Some of you might not know that I’m the oldest of four kids. This might come as a shock to you seeing as how I sometimes act like an annoying younger brother. To that I say, shut up, you poopyhead. As an older brother and the oldest sibling, I feel that I am in a position of great responsibility. I’m paving the way for my younger siblings. Treading the path for the first time. Making mistakes that I hope my siblings can avoid. Participating in victories that I hope my siblings will take part in. Basically, providing my siblings with a role model that’s been there and who can give them pieces of wisdom that my parents might not be in possession of. In fact, whenever I talk to my friends about my much younger siblings, I always call them “the kids,” much like a father would (or maybe that’s just me).
Now, my youngest sister is what you would call “melodramatic.” She acts like a regular on the Disney Channel. Every situation is to be exaggerated by a factor of 10, every laugh is to be extended in time by a factor of 20 with the decibel level increased by a factor of 3, and very problem is to be made 30 times more dire than it really is. Because of this I can admit that she gets treated like the black sheep of the family. We’re not keeping her in a cage and throwing tomatoes at her or anything, but she’s definitely the “oddball” of the group.
This past Thursday, I was visiting my alma mater, the prestigious UMBC, and got a phone call. A sigh softly came out of my mouth when I saw that it was my mom calling. Expecting the phone call to be about some trivial errand she needed me to take care of, I picked up the phone nonchalantly. But what I hear is something that I never would have expected to hear. She told me that she got a call from my 11-year-old sister’s school saying that she had written a suicide note.
Words that no brother, or sibling for that matter, ever wants to hear.
Coincidentally enough, just a year ago I had to deal with a student of mine who came up to me and said that she had been having suicidal thoughts and had, minutes before, prepared to kill herself. To this day, me and her are very close and she was able to get the counseling that she needed to improve her condition. But this wasn’t some student. This was my little sister. My family. My first reaction was utter shock. Not only could I not believe what I was hearing, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. Was I about to lose my sister? What kind of mental state is she in? Did I miss the signs? Were we pressuring her too much? Could I have talked to her more? Spent more time with her? Told her that I loved her more?
I didn’t get a chance to speak with her that day, but the next day I waited at home until she got back from school. When she got home, she threw her face into the couch and started crying before I could even get a word out. She explained to me that the kids on her bus had been making fun of her. They kept calling her “wet dog”, reenacting the “seat’s taken” scene from Forrest Gump, and even telling her that “no one would care if you died.” My sister seemed to take those words and believed them.
I had a long talk with her about it and I made sure that she understood that a lot of people love her. I encouraged her. I listened to her. I told her that I loved her. I gave her advice on how to deal with bullies and made sure that she understood that if this harsh treatment continued, she was to let me or my parents know so that we could get my nun-chucks the administrators of the school involved. She seems to be doing fine now. She talks about her episode candidly and without hesitation. It was only a few days ago, but she doesn’t seem to be phased by her tormentors as much. She told me today about how one of her bullies asked her for one of her mini muffins on the bus and she gave them one on the condition that they promise to stop bothering her. Later, her bully broke their promise and bothered her. At this point, I was prepared to break this kid’s nose/arm/leg/neck (don’t worry, there wouldn’t be any witnesses). But my sister made a decision to not give their insults power and saved their lives in the process. My sister promised to talk to me if anyone or anything ever bothered her in that way again and I believe she will. I never used to call home that much, but I plan on calling every week now to check up on her. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if a teacher hadn’t found my sister writing that note. If her pain had gone unnoticed and she eventually built up the courage to execute her wishes. And I refuse to let her fall into that place again.
I actually talked to her before I decided to write this post. I don’t like to put family business out in a public forum cause some of you guys aren’t my family. So I asked my sister if she’d be comfortable with me writing about her on my blog. She said that it would be fine. I repeated again and again that it would mean that people she knows and people she doesn’t know would know about this very personal event in her life. She still gave me permission to write about it. When I asked her why, she said “I want other people who might go through this to know that they don’t have to deal with it by themselves and they should talk to people about it.” In that moment, I was the most proud I had ever been.
“If each man or woman could understand that every other human life is as full of sorrows, or joys, or base temptations, of heartaches and of remorse as his own…how much kinder, how much gentler he would be.”
–William Allen White