[Note: I wrote this yesterday afternoon. I am publishing it now, after making sure my sister was comfortable with it.]
I'm writing this while in the throes of a panic attack.
A story on Facebook (from Humans of New York) triggered a highly unpleasant memory, and my body is literally reacting as though I were reliving the moment. My heart is pounding. My ears are ringing. My hands are shaking. My stomach is in knots, and it's all I can do not to throw up. I have to keep closing my eyes and re-centering just to be able to continue typing. Static and fear fill my mind. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe.
I don't know what else to do, so I'm writing. I'm going to share the memory, in hopes that getting it out of my head will help. That somehow, releasing this deep, dark secret to the world will somehow cleanse me of it.
First, the memory, raw and broken. Then, the explanation. That is how I will tackle this.
I am 7 years old. It's late. The middle of the night. I've been sleeping for awhile when I'm awakened by a bloodcurdling scream. I don't use that word lightly. When I heard that scream, I was suddenly wide awake, and cold all over. It was a scream of pain from one of the people I loved most dearly in all the world - my little sister.
I run down the hall in my nightgown - I still remember how itchy the hem was against my shins - past the kitchen, and into the living room. My 3-year-old sister is lying on the hardwood floor in front of grandma's old sofa, her head surrounded in a pool of blood. So much blood, I wonder for a moment if there's any left inside her. But there must be, because she's still screaming.
(Excuse me a moment. I'm dry heaving here in the present.)
Mom and Dad are trying to talk to me, trying to explain, but I'm not hearing anything except, "It was an accident. You have to tell everyone it was an accident or they'll take you away." Maybe they were trying, but that's the only part that was getting through.
Suddenly, there are police officers and paramedics in my living room. Someone must have called them. Someone must have let them in. I have no memory of any of that. In my mind, they just appeared, out of nowhere. They surround my sister, shoulder to shoulder, so I can't see anything except the blood. There's blood everywhere. That paramedic is going to put his knee in it. He's going to get covered in my sister's blood.
She's on a backboard. A stretcher. Something. They carry her out of the house, being extra careful in case it's even worse than it looks. I've gotten dressed somehow, and I get in the car with Dad. Mom is in the ambulance ahead of us. We're ignoring the speed limit and the lights. We are staying as close to the ambulance as possible. Dad is talking to me, but I don't hear him.
And that's where the memory leaves off. I don't remember anything of the hospital, though I know the details by heart. What follows are the memories of what I've been told.
Tami had been hit in the face with a glass. One that my father had thrown.
We all tell the police and the hospital people, and later everyone else, that it was an accident. Dad was teasing and the glass slipped out of his hand.
No one tells me the truth for years, but I know. I understand in some sort of intuitive way what actually happened.
Dad intended to throw the glass. At my mother. My sister was simply asleep on the couch, in the wrong place at the wrong time. She sat up and the glass that would have hit my mother hit her, instead.
We can't tell anyone that, though, because then people will take us away from Mom and Dad, and the foster system is far scarier than anything that happens at home.
(To be fair, that's entirely possible. I'll never know first hand.)
No one questions our story.
My sister got over 30 stitches in her face. She still bears the scars. One shard missed her left eye by millimeters. Another sliced across her nose. In the end, nothing was broken, and there was no threat to her life. Apparently, the face just bleeds a lot. She got a puppy a few weeks later and in her innocence, named the dog Stitches. She was, by and large, entirely fine.
I now held a secret that was too big for a 7-year-old. My dad had tried to hurt my mother, and in failing to do so, had hurt my sister instead.
And no one did anything about it.
And that fact broke me in a way that I still cannot describe.
If you've ever wondered why I'm brutally honest, this is it. This is the reason that I will not lie about how someone makes me feel. Because I've lied for 32 years.
It wasn't an accident. The glass just hit the wrong person.