The closer I get to my sister's memorial, the more jumbled up my emotions are. I keep thinking over our strained relationship, and I realised something. One of the reasons for the distance, besides feeling resentful that I practically raised a child 13 months younger than I, is survivor's guilt. For the past 10 years, I feel guilty because I survived our childhood and she didn't.
I'm not just talking about the suicide. It was evident in high school that Stef would turn into our alcoholic father. And I have always wondered, what made me so different?
Was it my memories (as missing as they are)? Stef had a bike wreck when she was 8. Her helmet shattered; she had hit the ground so hard. She had brain damage, and doesn't remember much before 8. Even her memories after 8 are shaky. I've always felt like I've had to carry all of the memories of our childhood. Yes, she remembered some things. I wonder if those things she remembered caused her issues. In her journals, she wrote that she remembers me calling her fat, and lazy. In one of our last conversations, she asked where I heard that; because I had to hear it to call her that. And I couldn't remember the first time I was called that, or by whom. It's just always been a part of my internal monologue.
More specifically, did I turn out differently than our dad because I remembered him? My earliest memories are fear and hiding. I remember his drunk rages. I remember being 4 and waking up in the middle of the night. My mom worked nights, and my dad was supposed to be watching us. Instead, he left us alone and went to a bar, or a girlfriend's. I remember walking around the house, walking outside, walking on the porch, screaming "Daddy, where are you?" To this day, I have insomnia, and a pathological fear of abandonment.
Part of me wonders even if she didn't actively remember him, her subconscious did. Maybe that's why she was always running, always trying to cloud her head. With pain, with drugs, with food.
Did I turn out differently because I was the eldest, and so I felt it was my job to take care of her? And then I wonder, did I screw her up? Raising her and resenting her at the same time? I helped her with her homework, I fixed her dinner, she told me about her day at school, and the boys she had a crush on. Mom bought us things, and spent time with us when she could, but up until 6th grade, I was her confidante.
And then mom got remarried. To a man who said he never wanted kids. They got married in June, and sent us to stay with dad for a month. He didn't let us leave until August. He and my stepmom worked all day, so it was me, Stef, and a step-sister home alone. We were told to never leave the apartment. We did, on occasion, and got in trouble for it. He monitored our phone calls, read our mail, stole our journals. He took the phone cord with him when he left, so we couldn't call mom while he was out.
This was the last time he would see Stef; this was her only memory of him; that horrible summer. After that, things changed between us. I fought constantly with stepdad, fought a mental illness I wouldn't be diagnosed with until 15 years later. I was the brighter star, burning hotter, taking all the energy. And she was the forgotten one. Not as talented, not as loud, not as noticed.
I wonder if the person she turned into in high school was her way of getting noticed. I was Homecoming candidate, debate goddess, 1st chair in band, and star of the Science Olympiads. I got along with everybody. She wrote in her journals that she always felt she was in my shadow. I regret that now, but I can't change it.
So I sit here today, feeling guilty because I escaped. Even though I'm plenty screwed up, I escaped. I have a stable life, stable marriage to a non-abusive man (literally a family first, on either side). I am diagnosed and medicated. I'm strong, and I'm assertive.
But still I wonder, why me? Why not both of us? What could I have done differently? The logical side of my head keeps telling me it's not my fault. I shouldn't have been responsible for raising a kid when I was just a kid myself. I did the best I could with what I knew, and what I knew wasn't healthy. The logical side keeps saying that she made her own choices.
And yet I sit here and wonder if it was my fault. I tell myself I should have been a better mother, shouldn't have tried to protect her from everything. Maybe then she could have been protected from herself.
One of the last things she said to me was that she finally realised what I did for her. She wondered if the reason I couldn't get pregnant is because she had been my baby. And she was. And I resented her for it. And now she's gone, and I feel...