My Sister, Izzy
I didn’t start out hating my sister. Not in the beginning. I was the older one, the big sister, and with that came the task of caring for any offspring my parents decided to have as a big sister should. That responsibility came in the form of Isabel.
Izzy was a wonderful little baby. As first impressions go, she was quite the charmer. She never acted out the way I noticed other babies did. She’d cry for a bit of attention when she was hungry or when she spoiled her diapers, but didn’t cry for much else, really. If she could get a wink of attention from you that was it: you would officially be her very best friend. And so, because of her open and gentle nature, she was universally adored by all, especially by my parents which, oddly enough, never bothered me the way it should have. I loved her as much as anyone, almost too much it seemed at times from the way my parents described how jealously I fought for her affections when others were around. In truth, I was so ecstatic to have a sibling to grow up with, to get into trouble with and to do whatever it was sisters did together in childhood. I had three years of only-child solitude to make up for. And it seemed Izzy was just as excited for our sisterhood of friendship to begin as I was. Like she felt the same connection I felt when I first saw her.
For the longest time, I was obsessed with her being able to walk. She had been crawling around the house for what seemed like years to a young kid like me. I would relentlessly follow her around the living room while she crawled, coaching her through her movements. I remember thinking that I wanted her legs to get stronger and stronger so that she could eventually use them to move on two legs like I could. She loved the little games I invented for her, all created to condition her legs for upright walking. I would stack her little letter blocks at one end of the room into some fantastic scene. Each day it was something new – a castle full of goblins, a tall building in the midst of a larger city, anything my young mind could imagine. Even then, it was like she knew what I was doing. She wouldn’t budge an inch until I finished creating the scene. Then I’d turn and smile at her, and she was off, crawling like a huge, crazy insect. She would reach the structure I built, and we would knock the whole thing down to pieces in seconds and play like mad scientists. As mad as any three year old and crawling baby can get.
I remember the day she took her first step. We were in our usual routine, tearing apart some building or other. Izzy seemed different that day. I had noticed it while she was crawling towards the toys that morning. There was a different light in her eyes that day. Some glint of determination that was never there. She would stop every so often while she crawled to me and push her torso up a little, like she was trying to lift herself off of the ground. Sometimes she would sit up with her legs folded under her, thinking about who knows what. I thought that she would get up in those moments; she would finally start walking, and then the real adventures of Izzy and Sammy could begin! But she crawled her way to our game like every other day.
We were in the thick of it, Izzy and I. Destroying the house I’d built. I was pretending that we were a terrible storm, meticulously and mercilessly taking our time with the neighborhood below. The neighbors were escaping – we’d decided to let them go – while the storm made its way through. The last fixture was the town water tower. Isabel and I glanced at each other and laughed. “To the tower!” I screamed, as I marched Storm Samantha closer to her target. Something made me stop then; it was Izzy. I couldn’t hear her crawling after me, and that strange connection I felt between us was telling me something amazing was happening that I needed to see. When I turned to look at her, I saw my dream finally come true. There she was, standing on her two chubby little legs, wobbling from side to side with that same glint of determination in her eyes. We looked at each other and laughed. It was a new kind of laugh because it felt like we were sharing some secret, like nobody else could capture this feeling of satisfaction. No one else could say they were the first to see Izzy stand up and walk. It was me and her, as I thought we would always be.
She didn’t make it far. She took one or two tentative steps before she fell back on her bottom. But that was it. That was what I had been waiting for and what I had been hoping would happen because of our special game. It wasn’t long before the two of us were off romping around our backyard or begging mom and dad to take us to the park. We were a more superior team, Izzy and I; running on two legs, we were an unstoppable force, and we loved every minute spent together exerting our new combined power on the world.
I remember the day Izzy had an accident. It wasn’t like the other accidents we’d experienced. We had scraped our knees or fallen down and cried like any other kid. I knew this time was different because my parents acted differently. I had never seen them look that way before. I remember how scared and helpless it made me feel. If they were this frightened, what could I do? My parents were supposed to be brave always, no exceptions. I couldn’t understand at the time how this accident was different.
It all began when she and I had concocted an incredible game of hide and seek. We created our own rules for the game. Instead of running to a home base to win the game, you had to run to new places to hide without getting caught. The seeker could only become a hider in the next round if she could catch the hider running to a new hiding place. Our game was a brilliant one in our book, but it soon got boring playing it in our backyard. So we decided that we would only play the game when mom and dad took us to the park. The park was the most fantastic place to play our game with what seemed like miles and miles of grass and trees and endless places to hide. It was even more fantastic when our parents joined in. Most of the time it just ended with us all running around like crazy animals in the middle of a field, laughing and completely forgetting who the seeker was, as well as forgetting that we were playing a game to begin with.
That day Izzy had the accident was the day we stopped playing the game altogether. Even the fonder memories we held of it were lost completely, as if forgetting that we played it would somehow reverse what had happened. It was the worst day for me, looking back, because it was the day Izzy and I stopped playing altogether. Something snapped in her when she realized what happened. She couldn’t help but connect me to the accident and blame me for everything:
We were all having a little breakfast that morning at a table in our kitchen. Izzy and I hadn’t yet made plans as to what new adventures we’d get up to that day. At some point, Mom and dad announced that it was a nice Saturday, and, since we had nothing better to do, it would be a day best spent at the park. We were thrilled! After breakfast, Izzy busied herself in the kitchen with mom, making ham and cheese sandwiches and packing cookies, veggies and other tasty treats they could think of; and since I usually did more eating than making when mom or dad solicited my help in the kitchen, I was assigned the role of helping dad pick the toys, books, blankets, and any other odds and ends we would need, into the car. We were soon ready to take on the day with all that we needed to pass the time in leisure.
The day began well enough. Mom and dad took turns reading stories to us out of the books we brought along with us. It wasn’t long before we were hungry again, so mom and dad laid out food from the picnic basket onto our little blanket. Izzy and I were eating fast, ready to move on to our game. Mom and dad scolded us affectionately for a while, but after realizing they were not making us eat any slower, they soon gave it up altogether. As we wolfed down our last bites of food, filling our stomachs to full capacity, we simultaneously hopped up, bounded around the blanket mom and dad were still sitting on and begged them to play hide and seek with us. Somehow they convinced us that the game would be more fun if they could watch me and Izzy running around the park, playing the game ourselves, with them cheering us on. We didn’t need much convincing: Izzy and I had too much fun playing the game with just the two of us.
I was the hider at this particular point in the story, and I remember seeing Izzy from the safe vantage point of a huge tree behind which I occasionally peeked around to know her whereabouts. During one of my peeks, I saw Izzy in the far distance with my parents; she looked a little frustrated because it had been some time without her seeing me to commence the chasing. I recall feeling that I should do something to stop her from feeling too sad or too frustrated, so I called out to Izzy, saying, “You can’t catch me!” as I dashed off to my left towards some other cluster of trees to hide and, eventually, get “caught.” I didn’t realize how determined Izzy was. She caught up with me faster than I thought and was soon at my heels before I reached the next cluster of trees. We were running along the border of a sidewalk that separated the park from the street.
It was then that I got the notion to run to my right on the sidewalk, so that I could run around the trees and back onto the grass to create more distance between me and Izzy. I replay that moment in my head constantly, wondering what would have happened if that childish whim hadn’t come into my mind. Izzy was a fast runner, but she wasn’t as coordinated as I was. She matched my turn to the right on the pavement well enough, but she didn’t anticipate my quick turn to the left to run around the trees in a tight curve. She kept running forward for a few steps. Enough to run right into the busy road. I see that moment in my head. I see her dark curly hair bouncing, and I hear her laughing, and, finally, I see her happy face turning to look at me with mock frustration as she prepared to turn and catch me up. It all happened in a matter of seconds, as most people say when they recall witnessing something tragic. She didn’t see the car.
Then it was screaming, crunching, crying and a massive length of silence that haunts me to this day. My mind blocked out the car hitting Izzy. There was something about the horror of it all that protected my young mind from recalling it from the depths of my memory. I only remember seeing Izzy’s face looking back at me, and, after that, only the sounds. Perhaps, in some way, that is far worse than seeing the images. My mom and dad were right at my heels by that point. I was too dumbstruck to make a sound. I don’t even remember crying, though I remember feeling a vast emptiness growing inside of me as the time passed. Then ambulance sirens and people shouting and mom and dad scooping me up and me looking back at our happy picnic spot. Mom and dad saying it doesn’t matter as I scream about our things being left in the park while we rode away with the ambulance. Izzy lived. But she wasn’t the same. I sometimes hate to admit that it might have been better for her, for all of us, if she had died that day.
From Izzy to Isabel
None of us felt the change Izzy made over the months following her accident. It was too subtle, and, quite honestly, we all felt so terrible about what she had to deal with that we didn’t take anything she did too seriously. If she spent a whole day listless and unresponsive to us, well, it was her right. She was coping with so much loss. There was a stretch of healing and rehabilitation ahead of her with no end in sight. I’m still quite hazy about why Izzy’s legs had to be removed. My mom and dad tried to explain it to me when I got older, but there was always some mental block keeping me from understanding. I could only remember it had something to do with too much blood loss, infection that spread and the way the car impacted her on the road. My mind is too filled with those horrible sounds. I can’t think beyond that, no matter how hard I try.
Izzy changed. She wasn’t my Izzy anymore. We didn’t play or talk or do any of the things we did before the accident. She had connected me to the physical pain she went through and the mental anguish of having to learn how to walk with prosthetic legs. She avoided me like I was bad luck, like the closer she got to me, the more likely it would be for her to get hurt again. I didn’t fight this change. I didn’t even get angry at her for blaming me. In so many ways, I felt that it was my fault. I was the one she was chasing. I was the one who decided to run on the sidewalk around the trees. If I had been thinking more clearly in that moment, if I had been paying attention, maybe I would’ve run on the grass and skipped the trees altogether, maybe I could’ve kept her safe that way. So Izzy was right. I was to blame. And if my penance was being ostracized from her company, that’s was okay with me. I deserved it.
With my parents she was different. Nothing changed really, apart from her heightened need for them. Before the accident, she was more independent and fierce. She was my best friend first, and mom and dad’s daughter second. Not to say that she didn’t love mom and dad; it was just that we had such a tight bond that we both often forgot to pay attention to mom and dad when we were together. After the accident, it seemed like Izzy transferred all of her time, energy and devotion to them. And mom and dad being parents dealing with a hurt child never thought a second about it. None of us did. She needed them because they were strong and they were her parents. She didn’t need me anymore. She didn’t want me.
It wasn’t so bad, her excluding me, until she joined me in middle school. By that time, she had overcome the worst of her rehabilitation and was fitting in pretty well with her classmates. Often times, kids at this age are expected to be cruel to the weak, the timid and the weird-looking. Fortunately for Isabel (she wouldn’t let me call her Izzy anymore), that was not the case. It didn’t work out so well for me. She received overwhelming amounts of love and acceptance from almost all the kids in school despite her being in the lowest grade. But it wasn’t that she was treated like a pet – Isabel was charming and engaging from the day she was born, so it was only natural that people would warm to her quickly. I was happy that it seemed she would have a normal childhood after all, but that happiness quickly switched to inner despair when Isabel wielded that power against me.
I remember the first day Isabel realized the new superiority she had over me. I wasn’t too weird of a kid back then. I could get along with people just fine if I wanted to, but I was more introverted than Isabel, so even though I was in the oldest grade, I didn’t have nearly as many friends as she did. I got along fine with my peers on a small group or one-to-one basis, whether or not they were popular, and I wasn’t really intimidated by people who were universally liked or revered by others at school. I think I just enjoyed the freedom I felt in being by myself. Which put me at a great disadvantage when Isabel rose in popularity. The first time I felt her abuse, I was at my locker, gathering my things before the bell rang in the start of the next class, and I saw Isabel walking by with some of her friends. Before I left for school, Mom asked me to tell her something important that I can’t quite recall now. I called to get her attention, and, instead of stopping to talk to me, she just gave me a disgusted look and kept walking by, rolling her eyes in response to someone like me trying to talk to someone like her. One of her friends sounded incredulous, asking Isabel why she didn’t stop to talk to her sister. They all looked back at me then, and at that moment, Isabel said something in a hushed voice which incited an extreme outburst of laughter as they gave me one last mocking glance before walking away. Little did I know how much pain and harassment would ensue from that small incident. I shudder just thinking of it now.
Isabel walked home with me that day. I thought it was because she felt sorry for hurting me since she rarely walked with me to or from school on any other day. I was dreaming of reconciliation, not noticing that the silent walk home was saturated with so much hate. Before we got to our front door, Isabel cut me off, and, standing in front of me, she spit out, “Are you gonna tell on me?” I was too stunned to respond. I thought Isabel was finally going to forgive me; I thought we were going to get back to normal. She mistook my silence and said, “Whatever. Just wait and see what’ll happen next if you tell. I’m only getting started.” She stomped off ahead of me into the house. I’m not sure when I started to cry, but once it began, I couldn’t stop myself. I just stood in front of the door, tears streaming down my face with no end in sight, until mom opened the door, pulled me into the house and asked me what was wrong.
I glanced at Isabel. What a fearsome thing she was to behold. I could see that same fiery spirit she had when we were friends, before the accident, only this fierceness was terrifying. It didn’t radiate the beauty that was little Izzy; it spewed fire and ash and hate. And I was the object of that loathing. If I told the truth, I knew she would destroy me. If I lied, perhaps my role as the oppressed at school would not be so burdensome. How wrong I was in that moment. I said something about getting a lower grade than I expected on some quiz It seemed a plausible enough thing to say at the time. I was given hugs and kisses and advice, but I don’t remember any of it. I only remember Isabel’s angry eyes burning holes into my flesh. She gave me a little smirk as mom shuffled me towards the kitchen for some sympathy food, and I knew to the very pit of my stomach that she meant it when she said she was only getting started. That new and realized fear made me tremble and filled me with anxiety that has not been matched by anything I’ve experienced to this day.
That Terrible Year
My last year of middle school should have been a good one. It should have been filled with all the good things that come with being the oldest group in the school. I was never really popular, so I didn’t imagine to reap the same rewards as that crowd, but I did expect to have some amount of respect for being in the oldest class. I never imagined that I would be the victim of such abuse from what seemed like the entire school. Not only from the popular crowds in my grade but also from the popular crowds in the younger ones. Isabel turned everyone against me. I’m sure she spun some story that blamed me for her having two prosthetic legs. I’d heard bits and pieces of the story she weaved about her accident and my involvement. The worst part of those rumors painted me as a hateful sister who pushed her in front of the car. I was never a really outspoken person, and I was still riddled with guilt from the accident Isabel had those many years ago, so I took whatever came to me because I truly believed I deserved it, even if what Isabel was saying were lies. For some reason, I thought her hate had an ending point. If I let her do whatever she wanted to hurt me through her status at school, maybe someday she would back off and realize how sorry I was. Maybe she would start to forgive me.
The torture started slowly. It began with a small pile of burning embers that grew and grew to this great flame of terror that eventually consumed me whole. It burned me alive. The first few weeks of her hatred campaign was pretty routine in retrospect. People would giggle maliciously when I entered a room, when I walked by them in the hallway. It was all quite innocuous at the time, and I could just about handle the trepidation I felt at being the most talked about pariah in the school. When that got boring for everyone, the messages began to creep up in random places. Loser. Weirdo. Fugly Duckling. These little gems would find their way in the forms of scrap paper slipped into my locker, waiting for me to find. They were written on my desk and whispered loudly when I was in earshot of anyone that mattered. Of course the sniggering didn’t stop. These continued in response to those precious moments when I found those words super gluing themselves to me wherever I happened to be. As soon as I grew accustomed to that step in the hate plan, the hateful words started to become more specific.
One day in particular stands out to me. I was heading to my locker at the end of the day. I passed by crowd after crowd of Isabel supporters who laughed at my loneliness and sniggered at my loser status as it trudged past them. When I reached my locker, I was thankful to see that the word, “LOSER,” written in all caps across the door had been scrubbed clean, with only the faintest shadow of its existence left to see. I mused to myself that I would paint it over or put some kind of small photo over it to fully extinguish the reminder of that week’s bullying session. I opened my locker and was shocked to see what was inside while simultaneously trying to hold it together so that the eyes that I knew were watching me would not have the full satisfaction of the slight they were shoving in my face. I could hear the laughter building behind me, next to me, all around me.
On a small, blue index card, the word, “Dyke,” was written in lovingly beautiful script. Someone had taken the time to make sure the curse was aesthetic at the very least. I lifted this small, blue card with its gentle message from what it had been delicately resting against. A small, fetid fish. I didn’t understand why the laughter swelled as the gift was revealed to me. “You must be a dumb dyke,” someone shouted from the crowd. “Read the other side, idiot.” I didn’t want to obey. But I had to know what the fish was all about, so I turned the card:
Why do you want to be called Sam when your name is Samantha? We know it’s because you wish you were a boy, you smelly dyke. We know you like girls. That’s why your breath always smells like rotten fish. You go down on so many girls there’s no amount of brushing your teeth that will make your mouth smell like anything other than where it’s been. You’re a dirty, disgusting slut, and everyone knows it.
I couldn’t keep my cool then. I knew they had won with the first tear that fell down my face. There was no stopping the uproar then. And where were all the teachers? I had no idea. I only knew they were all pretty quick to clock out at the end of the day. I was alone, unprotected. I pulled the fish from my locker and turned to face the encroaching crowd. Nothing but a wall of laughter and looks of disgust. And from this fuzzy wall of people, Isabel’s face became alarmingly clear. She stood towards the back, locking eyes with me. At first, her face was expressionless. And very slowly her lip began to curl up in a malicious smirk. She had never looked so evil to me. At worst, she just laughed along with the other bullies as they continued to torture me from week to week. But this time, it felt so personal. It felt so concentrated. And I couldn’t take it anymore.
I marched up to her and parted the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea. Taken aback by my purposeful stride, they couldn’t help but move out of my way. I was a bullet train driving straight towards Isabel. I stopped a few feet short of my target. She continued to smirk at me, challenging me to do anything. She wanted more fuel to add to the fire. More reasons to continue making my life a living hell. I threw the fish as hard as I could, right at her face. She was too surprised by my burst of anger to move out of the way in time. It struck her firmly on the left side of her face, and slid down her cheek for a few moments before falling to the floor. I could feel the hush in the crowd covering me like an itchy blanket. “You fucking bitch!” I yelled, “I guess being sorry wasn’t enough. You had to do this, did you? Well, you win! I fucking hate you now.” I could see the anger building in her eyes, like a concentrated explosion in a house fire. But she didn’t yell. I walked away knowing my life was going to be so much worse now that I finally broke my composure in the worst possible way. My anger would only incite more rage. I was smart enough to know that.
I turned to see that Isabel was still rooted in the same spot. Most of the crowd had gone when the drama was finally over and there was nothing more to see. She was surrounded by her core group, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. They were patting her on the shoulder, giving her hugs and words of encouragement. She was crying. It was confounding. I was the victim here; couldn’t they see that? She had put me through weeks of emotional abuse executed by her cronies. And yet there they were, telling her it would all be okay. That I was the one that was a bitch. That I wouldn’t get away with hurting her. How hypocritical justice is when you’re that young. Despite what I said, that bigger sister instinct kicked in for just a fleeting moment. I almost turned back to be a part of the comforting crowd but immediately stopped myself. I knew I didn’t hate her. I was angry and hurt and incredulous that she would go this far. But there was no going back with Isabel. She had burned the bridge, and I cut down the last ties that could lead me back to her, that could bring us back together.
The bullying got worse at school. It finally got physical, starting with shoves in the hallway, pushes to my back to knock me into my locker while my back was turned to the crowds. Physical threats by some in the girls’ restroom. My lunch, my books, anything I held in my hands was knocked out of my hands wherever possible as they sneered at me and called me dyke. Lesbo. Fish Mouth. Whatever inspiration came to them in the moment was hurled at me like large, poisonous daggers. I tried not to do anything. I didn’t cry because it no longer meant anything after my outburst that day after school. It only spurned them on. I didn’t have the right to cry after I hurt and humiliated my sister so badly. How ironic.
When I started showing up at home with bruises and cuts, I had to lie. I got too rowdy in gym class. I tripped on the stairs on my way home, on the way to school. And when those lies became harder and harder for my parents to believe, I told them that the soccer team was starting training early this year, and the practice sessions could get a little rough at times. This was easier for my parents to swallow since I’d been playing soccer for a few years in little leagues and since there was a school team for eighth graders. Isabel would tense up during these times at home, look relieved when I lied my way through them and resume the mask of indifference she put on in front of my parents, so they wouldn’t know the part she played in the real story behind my physical marks. They accepted it with no question, assuming that since we were “at that age,” we were just going through a phase where we weren’t really friends. In their minds, we’d reconnect when we got older. I found that extremely hard to believe given the current circumstances.
This is the End
The last few months of school were hell on Earth to say the least. The bullying continued with vigor at school, and Isabel got smarter. The bruises left on me at that point could no longer be seen, but they cut just as deeply, if not deeper than any physical aggression I experienced beforehand. She caught on to what I was doing after the last incident with the fish. I quit all of the things I loved in school, all the things that I had been using as an excuse for why I came home with so many bruises. I thought that if I at the very least quit soccer, my parents would catch on and start connecting the silent anger between me and Isabel at home with what was happening to me at school. But, as I said, Isabel caught on too quickly.