I was 5 when I found out two things. The first was that my mom was having a baby. The second was that I was now the proud owner of a younger sister. In my mind, this doesn’t mean my mother is having a second child so much as she is giving me a living, breathing doll to play with that I never have to give to Goodwill. She will sit on my closet and always be a baby, because when I was that age I had not heard my friend Karen’s sage advice, which was “that’s the problem with children… they grow.” Even so, one of my earliest memories is creeping into her room, lifting up her arm, and slipping a teddy bear into the well between her shoulder and chest.
When I was old enough, I changed her diapers and fed her meals. As she grew, she was my only ally in the tempest of church life. In my teenage years, I have said often that I was shy and withdrawn, especially after meeting my abuser, because my personality changed almost immediately. Two things happened… my sister knew that I was pulling away from her, because I was pulling away from everyone. I knew that because I was socially anxious, it was often a relief that her friends were all over the house. I had company and conversation that was easy and free without worrying about making my own friends. I ended up babysitting for some of them, and one made a special bond with both of us, because I was his babysitter and Lindsay was his best friend.
In retrospect, I believe that it was really hard for my sister after I met (name redacted), because all of the sudden my attention was completely redirected. Emotionally, I missed a lot of years of sharing secrets late at night when Lindsay was old enough to “hang.” I wasn’t particularly approachable, either.
However, she was the first person in my family that I told I was gay, but indirectly because I was talking to the girl I liked on the phone (one my own age). She sat straight up and said, “I KNEW IT!!! It’s the way you talk about (name redacted)!!!
The girl hung up, obviously, because run.
Another memory that really stands out is that I was getting ready for my homecoming dance at Clements, and I saw my rainbow ring on my dresser. My male date was minutes away from coming to get me, and I had a panic attack… full on, with shortness of breathing and everything. It was spectacular.
I was freaking out because I knew how untrue to myself I was about to be. I didn’t live in the same place as the one I loved, and she’d said many times she didn’t feel that way about me, which always resonated logically, but never emotionally. Regardless of how she felt, I still felt responsible for making sure she was okay. To me, asking for me to forget that for a few hours and just have fun at a dance with a boy that was clearly just my friend felt like I would be letting her down… from 250 miles away. Clearly, my seventeen-year-old logic was laughable right up until it wasn’t.
My sister is a large part of why I felt sane enough not to be hospitalized. She stepped up and just loved me as I was, without questioning why or how I was all wrapped up in (name redacted) and just let me ruminate all over her, even when I defined new heights of anxiety. She’s definitely not the only person that has listened to my logorrhea, but she was the first. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve learned how valuable that was as a coping mechanism, and how much I am grateful.
I’ve also learned that my abuser affected my sister through me, because I told her was was going on- that she was with an alcoholic- which she already knew because she’d heard that this woman had come to the choir party at our church and thrown up all over the host’s house. I told her that she was a drug dealer, and I’m sure managed to scare her as well.
None of these thoughts are about blame, They are about reevaluating the behaviors I exhibited when I was a child and trying to make sense of them now. I realized that when I was leaving Portland and had a panic attack on (name redacted)’s voice mail, I acted out my first fears when she left the first time… going full circle to the place where we started.
It was my sister who understood the most where I was coming from, just watching me drown the more anxious I got. She understood that she couldn’t do this for me, and she just let me talk. To date, she is the only person that has ever asked how I am regarding my abuser, which meant the world to me because it said out loud, “I get it, and I’m here for you if you need me.”
It tears me apart the number of times that she’s been there for me in a way that I’ve never been there for her. She has quietly taken care of me not by telling me what to do, but by being that non-judgmental sounding board as I began to heal.
It is no accident that my favorite words in the English language are, “it’s a girl.”