TW: Depression, suicide
NOTE: This is also my entry for the 30k contest by @writinghaven on Instagram. Go give her a follow if you can she's SUPER talented.
It was 2013, and I was 8 and you were 11. We were camping at the lake. You had dragged me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to go watch the sunrise.
So I got up, groggy and freezing, to hike down to the lake with you. I still remember how stiff my muscles felt; how the cold air sucked all of the breath from my lungs. I just wanted to go back to bed. But you...you looked so free. So happy. So exhilarated.
“How are you so peppy?” I asked you as you swung down a branch.
“How are you not?” you replied, grinning from ear to ear. You were almost skipping as we walked down the trail. I still didn’t understand how you had the energy to walk, let alone prance.
“Because I understand the concept of sleep,” I had groaned.
“Oh come on Nattie; it’s an adventure!”
“I want to go back to sleep.”
“I know. We’re gonna be there soon.”
So I halted my complaining for the time being and followed you down to the lake. We got there before the sun had risen. We set up on some rocks.
I think I must’ve drifted off, because the next thing that I remember was you gently shaking my shoulder. “Wake up Nattie, look at the sky.”
My eyes fluttered open, and all at once the darkness of the night had been replaced with the oranges and pinks and golds of dawn. The lights reflected off of the lake, surrounding us with color. I let out an amazed breath as I looked all around me.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” you asked, looking just as amazed as I was.
“Take it all in,” you said. “There’s not a lot of beautiful things like this. Appreciate it while you can.”
I kind of nodded and shook my head because I didn’t understand at the time. I thought that it was one of your signature over-dramatic moments; a comment said to only show off your wisdom.
But now I understand what you meant that day, and I wish that I had listened.
It was 2017 and I was 12 and you were 15. You had declined steadily, and I didn’t understand it yet. I didn’t understand why you spent all day and night in your room. I didn’t understand why you begged me to do your chores for you because you hadn’t done them in days. I didn’t understand why I found you crying time after time, or why it didn’t work when I told you that everything would be okay.
Even that time where I found the scars on your thighs and stomach, I didn’t understand. You told me that you were fine, and that you could handle it. I knew that you were lying, but even then, I didn’t understand why.
I didn’t understand how you couldn’t just pull yourself out of it. I didn’t understand that your head was in so much pain that slicing your own flesh was the only remedy.
I’m sorry that I didn’t understand.
It was 2019 and I was 14 and you were 17. I had an overnight cheer meet that weekend that you didn’t want to come to. So we had left you home alone. We left you home alone. How much I detest cheer can’t be put into words.
It was 2019 and we came through the door and the house was silent. We called for you but you didn’t answer. I thought you were asleep. You should have been asleep.
But you weren’t. We found your body in your room. Mom’s scream still rings in my ears. I think that I fell over, because the night is a blur. The only thing I remember clearly was hearing the doctor say those words, and knowing that I’d never see you again.
It is 2021, and I am 16 and you are dead. We’re camping. It’s the first time we’ve been able to go since we found you. Not because we haven’t been free, no. The pandemic has left us plenty of time to go camping. But we couldn’t face it without you.
It is morning. I hiked to the rock shelf where we sat all those years ago. It’s weird without having you here, jumping from rock to rock like some sort of mountain goat.
But I am watching the sunrise and I finally understand what you meant all those years ago. To appreciate the beautiful parts of life. Because they’re good, and they're happy, and before you know it, they’re gone. So we have to make the most of them. I’m sorry that it took until you were gone for me to learn that.
But you’d be proud of me. I know you would. Because right now, I am enjoying life. Right now, I am appreciating the good moments. Right now, I am watching the sunrise.
And it is beautiful.
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