84: Speak Your Heart Today

84: Speak Your Heart Today

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Speak Your Heart Today

Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring — quite often the hard way.

~Pamela Dugdale

It was a Saturday afternoon and Joey was picking on me, always a first priority on his older brother to-do list. “Noooo! Please don’t flush Snoopy’s head down the toilet!!” I pathetically pleaded, ready to give anything in return for my favorite stuffed animal’s life. I had already witnessed him decapitate Snoopy’s head medieval-style, but this was just too much.

His sinister cackling grew louder and eyes wider as he reached for the handle. I panicked. “Mom! Heelllp meee!!” My mom had heard me cry wolf before and generally preferred us to handle our own disputes, but this time she heard my desperation. “Hey, what’s going on in here?!” she demanded as she hurried into the bathroom.

Joey stood calmly with a goofy grin on his face and hands on his hips, looking quite proud. “Hi Mom! Snoopy wanted to learn how to doggie paddle so I showed him.” She paused for a second and tried not to laugh. Then she rolled her eyes and stepped up to Snoopy’s porcelain coffin. “I promise to give Snoopy stitches and a bath, but you two have to promise me to make up and say sorry.” She shot me a look knowing in her secret motherly ways that I had done something to taunt him. I sheepishly looked down. How did she always know?

By bedtime neither one of us had said sorry. What came next from our mom was unexpected. She sat us down in Joey’s room and explained why the number one rule in our house was “Never go to bed mad.” This was a phrase we had heard a million times before, but tonight it struck a chord with both of us.

“You guys need to make up before bedtime because you never know what might happen,” she started. She went on to explain something quite grown up for a six- and eight-year-old, telling us about the day her mother died. “I was twenty-one years old and left the house in a hurry after arguing with my mother. That night she died unexpectedly from a heart attack at fifty-three, and I never did get to say I was sorry or tell her ‘I love you’ one last time. It has always been something that I regret and that’s why it’s our rule to never go to bed mad in this house. You need to appreciate each other today.”

Our mom’s story became a defining moment in my relationship with Joey. We had many more fights, but we grew up closer than any other brother and sister I have ever known. In elementary school, I was lucky enough to hang out with him at recess. In high school, he brought me with him to the cool senior parties. In college, I was regarded as his best friend. I found it hilarious and endearing that the front slot in his wallet held my high school senior picture.

Joey and I always said “I love you.” It was our routine, but not in a brush-your-teeth-twice-a-day kind of way. It was genuine. I loved that no matter how many people were around when I walked into his house at college, he would always give me his trademark bear hug that squeezed the breath out of me. We also never got off the phone without saying “Love you!” We were known for our closeness and our friends teased us about it often. Little did they know that we took it as a compliment.

One night my sophomore year and Joey’s senior year at The Ohio State University, we were out at our favorite bar with all of our friends. I was tired and ready to go home. “Good night sista, love you!” he called out as he came over to give me a hug. “Love you too Joey.” Today, I can remember that twinkle in his eyes as we said goodbye. He did love me so much. I felt incredibly lucky to not only have such a caring brother, but also a built-in best friend who just happened to be the most popular guy I knew.

That night, the unimaginable happened. Joey went back to his fraternity house where a late night party was being held. Joey had too much to drink and made a decision to take a party drug called GHB. At twenty-two years of age, my brother was dead. My worst nightmare became my reality. Joey was taken away in an instant and he was never coming back.

I was surprised to see that life went on after that night. The world didn’t stop. Family and friends went back to work and school. The seasons kept changing. I graduated from college. But my life was forever changed and there still isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss Joey. Some days it will hit me out of nowhere, feeling like someone punched me in the chest. “Is Joey really gone? How could this possibly be?”

One of my favorite moments used to be meeting people who knew Joey and watching their faces light up as they automatically became my friend by association. Now I feel trepidation when the topic of conversation leads to family and my heart skips a beat when asked, “Do you have any siblings?”

I now travel the country speaking to high school and college students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, in hopes that I can prevent this from happening to others. Every time I walk out on stage, I feel a strength that could only be described as Joey guiding me, and I have to smile. As devastating as this loss has been, I can’t express enough how comforted I am knowing that I have no regrets about my relationship with Joey. I am incredibly thankful that we never took each other for granted and always spoke our hearts until that very last night together. I would have never thought I would be able to live without him, but because we preserved our relationship while he was here, it is lasting me through his death.

~Erica Upshaw

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