The world fell apart in layers for me. The facade was peeled away like an onion with it’s outer layers appearing like something out of a technicolor Disney movie gradually darkening and solidifying into a potent center that resembles a Kafka novel. It’s partially due to my American upbringing and the generation I’m a part of. Everything is possible when you’re born into the white middle class of the United States.
I’m seeing it second hand in my middle sister. She’s sixteen. The first few layers of sugar coated bliss are peeling away. She’s becoming cynical and it’s breaking my heart. I hear so much of myself in her voice. The raw hurt, the disconnect as she tries to retreat into herself and protect her heart. Defensive and skeptical, she moves through the world squinting her eyes, trying to decipher between good and bad, hurtful and helpful.
I almost feel lucky that my view of the world started morphing from a very early age. It gave me time to adjust, step by step, and it helped me come into the world knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy. I would have to fight for everything I love. My parents divorced when I was two. My mom married an asshole when I was four. My grandfather, who was the most father like figure in my life committed suicide when I was 13. I went to Japan and saw the world when I was 16. I moved to Seattle and lived on my own, paying my own bills, making my own decisions at 18.
Imagine you start training a dog to fetch a ball from the time he’s a few weeks old. You have him fetch it a few times a week, every week, all his life. You throw him curve balls, throw them long, throw them short, keep it varied. That dog is going to be really good at fetching balls. I’m thankful the world taught me to fetch from an early age. Each heart break left me picking up the pieces, putting it all back together and learning to do that at a time when I was young, agile, flexible and fluid made me strong and quick. I’m not scared of much because I know I can make it through most things thrown my way. I have so far.
But what about my sweet, sweet sister? Will she learn to fetch?
I hold her in extra high regard because I have another sister who is far less mature, far less adjusted and I can’t relate to her at all. But my sweet sister, she’s a replica of me. Granted, she’s smarter than I am and in my opinion much kinder (although she argues she’s not a nice person at all.) She’s my half sister, born to my dad and stepmom. She doesn’t care for boys or make up. She’s in honors classes and plays the violin. She’s always been an avid reader, revealing her intelligence at an extremely early age. She grew up with both of her parents, a sweet dad that takes her to and from school every day, talks to teachers about her performance and is at every soccer game and a mom who probably cares too much and is overprotective in the right ways. She grew up with two brothers who love and adore her and me, her big sister from afar. They didn’t have a lot of money, but she never went without. Her first heart break has been with her friends and realizing how much hard work goes into school. She’s planning for the SAT and college and it’s all really stressful. Her heart is broken because life isn’t what she expected it to be.
It seems benign or obvious. Of course life isn’t what we imagine it will be when we are four years old and of course we toughen up and learn to confront life with a certain gruffness to get us through, but those first few years of realizing we don’t live in Utopia are difficult to cope with. I often think that it would be easier to live in a constant state of denial and false hope. Maybe if I still believed in God and the idea that Jesus would save us all I would be happier. That used to be such a comfort to me. Unfortunately once you shed the light of logic on it all, it becomes far less magical like learning the logistics of the magician’s trickery.
Perhaps the world shatters in the same way for everyone. Maybe we all have our struggles and they are all equal between us. The moment our perception of the world fails us, we plummet from our carefree lives with our heads in the clouds, down to the cold hard concrete and we see what life is really about: the struggle to maintain some semblance of happiness in spite of the rules of the world, the push and pull, the friction. It’s easy to spot the people that avoid it- the ones that live in their happy bubbles of candy coated denial- they’re the ones standing to the side, staring at the wall with their backs to the world, pink bubblegum smiles plastered to plastic faces, eyes glazed over.
It comes down to whether or not you’re willing to look life in the eye and accept it for all of its glory and sunrises as well as its dark cavernous pitfalls. There’s only as much room for joy as you’ve carved out with sorrow. The spectrum of life, the magnificent variation and never ending opportunities for bliss and mourning create the friction and the conflict necessary to keep our world spinning. This is where we find true joy and purpose. As much as it pains me to see my sister go through these troubling times, I’m proud of her for saying yes to the journey. It will get easier. She will see the benefits of walking through dark times, the lessons and the perspective it will bring her.
To my sweet one, keep going. Don’t get discouraged. I know it’s a harsh wake up call, but I promise it’s worth it. I promise that feeling it all is better than walking through the world numb and glossy eyed. You are alive. You have the privilege and honor of fighting alongside those of us that have chosen the same fight. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.