I had a sister. She was there when I was born. That means she was older than me. But I didn’t know that yet. I figured that out later.
She was just there. We were together a lot, she and I. We were both scared shitless. She must have been a bit more prepared than I was, given that she was about 2 years older than me. But when it came, I am sure it hit her too.
For me, I was seven. I remember it all perfectly, but filtered through the lenses of a seven year old’s eyes. So my memory may be imperfect. Whatever. What I have is the emotional impact.
My mother was everything to me. She took care of us. Most importantly, she protected us from the Bad Man, my father. When he was around, it was like being in the presence of a Saturnine god. You simply tried to get out of the way. He was a force of nature, and the brunt was mostly born by Mommy.
Neither Debbie nor I knew that though. We were small, so we had yet to figure out that Daddy was hurting Mommy. All we knew was that Daddy was hurting us. And Mommy was there to protect us.
Then, one day, she wasn’t.
Later, I figured out that she tried to kill herself. She took an overdose of Miltown and put herself into a coma. For a while, they weren’t sure she was going to make it. But she did. After that, they put her into an insane asylum for a while, and while she was there, they shocked her brain so much that when she came home, she did not know our names.
The “our” is important. The “our”, that was Debbie and me.
We clung to each other. I suspect she thought that she was my mother at times. Certainly, she tried very hard to fill that role for me, which was so empty due to my absent mother. But she must have needed her mother too. I did not know that at the time, though. All I could think about was me, and how much I was a scared, hurting, lonely little boy. We were as close during that time as it is possible for two people to be in that situation, I suspect. We became a tiny little village of two. I am sure I am alive today because of her love and support of me during this time.
Later, we became rivals. I was her annoying little brother, who was always trying to tag along with her. (It’s true, actually.) She did take me on many, many adventures in the wondrous lands we found ourselves in. We explored Europe together when we were small. Later, during the 60s, when we were in high school, we were in Taiwan. A paradise for an American teenager to grow up in.
When I was officially pronounced to be a genius at the age of 12 (parents: please spare your children this little maneuver; trust me, even if they are smart don’t ever do this to them), the rivalry really began. I was always the pet after that, and Debbie hated it. I was my parents favorite, the boy genius who would do amazing things one day.
I got into Duke. She didn’t. That was it. She went off to USC Columbia and I went to Duke. For two years, we barely spoke. After that, I had caught up with her gradewise. She and I both graduated from undergraduate school in the same year, and we both went to law school together.
The years passed. She got a job. I got a job. We saw each other. Most of the time, we lived in the same city. I accused her of following me around, and she did the same to me. But we still weren’t really close.
Then one day, I got the call. I knew that Debbie was now employed as an assistant DA in Dallas. She was also married to a guy I considered to be an asshole. I was also married at that time (to my second wife) and living in Longview, Texas. That marriage was not going well. Neither was my job actually. And, randomly, Debbie calls me to talk about stuff.
I did not have time for her. I was rude to her, actually. The next phone call I received was from my Mom telling me that Debbie had committed suicide the night before. I may have been the last person she spoke to on this earth.
Can you imagine how that feels? Unfortunately, I don’t need to. I feel that feeling every single day.
My son told me yesterday that Debbie’s death was not my fault. Intellectually, I know that. But it doesn’t feel that way. I still feel the wrenching, gut busting pain of hearing that the person I had been closest to, for the longest period of my life, up to that point at least, was gone. Simply gone. And I never knew that it was even coming. It hit me like a strategic nuclear bomb. Especially the fact that she turned to me, relied on me as probably the person in whom she placed her greatest trust. And I failed her in that moment.