There was a giant Dogwood tree that my sister and I used to walk under on our way to school, back when we lived close enough to a school to walk. That being said, it really was a way away from home and when we skipped school which was more often than we told, we would hang out in an old cinder block building from when people were poor. The building must have been abandoned because it didn't have any electricity or water or even hollow walls to allow anything inside. It was just a cheap building put together for someone real poor. There are quite a bit of those out in the boonies just about anywhere you go in the Midwest.
In the spring just halfway through the first semester of the year, the Dogwood would flower and when the petals fell they would float onto the surface of the pond it grew next to. The cinder block building and the Dogwood were just across the pond from each other, so over the years my sister and I grew up with that lovey scene. About my 8th grade year the pond got covered in silk and spiders, most of the trees lived but the Dogwood died. They didn't usually grow in my area, so it was kinda sad to see the only one i knew of go. The walks to school after that felt sorta different and somewhat lonely.
My sister would often talk with me on those walks to school. She'd often be real honest with me, talking about things that made her upset. she made it out like she had this mindset that she needed to be some great influence in the world, as if every moment she wasn't doing something positive was a moment she might as well not exist. After she told me the face of it, i started to notice how her reactions to others weren't normal at all. This would usually come about particularly strong when someone tried to help her. One time she needed to leave a sleepover early from her friends house after something supposedly serious happened. Rather than phoning home and waking up mom she decided to rather walk the 6 miles home in her pajamas and boots and slip into bed. She just can't accept help from others. Sometimes when i tried to help her out, even a little, she would say something like "it's okay, don't worry about me, this is what i deserve." And that's something she would say alot 'I deserve this, i am being punished,' but i never really understood what she meant. I bet if you were to look in her head she would just think shes a burden.
Anytime my sis would open up to someone she would see it as a mistake, and you could tell she knew she would regret it later. I would feel such sadness seeing her eyebrows furrow slightly as she stares off into space with that same fake smile she would make anytime she felt like she was supposed to be happy. She'd pretend nothing was wrong, and i would go along with it saying to myself, "is this really what you want?" Anytime I tried to do anything for her or talk to her about her sadness she would try to change the subject, and she was pretty good at it too. If i insisted, she would explain how her depression is justified, and that she is a very bad person, so in order to make up for it, she can't drag others down with her. She said,
"I would rather die than hurt the people i love."
"i deserve to be in pain because i'm not a good person."
"I want to be what people need, not what i am, because i'm no good."
"Please don't worry about me, this is what i want, i can't live any other way."
She would sometimes hurt herself because she thought so deeply that she deserved it. To this day I have no idea what made her believe that she was so bad, she never drank or slept around, she was always nice, I've never even seen her be passive aggressive before. But there were always times mom told me to go find and take away any knives i found in her room. She would always hide them really well, which is pretty different from most people who hurt themselves. For normal troubled teens, it's almost like they want them to be found, but not her, anything but worrying family. She pretended for a long time to be over her episodes of self harm, but i know that she just switched to hitting herself with things. I would sometimes hear it at night, a packing sound followed by a gasp or a teary groan. i knew that if i confronted her about it, she would just cry and blame herself even more. I had to make the decision between trying to help her and risk her hating herself more, or to ignore it and hope that it goes away. I was a kid, i didn't make the right decision.
My sister and I had almost a sort of agreement, that I wouldn't tell family and she would do her best to make the people around her happy. Of course this was never said but it never needed to be said, because i was always afraid that if i told anyone, she would decide that her life just causes harm and would kill herself. Even if she failed or we stopped her, things would never be the same. From then on if that were to happen, she would never be able to be alone, never hold a gun or even a knife, and she would forever be a prisoner and her family her guards. Sometimes I would imagine if she got caught trying to do it. I'd imagine her sitting on her bed with her door removed, no access to anything sharp or dangerous, she would always have to have someone accompanying her at the house. Outside of the house she would need to stay near mom or dad so she doesn't run off into traffic or something. The family would have to orient a big part of their lives around preventing the suicide of their own daughter. And I'd imagine this would just want to make her die even more. I would imagine her living this life and think "I can't let this happen to her."
so things stayed the same for a long time.
One day my sister and me were on a walk to school, we stopped underneath the giant dead dogwood tree to look out over the water. She put her hands on a big limb of the tree and started rocking back and forth. I remembered 2 dreams i had the night before, i told her,
"i had a good one and a bad one, i guess i start with the bad. I don't remember how it started, but i was in mom and dad's room, i think, and it was all real dark, pitch black. I was trying to find the lights, i kept running my hands across the walls trying to find the light switch. I found where it should have been, but it wasn't there. I thought i was just missing it so i vividly remember rubbing my hand on the drywall and what it felt like. It felt really real, probably because i couldn't see. Anyway, I couldn't find the light switch, so I tried to find a door. Again I'd end up running my hands along the walls, but there wasn't a door or nothing. Eventually I got scared thinking I'd never find a way out, so I ended up walking away from the wall with my hands out in front of me. I felt a thin chain brush against my hand so i pulled on it. It was a light switch. I saw a big monster or something, like he was human but he didn't look right. He was all cut up, and his face looked like he was dead, and he had a real mournful look on his face. I didn't know he was there since he was in the center of the room and i was walking along the walls. It was quite a disturbing sight, i'm not sure exactly why, but seeing that monster made me feel sick. Felt like... dreadful. I didn't move at all except to pull the chain again, the lights went off. It didn't really make sense but i guess i figured i didn't like seeing what was in the room, so I'd rather go back in the dark. I went back to rubbing alongside the walls but i was able to find a door this time."
I grabbed onto the branch my sister was hanging from and looked out over the pond. I wasn't thinking about whether we were gonna make it to school or not.
"The other dream was the better one. I remember... I was a kid again, and I was at a birthday party. I don't know if it was mine or not, I guess that part wasn't important. You were there too, but you weren't young or anything, you were like how you are now, but mom and dad and the aunts and uncles were all a bit younger. It was daytime and all the kids were playing outside, i was laying on the carpet under the ceiling window. The sun was shining down onto me making me all warm and comfortable. I could see family outside getting ready to ride four wheelers through the corn field on the other side of the road. Anyway, it was just you, me, and dad, and we were all sitting on the carpet, except for me i was laying. And you were in an emerald dress and i thought it really looked good with your hair color. You looked really pretty and really happy and seeing you happy made me happy too. And you looked at Dad and were smiling and talking about... something... I can't exactly recall. But you were having fun and I felt relieved. But i guess the main part of it being good was i remember thinking that when i fell asleep laying in that sunshine, you and dad would go do something fun, and knowing that, i dunno it felt good... and then i woke up..."
I stared at the water with my arms hanging on the branch. The sunshine glittered off the little waves the wind kicked up in the water. I turned to her again. She had her brow furrowed slightly like how she always does when something upsets her alot, but she wasn't smiling either, she had the ends of her mouth downturned. She didn't feel the need to fake her emotions around me like how she did in front of others. At the time I wasn't intelligent enough to understand what made her upset. In fact i wondered for a long long time why me telling her that dream made her so sad. I know why now, i had a good dream, and what made it good was that she was happy. She knew from that dream how much her behavior upset me, and how much i wanted her to be something else. It was the lack of dealing with her was what made it good, and right after being free from her i said, "and then i woke up." I woke up to the real world where i had to stress and worry about her, about if shes hurting herself, or if she even slept last night. And her causing my real world to be painful is what made her so sad. I still sometimes can't get that face out of my head, how crushed she was by what i really thought accidentally revealed by my dreams.
When i saw her face i wasn't saddened that she was feeling bad or upset, i was sad and stressed that the future of my family was uncertain. Because she had some reason to believe shes a burden on me, she would probably try to kill herself soon, either that or do something drastic. in the moment i saw her soul crushed, i didn't feel bad for the pain she had to go through, the only thing that could run through my head was "I wish you wasn't like this."
I lowered my head a bit and closed my eyes, not wanting to see the face that solidified my families future. I opened my eyes again to look back out at the pond, it used to be so magical, i always felt like i could never comprehend the beauty of the nature in front of me as a kid, but just then it felt like a song you've listened to too many times for it to be enjoyable anymore. I wondered what kind of face she was making now, or if she was disappointed i didn't want to see her, her gaze burned into me. I pulled myself up by the branch we were holding on to. I didn't manage to stand, because the rotting branch was completely snapped off the tree by our weight. The branch didn't hit me, which was surprising because it was right in line to land on top of my knees. it landed on its thick side first and gave me time to hit the floor. All i felt was a log levered against my thighs, i was able to lift the tree side of it off of me and slide out from under it pretty easy.
I didn't think about her until i heard her troubled breathing, i still hear it at night and in the shower and in the car and in public and in the small noises of my coffee machine. I hear the slurping in my dreams, i hear the spattering of blood when people cough, i hear choking every night and every day. Sometimes ill be completely mesmerized by some distant stream or ambience and lose my sense of time. I'll ask people "how long was i silent for?" Sometimes they'll say maybe 10 seconds, sometimes "i thought you were ignoring me." They say PTSD is auditory, which means every time i looked away from something upsetting it didn't do me no good, nah it made everything worse more like. That's what happens when you shy away from the world just because it's hard to handle.
I looked over and she had just sat up, she put her hands around her throat and started coughing. She exhaled deeply and we both heard her breath struggling to bubble up through the blood in her windpipe. She started to inhale and for a moment it sounded like slurping, it must have made her choke because she went back to coughing. When we was nearly out of breath she leaned forward and stuck her tongue out, it was all bloody and that blood gathered at the bottom and ran off in a long strand onto the ground. She made tiny coughs with what little air she had left. I remember thinking it was her laughing for some reason, cuz she was making little "hah hah hah" sounds trying to cough. She was silent for a moment, sat there with her bloody tongue and not moving, and in that moment there was nothing but pure perfect silence. Her panicked inhale broke that silence and snapped me out of my astonishment.
I didn't think about it at all, but i found myself behind her and with my arms around her and my head next to hers. I only thought to comfort her. In that moment no emotions took me over like i had expected, there was no panic or even fear for her life, i was shaking violently, but on the inside i was perfectly calm. It was the most peculiar thing, in the moment my best friend was dying, i felt almost nothing. That's a lie, I didn't feel nothing, I felt catharsis, or maybe relief. Why did I feel this?
I think i know why i felt that now. There was another part of me that I couldn't see, a part of me that distills my worldly experience into emotion for me to understand. And that part of me didn't see any reason to be upset. The emotions it gave onto me were relief and hope, like seeing your school listed in the morning news in the 'closed due to snow' banner. That part of me decided that my sister was a curse, and that her death would set me free. So that makes me wonder, if i was shaking but I wasn't upset, then what made me shake so bad? I don't think I want to know, because i think the answer would disturb me.
Between the feelings of finality and relaxation, I cared for my sister. So I decided to make her last memory on earth something sweet. I turned her around, but I didn't face her, I knew seeing her face would break the courage i had protected myself with. She felt stiff as i picked her up on my shoulder, but I didn't think about that. As I was walking I felt her blood running down my back, it was warm so I didn't notice until my shirt was soaked completely through. Cattails brushed against my legs as i walked round the rim of the old weary pond. The surface of the pond was covered by a layer of flowers and oak tree tassels, as it always is in the first few months of spring. In the distance, i heard bells echoing from the church near our house. It chimed 7 o'clock, we were late for school.
I felt her arms slacken and fall limp off my back, she felt like a baby on my shoulder. Between the bells and the nature and carrying her, I was reminded of when i would carry her as a small child when my mom's arms got tired. Back then I felt I was her protector, and I still felt that sentiment carrying her away from help. She was struggling to breathe when she was awake, but now that she was unconscious she wasn't fighting her broken throat, and that helped her to breathe again. I patted her on the back as if to help her get it all out.
On the other side of the pond we entered the old cinder block building. It had no floor and was just dirt, but there were still single shelves attached to the walls that held bottles and jars long since rotted. There were two beds in the building, one was my sister's and the other one was mine. We found them many years ago at a yard sale, we paid 5 dollars for each one and we carried them on our backs all the way to the cinder block building when we were little. The beds were meant for children so we couldn't sleep on them now, but they were still comfortable just as they were back then. Every spring we would get new sheets to stack up on them so they didn't get too nasty, but we never used em often. In the room were also an old cupboard, a potbelly stove, all sorts of books and magazines and such, and a few murky glass windows. We used to use the walls as our canvas, drawings and paintings from the years cluttered almost shapeless the walls surrounding us. In all the years we have used this building as a second home, we never showed it to anyone. We were always afraid word would get out and bad things would happen to it. For us, it was our special place in the world only we knew about, and i couldn't think of a better place for my sister to die.
I laid her side on the bed and set her legs so she was facing away from the wall. I still didn't want to look at her, i assumed she was gonna be all bloody and I thought it would have reminded me of the monster from my nightmare. I looked up at the wall and I saw centered above her was a big charcoal drawing she made of us when she was about 12. It was us looking at an old tube tv with static on it, and the static was the only light in the room so that shadows stretched across the walls and floors. Because the walls were cinderblock, she created the static effect by lightly rubbing the charcoal across the rough surface and allowing the natural pattern to create the effect. The drawing was probably the first time i was really astonished by her art. I know she was about 12 whenever she made it because it was of a real time we had together. Our parents were on a date night, and we were kids so we thought they were just at diner or something, but we used that time alone to wrap ourselves in blankets and watch vhs movies on the tv in their room. I think the goal was to watch stuff made for adults, like creepy movies or whatever, but if i remember correctly we just watched a love movie set in a time before electricity. They danced and sang and boy did it put us to sleep.
I remember waking up to the sound of a heartbeat in my left ear and gentle popping static in my right. I realized it was the heartbeat of my sister and i remember thinking how sad i would be if it were to stop. I thought that it could stop any time, and that the life of everyone in my family is one skipped heartbeat away from ending, the feeling of fleetingness, and of temporary comfort unsettled me. But then i woke up some more and felt the hot warmth of being under those blankets with the sun shining on us thru the window, and i forgot about it.
Standing over my dying sister I felt ashamed of forgetting, and I wanted to hear her heartbeat to try to forget what was happening. My right hand rested on her lower back and my left arm wrapped around her front to hold her shoulder, I lowered my head onto her back and started to cry when I didn't hear her heartbeat. I was shivering and I think it actually started to sink in that I would never get to experience any more wonderful nights with her anymore. I refused to believe it was over, so i panicked and took out my pocket knife to cut off her coat and I threw it aside. Again I rested my head on her back holding my breath to stifle my sobs. The smallest, faintest, most distant heartbeat I ever did hear filled my left ear once again. I held my breath as hard as i could to contain the sudden wave of sobs. My mouth made an ugly strained frown and my eyes forced shut as i felt hot tears drop onto her back. I wanted to cherish this heartbeat, because with its end ends a lifetime of good memories and the chance of her ever getting better.
The heartbeat was replaced by a haunting, bubbling gasp, I jerked back and covered my ears. I instinctively faced away from her with my eyes wide and my mouth agape. The normally peaceful feeling of the cinderblock building was now haunted and tarnished with this horrible stress of helplessness. I kept my ears covered, but I could still hear her breathing, more weary and tired than before. Part of me wished she could have died as i was listening to her heartbeat, part of me wished she would survive and the wound wasn't fatal. I thought of all the ways I might be able to reverse this whole mess, but I was stuck, a coward unable to move, unable to listen, unable to even look at her as shes dying.
Then I thought about how she must have felt, the one person she trusted and felt comfortable around, the only person she was ever able to be honest with, would rather have her die than live. I can't imagine how much that must have broken her. Seeing my back turned towards her, waiting for her to die. At that moment I wondered if she accepted her death, and if she had, I didn't want to be the one to take that away from her. I betrayed my only sibling, I tried to make her last moments comfortable, but I just destroyed her. Her breathing slowed and calmed down, she probably didn't want to make noise seeing as how I was covering my ears. Even though I destroyed and betrayed her, she still wanted nothing more than to not be a burden on me. Even in death she was more kind and caring than my rotten soul could ever be.
I felt her hand pet my lower back, she had meant to comfort me, as if to say,
"It's okay, don't be sad"
I started screaming and ran into the wall past my bed, my eyes and mouth wide open screaming like I had never heard myself or anyone scream before. I didn't stop at just one, I felt the need to continue to scream, scream in horror and terror. I screamed like I was being murdered, a once in a lifetime kind of scream. All I could think of as it happened was how much I regret not helping her like I should have, and how much I wanted to die. I tried to control myself and shakily inhaled, and as I did I heard her painful sobbing, roughed up because of her broken throat. She didn't cry because she was dying, she cried because I was hurt, she couldn't stand so see me like that. I started sobbing "no, no, no, please, please no" and that made her stop crying.
I was bawling kneeled on my bed, I fell defeated onto the pillow still holding my palms pressed over my ears. If I had known it wouldn't have been some quick and easy death, I would have never done this. I couldn't take it anymore, I started to think about how life would be better without having to worry about her, I thought about life without my sister, and how I might one day know peace. I thought that way for a long time, trying to ignore the sounds of her choking. I don't remember exactly how long it took, but eventually I stopped hearing her. It must have been a long time because when that happened I found myself sitting using my knees to press my elbows as a way to help me cup my ears. I was there so long that my arms got tired of being held in that position. I let go of my ears and was astonished at the stars that were whirring around my head. What happened?
I was relieved it was over, I made sure not to look at her as i stepped outside. The sun was high in the sky and it was warm with a breeze causing small waves over the pond covered in flower petals and oak tassels. I slowly retraced my steps, following the trail of blood back to the giant dogwood tree, I saw where the branch slid off her neck and scraped along the ground pulling up the grass on top and showing the dirt below. I walked back to my house in a daze, i opened the door and my mom wasn't there. I walked into the office and my dad was already stood up, he knew i wasn't supposed to be out of school.
"Where's your sister?"
He picked me up and ran out the door without closing it. He was yelling at me the same 2 questions over and over, 'where is your sister, where did this blood come from?' He knew the path we took to school, thru the park, avoiding the roads and cutting through property lines as well as a corn field to get to school faster. I felt horrible dread as he got closer to the tree. He stopped and put me down on my feet, but I didn't stay standing. I fell to my hands and knees as i looked at the blood she had spat out, blackened from age. Dad started following the blood trail, I felt completely alone in the world as I trailed behind him crying. I couldn't say anything, the distance between us was just a few feet but it felt long and cold. He kept walking at a calm pace. He walked around the pond, cattails brushing against his legs, He walked up to the cinderblock building and opened the door. I watched him stand in the door way looking down and slowly raising his head up and to the left. He stepped inside.
I was right behind him, the silence was awful as I waited for anything, a sigh, a cry of grief, anything that would ground me in reality. But in limbo I stood as Dad knelt in front of the bed looking her in the face. I wanted to see what he saw, so I decided to finally look at her. Her mouth and nose were covered in blood, scarlet was spread up and down and also to the side of her face in long streams where the blood ran. Hair clumped up and discolored and stuck to her face where it got soaked. Her eyes were still open and sad with lines of white leading to the floor where her tears washed away the blood. Her lips were blue and open slightly from trying to breathe. The bed was completely soaked with a large red circle around her head that looked like a halo.
The sight made me cry harder. In that moment I felt like an idiot and a murderer. I felt like I had been playing pretend with my sister for fun, like we were playing a kids game we should have laughed about when we got older. And with my dad looking at his dead daughter in the face, the two worlds I had lived in met. The first world was the one where I convinced myself that Dad wouldn't have been able to help, and that I alone needed to feel sorry for my sister and do a bad job at keeping her safe from herself, the world of pretend. And the second world of being a child to my father, the normal world where I didn't get to feel like I was some important person who held someones life in my hands, the world where I could have trusted my father to do what was right. I felt reality come over me for the first time and it manifested at first as a horrible feeling in my stomach, then as shock as I realized my actions, I was astonished how I could have been such an idiot. I have only felt regret since that day.
Dad took my hand and lead me out of the cinderblock building. The realization that I was guilty for all of this pain and torture put me in a distant state. I remember vividly going over almost every memory I had of me and my sister playing this game. It felt like I was rewatching a movie and now that I knew the ending it was painfully obvious to me that she just wanted to be loved, to be affirmed that I care about her, and all of her cutting and hitting and suicidal thoughts were to get me to take care of her. And instead I killed her. I was a coward and couldn't keep my sister safe from herself or even me. All my efforts only worked against what I had wanted to happen, and the comedy of it all destroyed me.
I always thought that a death in the family with the seriousness of it all would mean things would dramatically change, but anyone who has had a close family member die knows its painfully similar to everyday life. The police and ambulance came, took her away, they taped the whole thing off. Dad had to call mom to come home and her crying hurt me alot, he called the school and all of our family, he told them it wasn't a good idea to come. The police told them it would take time for an autopsy and for the paperwork to be done, and when he closed the door nothing changed. Her room was still there, the family was still together, we still had to sleep in our beds at night, and for my father he still chose to go to work the next day. Over the next few weeks I felt an awful sort of malaise and a pit in my stomach that would sometimes make me groan at how bad it hurt.
The worst part about having a chapter of your life close is that you have to realize how dumb you were for getting caught up in some idea or fantasy, and the fact that you can only really see it when its over means we will never escape from it. Every time we go through a period in life, when it ends we feel foolish, and that just keep happening over and over.
I was never able to tell anyone what actually happened, I told the police that a branch fell on her neck and I brought her there since I didn't think I could carry her all the way back home, I left out the part about waiting for her to die. They thought I was just some idiot kid who made a mistake, and that's what the autopsy showed, a quick death, as acquired by my false telling of it. My dad knew something wasn't right, but he never pressed me for the truth. We never really talked too much about it at all, I guess he figured it wouldn't do any good to let her death hurt us more than it has to.
I have never been able to tell anyone the horrors of my guilt, if anyone found out it would just dig up pain long since buried and change the way my family views me. The guilt has been all pervasive since this all happened, anything I do or any emotions I experienced felt like they weren't deserved. Everything I said felt like it had a small asterisk next to it that led to the note, "Killed his own sister." I sometimes have nightmares about the whole ordeal, the worst ones are where I see her bloody face again, but shes moving and talking. Sometimes I wake up screaming because I left my bedroom door open and I hear my coffee machine turn on to brew the pot I set up the night before. It sputters and sounds like her trying to get air through her bleeding throat.
I have never been able to escape the guilt of killing her, and I don't think I ever will. I am guilty and I feel I deserve to be tortured like this. I have no closure and I have no retribution. At the end of the day I have only hurt everyone around me, I can never be normal again or forgive myself for being what I am. I chose to destroy the good in this world and that makes me evil. I feel the only way for me to be happy again is for me to die, and I often think about killing myself, the only thing that stops me is the love my sister had for me, and the memories I hold of her. I don't understand how she could have loved such a horrible person as me, even as i betrayed her she still cared for me, she forgave me. I feel like she was one of the only truly good people I ever met, she lived to make others happy without a care for her own self, and if her life made people unhappy, she would have gladly ended it. I am not like her, and because of that, I will forever wander through this world branded with cowardice and the blood of an angel on my hands.