It was her last semester of her senior year of college. Her last year of waking up painstakingly early, at the break of dawn, to drive to lacrosse practice in the bitter cold. Her last few months consisting of late nights studying and analyzing papers. A relieving feeling for any college student, to finally be done. Right? Christina got through her last few months just as she always did, efficiently, and seemingly without error. Everything in her life flowing like an assembly line as per usual. As the semester trudged on, there seemed to be more restless nights she sat awake religiously planning and organizing to pass the time. As her sister, I just assumed she was under a lot of pressure during these last few weeks of her college career. At least that’s what I wanted to assume. I started to notice her bedroom light on until early hours in the morning. Often, I would press my ear against her door only to hear her shuffling around her room. I often would go to the bathroom only to find her make-up brushes, thoroughly cleaned, sprawled across a fresh white towel on the floor. I decided to walk into her room one night to talk with her, hoping that she could vent to me and relieve some stress. I remember opening her bedroom door late on a Thursday night with a cup of hot green tea for her. She was kneeling on the floor overlooking her jewelry box, which she had removed all the small drawers from. The tiny wooden drawers sat on either side of her as she meticulously cleaned the edges of her jewelry box with a Q-tip.
It’s weird, half of me has the urge to laugh and make fun because of how ridiculous and unnecessary her tendencies were. The other half of me is overwhelmed with a strange feeling to keep my mouth shut. A feeling that this is something fragile that I shouldn’t laugh at, that this is her way of coping with something. This is something that she can’t control. I often think about how tired she must be. Does she even get tired? Does she enjoy the endless cycle of routine? I couldn’t ask her these things though. I feared I would send her over the edge. Besides, I never wanted to embarrass her…but should I help her?
I set the tea down on the corner of her vanity. She didn’t look up at me or say anything, we’ve always had the kind of relationship where hello’s and goodbye’s go unsaid because they were just unnecessary. We were always welcome around each other, always free to come and go as we pleased. We were close, always had been. I sat down on the foot of her bed, examining her Buddha waterfall that was trickling in the background and her diffuser that emitted lavender essential oil. She methodically worked on the small wooden drawers of the jewelry box now. She did it rhythmically, as if it was therapeutic to her. It gave me peace of mind knowing that she was calm and relaxed. But then it reoccurred to me that it was midnight, on a Thursday, and she should be sleeping. We talked and joked around for a while as she cleaned. I tried bribing her to relax by reminding her that our favorite show, The Office, was on TV. She finally decided to put the jewelry box back together and get ready for bed. We sat up and watched The Office together that night until we both fell asleep. The next morning, of course, she was up at 6am dressed in her sweatpants to head to 8am practice. She was captain, so she was always an hour early, not because she had to be, but because that’s the kind of leader she was. Dark circles were prominent on her face as she told me goodbye and quietly left the room.
Her obsessive tendencies seemed to be at an all-time high. Many times, when she came in from lacrosse practice she was on the phone with her boyfriend, mid-argument, veins popping out of her neck in response to her increasing blood pressure. It always ended with her hanging up on him, kicking her sneakers off in the mudroom, and hauling her bags upstairs. She became increasingly unapproachable. She was up all night, every night, often skipping dinner. My mom became increasingly worried about her. One night, I overheard her talking to my father about considering therapy for Christina. She often begged me to go into my sister’s room, where she seemingly lived now, and talk to her. I remember, a few times, knocking lightly on the door prepared with any reason to get her out of that room. I’d bribe her with sushi (her favorite), shopping, or ice cream trips. She was completely uninterested in anything other than remaining in her room. Remaining in her safe little bubble that she could fully control. I guess she was safe in there, but safe from what?
Eventually the semester finally ended, and it was time to attend her graduation. I had been waiting all semester for this day. Partly because I was happy to see her graduate, but mostly because I bought her the most killer graduation gift. It was a pair of Yeezy sneakers. Christina loved sneakers, and of course each pair was kept in pristine condition as if they just came out of the box. I couldn’t wait to give her my gift. It was a long, hot and sticky ceremony but finally her name was called. Having the last name Ziegler meant we were always last. We didn’t stay any longer than we needed to, as soon as we could my family and I piled into our Kia Optima, cranked the A.C. and headed home. That night we were all leaving for a vacation in the Outer Banks so we needed to get home and get ready for the drive down. I made it a point to grab the Yeezy’s out of my closet and eagerly, walk into my sister’s room to finally give them to her. I cracked the door open to see her laying on her bed stiffly, staring at the ceiling. Her small Buddha water fountain was quietly trickling in the corner and the soft buzz of her essential oil diffuser buzzed in the background. Was she crying? I couldn’t tell. I sat down on the small floral vanity chair at the foot of her bed contemplating what to say.
“What’s up man?”, was the only thing that came to mind.
She looked over at me, and I examined to see if her eyes were red and watery. They weren’t. And finally, my sister said something to me, “What the hell do I do now?”
It was right then that I remembered that my sister was only human. Regardless of her perfect track record and unmatchable work ethic, she was still just a 21-year-old girl that had no clue what her next step was.
We sat up that night and talked. We talked about what did happen and what could happen, and what we wish would’ve happened. She admitted to me that she had absolutely no idea what she wanted to do with her life. Her and I have had this conversation before, it always ended with her pushing it off because she knew she’d have time to figure it out. The conversation went differently this time because time had run out and the only thing left to talk about was the truth.
She told me she was scared. Scared to choose the wrong path, scared to be unsuccessful. She admitted to being scared to find something she loved and it just not work out for her. She told me that she envied me, which, to me, made no sense. She told me she envied that I knew what I wanted out of my life, that I knew being an RN was what I had set my mind on since being a junior in high school. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. How could she feel this way? She had always been two steps ahead of the game, everything in her life moved like clockwork. But I guess determination can only mean so much if there is no end goal in mind. It was later now, and we were supposed to be leaving for the beach soon. We put the conversation on hold, packed up the rest of our things, and got in the car with our parents for an excruciating eight-hour drive.
It all started off as a great time. Day after day was spent playing beach soccer and football our diet consisted solely of spiked Pina Coladas and watermelon. I stayed in my own room on the first floor. It was decorated in vibrant yellows and authentic sea-shells from the Carolina beaches and it smelled vaguely of sunscreen and fresh linen. It was early one morning still dark out, the sun hadn’t even peaked up over the horizon yet. I groggily woke to the thudding of footsteps barreling down the staircase. I knew the feet belonged to either my mother or Christina just by their obnoxious gait. I then heard the sliding plastic door open, then thud closed. I shuffled to my bedroom door, glancing in the mirror to examine if my sunburn had subsided from yesterday, and gently opened the door with a creak. I walked to the sliding glass door that overlooked the beach, and squinted my eyes toward the shoreline. A sliver of sunshine was just barely beaming over the ocean to allow my eyes to see a figure. Sure enough, my sister had gone for a 6am beach run on vacation. I leaned against the cool glass as I watched her run down the shoreline, and without any control, I felt my eyes well up with hot tears. My throat burned as I tried to hold them back. I wished for nothing more than for my sister to be happy. For her to feel content. Then, in a quick instant, anger overcame me. I was mad, mad that she wouldn’t just stop, mad that she let this overcome her and take control of her. I was mad at what this disease was doing to my sister.
I contemplated putting on my flip-flops, but, deciding they were useless, I stomped out the door, making my way to the shoreline. My baby pink night gown flapped in the ocean breeze as I approached the water. The sunburn on my cheeks was burning as my body heat continued to increase as I became angrier. I was tired of standing idly by as I watched my sister’s tainted mentality consume her. I finally reached the shoreline. I walked ankle deep into the water, arms defiantly crossed, in hopes that the cool ocean would calm my temper. I waited in that exact spot for my sister to make her way back to the beach house. I thought of exactly what I would say when she got back, and I told myself I needed to calm down. I don’t know how long she was running, or how long I was standing there waiting, because I had left my phone inside, but she was back. She was dripping in sweat through her pale blue Nike shirt, jogging her way toward me. Sweat beading down her forehead and off of her elbows, her headband now a dark shade of gray from excessive perspiration. Her dark circles, her fatigue, was written all over her. Her mouth hanging open, gasping for air, her feet barely lifting off the sand as she trudged her final stretch. And in an instant, I was mad again. I was furious. I saw this disease, her OCD, draining every last drop out of her. In that specific instant, I had finally seen enough of what this obsession was doing to my sister. The obsession to be perfect, the obsession that will never be fulfilled. I had finally had enough.
I threw my arms by my side, hands balled into fists, and splashed out of the water. My heart-rate must’ve been at 200 beats per minute, anger and frustration overwhelmed me. She slowed her jog as she saw me approach her, a look of confusion on her face. I was now within arm’s reach of her, close enough to rip her beats headphones out of her ears and throw them in the sand.
“Are you having a good time out here?!” I snapped. “huh?! Are ya?!” She opened her mouth for an instant, then shut it when she realized it was rhetorical. “Cuz it doesn’t look like it. And now that I think about it, it doesn’t look like you’re ever really enjoying yourself anymore.” She stared at me, not blankly, but knowingly. I continued on, my arms slashing into the air as I spoke, “And I wanna know, I really wanna know, is it worth it?! Look at you! You’re fucking exhausted! I’m fucking exhausted!” My veins throbbed out of my neck as I felt the anger radiate off me. And suddenly, my eyes welled up again, and the long-awaited tears finally fell. She opened her mouth to console me; sympathy was engraved in her eyebrows. I cut her off, “You know everyone’s worried about you. Mom wants to send you to a damn psych ward or some shit. Is that what you want?! I need you here! What about me?!” The words shook out of my trembling vocal chords, hot tears streamed down my sunburned face, pouring out of me without end. My sister stared at me, reaching for the right words to say.
“I don’t think I can fix this myself,” she stared at the sand as she mumbled the rest, “maybe that’s where I need to go.” I looked toward the sun that was almost completely above the horizon now, then I looked at my yellow painted toenails against the sand. She broke the silence, “I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t know how to ask for help,” she admitted. I thought for a little bit. I could relate to that.
One week after vacation ended it was nearly the end of May. My sister was admitted into Hopewell Mental Health and Therapy Center. My parents, her boyfriend, and I dropped her off on a breezy Sunday morning. She wasn’t allowed to have her phone for the first 15 days, which I was happy about, because she would finally have time to breath. She would finally have time for herself. Time to overcome this battle. I felt good knowing she was there, her nurses and her doctor really cared about her, and after interrogating them for a few hours to procrastinate eventually saying goodbye’s, they were relieved to see us go. I didn’t cry during this goodbye though because I knew that Christina would come out of there as the best version of herself. We gave each-other a solid fist bump and a sincere “peace out homie” and on the way out of her room I neatly placed her new Yeezy’s on her bed and smiled.