93. Breaking

93. Breaking

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Breaking

Sisterhood is powerful.

~Robin Morgan

Unlike the rest of my world, the flight was perfect. I left New York City on the first plane of the morning, transferred in Chicago, and arrived in Houston before 11:30 a.m. I didn’t want to land early. I didn’t want to land at all. I wanted the Boeing 747 to continue south and stop somewhere in the British Islands or the Caribbean or even Cuba. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It wasn’t supposed to be her.

I didn’t want to see my sister, Jill. I had never been so unsure of what I was walking into during my entire life. There was no way to prepare. Would she scream at me or even recognize me? I knew what she had been saying, seeing, claiming, but I had not witnessed it. My initial thought was that she had experienced a nervous breakdown. I hoped that she had been drugged, but I knew my sister. I knew exotic Asian teas and the bean sprouts she grew on her windowsill were the most outrageous things she consumed.

Earlier that day, my other sister, Angela, had tackled her to the ground when Jill realized she had been taken to a hospital.

“Whose side are you on?” she asked my mom.

Armed police officers stood in her room.

“We’ve seen LSD before,” they reassured my parents. “This will wear off soon.”

“It’s so hot in here,” Jill kept repeating as she tried to unlock the window latches. Everyone feared she might jump.

The two young cops left when the drug tests came back negative. I wished that they had been right.

Less than twenty-four hours after receiving the phone call, I saw Jill in the ER of some hospital in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas. She was wearing only a thin dress, with no undergarments or shoes. I went into the room where she was sleeping. Her head poked out of the white hospital sheets, and her mousy brown hair splashed across the pillow. It was her, but it wasn’t. In that moment, I was scared of her and for her. My mom left the room so she could stretch her legs and asked me to stay. She wanted someone to be there if Jill woke up.

I looked at her sleeping face and remembered holding her for the first time when I was six years old. I wanted to hold her now. I wanted to know she was still in there somewhere.

That afternoon, when she woke up from her shot of Geodon, her first request was to see me.

“How was your flight?” she asked. “Thank you for coming.”

She seemed okay, lethargic and dreamy, but okay. She noticed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of chips on her bedside table and quickly devoured them. Later, we found out she hadn’t eaten or slept in days.

•••

My sister spent eleven days in the Behavioral Health Unit. My bighearted, blue-eyed, college-educated sister was locked up. The first twenty-four hours, she was manic, her eyes beady and shifty. She looked fragile in her hospital-issued gown, but refused to put on clothes. She hesitated and then hugged us as we signed the guest book during visitation the first night. I took a deep breath and exhaled, trying desperately not to cry. She was somewhere we weren’t. Saw things we didn’t. I hated that for her. She fell to the floor, curling up in the fetal position.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she repeated.

Standing, seconds later, she forcefully laughed, but it wasn’t her laugh. She seemed tortured.

I watched an orderly in blue rubber gloves hold up her underwear and inspect the clothes I had given her. I’d brought in yoga pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt from my own suitcase. He told us he’d have to remove the drawstring.

I hated seeing her there, with those people. I feared someone would harm her. I longed to take her home, but knew she wouldn’t be safe there. Simply being home and in the presence of love wouldn’t make anything better. Warm covers, homemade cookies and her favorite Earl Grey tea wouldn’t make her feel anything. She was helpless.

For the one hour each day that I could see her, I had to be bold. I was strong. I did it for my sister, for the hell she had been through.

•••

The next day before visiting hours, I wandered the self-help section of a bookstore. I skimmed books that sounded like they might offer any sort of help. Within two hours, I had researched bipolar, schizophrenia, schizophrenic disorders, nervous breakdowns, and psychosis. I wanted to learn all I could before she was released.

While sitting on the floor and reading, I noticed a dad in the children’s section, baby-talking with his young daughter. He called his wife.

“She just said da-da! She just said da-da!” He beamed.

“Say it for Mom. Say da-da.” He held out the phone to his daughter. “Oh, come on. Da-da. Da-da. Da-da.” There was a long silence.

“I swear, honey, she just said da-da.”

Although I found this terribly funny, I started to cry. That baby girl was so innocent and loved. Maybe one day she would grow up and be valedictorian and study in Sweden and be a great friend—and then break down. Her sisters would cry, and her parents wouldn’t sleep. What would they do when their love wasn’t enough to fix her problem? Would they remember this time, sitting on a yellow blanket in a bookstore, hearing da-da for the first time? I said a prayer for Jill and for that baby girl.

•••

A month prior, she was a Teaching Assistant, doing research for her master’s degree in international relations. Suddenly, completing a jigsaw puzzle was worth celebrating. She could quote lengthy passages from the book of Ephesians, but couldn’t tell me what day of the week it was when looking at a calendar. She had run a half marathon and traveled to Taiwan, but suddenly she believed that someone had tapped into her computer and changed her passwords.

I haven’t given up hope for my little sister, Jill. I ache for her return to normalcy and to understand that she hasn’t done anything wrong. I know that we, as a family, are going to be okay. But as each day passes, I taste a little more of the anguish of a broken heart.

~Stefani Chambers

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