Your Hurt, Hurt Me
From the blue serenity of my room, I could hear the faint roll of a drawer being opened and the barely detectable sing of a knife being drawn out. In my bliss, I continued about my middle school homework, unbothered and unknowing. Not more than a room away, my sister stared through blurry eyes at her reflection in the taunting silver. Its handle lay cool in her hot hands, softening her throbbing heartbeat. Anxieties had chewed at her nails until they bled and left behind a jagged edge, a souvenir of compounding insecurities, overwhelming guilt, and inescapable lies. My algebra homework was harder today than others. I struggled to understand the reasoning behind the solutions. The irregular drip of saltwater fell from her auburn flushed cheeks and clouded the image on the blade, smudging her picture; she felt prettier that way. With the back of her wrist, she whisked away her tears, passing over wounds on her delicate face. Sores she picked and picked and picked at until they too wept with her, crimson. Her lips went soft when she licked away the salt, but they were unbearably cracked, and she gnawed at the skin that flaked desperately away. Still I sat, unaware of her absolute sorrow.
A blood curdling scream rippled through the house and I instantly flew to the door. Framed by the counter and wall, she stood leaning against the kitchen table. She screamed inaudibly for a moment; her face pulled tight in distraught. Her sobs shook her entire frame, and each gasp of air rattled though her rib cage and sputtered through her tears upon exhale.
For a moment, I searched for what was wrong, what possibly could have happened. Then my eyes fell on those nail bitten fingers and intricately laced between them, in an anguished grip, a knife stained red, glinted back at me. The minute I had the courage to look back into my sister’s eyes, they had hardened to stone and overflowed with rage. In broken movements, she tore up her sleeve and directed my attention to the underside of her forearm.
“This is your fault!” she cried. “Yours!”
Mine? But what had I done? Why would she do this? What’s wrong with her?
Without giving me the time to react, to even utter a response, to maybe say I was sorry even though I didn’t know why, she threw the knife down on the counter and in the same motion, swiped her bag from the table and launched herself towards the front door. Within seconds it had opened and closed, and I watched miserably from the window as she sprinted down the drive and towards the road.
At a young age, my sister was diagnosed with severe depression as well as being bipolar. The combination made her actions erratic, and her moods swing drastically. As a child, I could not comprehend the things she said or did that hurt both herself and the people around her. For that reason, my bitterness for her grew as I did, until eventually I learned that she couldn’t hurt me anymore, not if I didn’t let her.
It seems impossible that it’s a memory given that I was so young. Sometimes I think I can feel it, taste it, see it, touch it, but I know that truly I have just changed it. Perhaps it’s a memory of a memory, the kind that is more like a dream, the kind of dream that soothes your restless sleep and obscures the dark reality.
I remember her bedroom walls were painted a pigment like peaches and cream and I remember the few fairies my mom had spent excruciating hours pasting on them. I can’t tell you how it started or how it ended, but right in the middle of the moment, that’s the last time I remember her and I, together, being genuinely, childishly, happy.
Sunlight drizzled through her windows and spread warmly across the covers.
“Eeeeeeee!” I squealed as I hopped across her mattress. It’s threads felt soft on my toddler feet and wrinkled underneath my toes with each spring. My arms were pressed close to my sides and my hands hung limp at the wrist, presenting my best imitation of a bunny. She giggled and prepared her most vicious voice, “I’m gonna get youuuuu!” she growled as she slinked around the sheets on all fours and pretended to hide behind her unnecessary mass of pillows. Hop hop hop. Apprehension built up inside me quickly as I anticipated her attack. Suddenly, her hand shot out from beneath the pillows and locked onto my tiny ankle. “Ahhhhhhhhh!” I shrieked as I came falling down softly. Swiftly, she pinned me down and tickled my armpits, ribs, and neck while I helplessly attempted to escape. When she thought I had had enough, I was released. “Again! Again!” I cried. That smile of hers. I’ll never forget.
Muffled bickering swept in from the gap beneath my door and scattered like dust particles in the air, eventually settling on my shoulders. My sense of uneasiness grew in my gut until I felt sick with worry. I had been relaxing in my room at home for a few hours on a Friday night, just a 13 year old enjoying some peace and quiet. Dad’s not home. That’s my first thought as I listen to the skirmish going on in the hallway.
“I’ll just go anyways!” I heard my sister sneer. “You can’t fucking stop me!”. Whoa. She just swore at mom!
“Lindsey Grace Smith!” my mom shouted back.
By now, my attention had shifted away from whatever task I was at and zeroed in on the argument escalating by the minute. As the volume increased, I stepped away from the door to which I had been tightly pressing my ear. I was beginning to be concerned. Most of the time, my sister would storm off to her room like the 17 year old she was and slam the door so hard it shook the house but right now, she continued to spit cheap shots at our mom, riling them both up.
“Fuck you!” she screamed and then came the expected slam of the bedroom door.
“Excuse you?!” my mom yelled as she tore into her room after her.
I crept down the hall and watched powerlessly as the scene unfolded and turned into a blur of thrashing motions and shrieks. They became entangled in one another, throwing objects, pulling hair, slapping, and shoving. Help. Somebody help. “Stop it! Please stop!” I began to sob. I rushed to my bedroom and clutched my phone. Who do I call? Dad? 911? My thought process lagged as I was overwhelmed by the scene and I fell to the rough carpet. With my knees tucked to my chest and my head to the floor, I held my palms over my ears and wept until the police showed up. At least the neighbors could make the call.
The smell of her perfume was unbearable. It always had been. Suffocatingly sweet; masking something I loathed. It drowned me in its intensity as she slipped into the seat beside me, right there outside the airport in our white ford fusion.
After many incidents like the last, my sister began to attend an all-girls school in Utah that specialized in mental health care, to finish her last two years of high school. Today, she arrived for a visit after being gone for a few months.
Too small, too close. I could feel disgust bubble up inside me like bile and burn between my ribs. My eyes just wanted to roll a thousand times with every syllable she uttered. There was this bitterness, animosity even, for the words that oozed from her lips and I hated every single one of them individually and together. She couldn’t fool me like she did the strangers on the street. She couldn’t charm me like every boyfriend she had ever had. She couldn’t earn my love back like she could mom’s and dad’s. I knew her. I knew what she had done to my family and what she had done to me for years.
My heart began to beat faster and faster and I shifted away from her and closer to the window, longing for an escape. The cool winter air outside clung to the glass and fogged with every warm exhale and gradually faded clear again. I wished I could do that, dissipate into the atmosphere, far away, far away, far away, gone. Instead, I sat and listened unwillingly as my sister’s words poured panic into my chest like a contaminated river and echoed in a heart empty of her. My breath caught in my lungs and I slowly choked, silently in the backseat. All I could think was, here she is acting as if nothing has happened, as if all is forgiven. My head started to ache, and I just wanted to tell her to shut up. Just shut up! I closed my eyes tightly and never said a word.
“Can you love someone who has hurt you?”
What a silly question. “Of course. People do it all the time.” I answer my therapist succinctly.
She sat in a beige lounge chair diagonally across from where I was, on an olive green sofa worn down by trivial and horrible issues alike. I had been in rooms like this periodically while growing up, sometimes for family therapy with my sister, other times for individual after certain events had occurred. Nonetheless, I always found the people I was placed with to be mildly mirror images of each other. This one, had the same head tilt and hands resting in her lap, but her eyes were soft, almond shaped, and receiving. Maybe just observing. Sometimes I make the mistake of building people up to be more than they are.
Without judgement she asks a related question, “Well, should you love someone who has hurt you?”.
No! They don’t deserve it! “Maybe. I don’t know.” I am aware that my answers are halfhearted if not absolutely bland, but I have come to control my stronger initial reactions, dilute them even.
She sighs, “Morgan, sometimes we love people because they are everything that we adore. Sometimes, we need to love people because it is easier on us.”
Somehow, that was it. That was what I needed to hear. I could have left right then but of course there was another 30 minutes left in my session and she continued to explain that hate is such a heavy burden on the one who holds it forever. Love is light and is as much for others as it is for ourselves. You can love someone who has hurt you, you can forgive someone who has wronged you, you can accept someone who doesn’t deserve it, just so long as you protect yourself, so long as you never forget.
Now I just love. I love them. I love him. I love her. I love you, yes you. All in different ways, sure, but still. Perhaps my interpretation of love is abstract or skewed, but I don’t mind, it’s for me, it’s all mine.
June 19th, 2020. My 17th birthday. The sun floated in a blue and cloudless sky and radiated a gentle warmth. The first day of summer. Our backyard was thriving after my father’s hours of toil and like a practicing choir, at last it was ready, and the flowers, dressed in hues of red and blue, sang a sweet symphony of pleasant aromas. Set up in the middle of the green lawn was our wood fold-out table and chairs placed evenly around it. My grandparents stood near the fence in one corner of the yard with my dad chatting about the garden when finally, my sister arrived.
After my mom greets her, I walk briskly across the soft grass and give her a hug as she passes through the gate to join us. I smile. I ask her how she is. I sit down at the table with her and my mom to talk. It is this odd feeling I have, one that is almost impossible to describe. All I can think to say is that as I sat there listening to her, I realized just how little she had changed and just how much I had.
Lindsey lives off of welfare in an apartment, has no job, no driver’s license, no college education, no ambition. To top it off, she has a two year old daughter and a newborn son, a crappy boyfriend, and she is completely dependent on others. And yet, in that moment, I felt nothing but love for her. I loved her safely, from a distance. I loved her in a way that did not jeopardize my happiness. I loved her simply because it was better for me to let go, to forgive, to move on.