been a few years since his death. So much has happened since then.
“No, I’m sorry I didn’t ask for help sooner,” she starts to vent, “I knew what I was doing to myself was hurting me. It just felt like one of the only things that allowed me to feel anything at all. After Jacob’s death, I hung out with the wrong people. They introduced me to that crap. It started out small, but soon after, it’s like I couldn’t get enough. I knew it was killing me, but the feeling it gave me made me feel like I was finally alive. All the times I was tempted to reach out, something inside of me silenced those thoughts. A part of me thought I wasn’t worth saving anymore. I felt so trapped by something that was the only thing that made me feel something. So, I’m sorry, Anna. I’m sorry I worried you.” Light tears were coming down her face.
I put my hand on her cold knee as I continued driving. “That’s okay. You’re okay. What matters is that you want to get help now. You want to get better, right?”
“Yes,” she sniffled again, “I don’t want to be in pain anymore. I don’t want our family to be hurt, too.” Her hand drags down her face, her sleeve catching the teardrops. She looks at me. “I’m tired of suffering. I’m ready to get better,” she breathes.
“Melissa?” I ask.
“Yes?” she answers.
“I don’t think you understand how proud I am of you,” I say. I glance at her, hoping to reinforce how I’m feeling. “You’ve gone through pain and emotions I will never feel. For years, you’ve been dealing with this problem. I’m proud that you’re willing to heal from this and finally be sober. No matter how painful the healing process is, please remember that I love you,” I say.
“I will,” she says, “I’ll always remember that.” She jumps as I turn sharply into a parking space. “Oh… we’re here already?” she asks.
“Yes, we are,” I say as I fully turn to look at her. She wraps her arms around me as much as she can. I put my hands on her back. I breathe into her. I can’t wait to see her all healed, strong, and healthy. It feels like we’re sitting there for hours, holding each other. We pull away.
The rehabilitation building seems warm and inviting. I’m glad she’s going here. “Thank you for driving me,” she says.
“No problem. Hopefully, I’ll see you again soon.”
“That would be really nice,” she says as she smiles. That was the first time I’ve seen her smile in a long while. Suddenly, I realize there’s going to be more time for me to see her smile again.