The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Why My Sister Took Off

A few months ago, my parents walked into my room, announced, “It’s Marie,” and handed me the phone. Marie is my half-sister and we hadn’t heard from her for two years.

I was 4 and she was around 20 when she first started taking care of me. My parents worked long hours and my two other older siblings had left home. Marie shared a room with me even though she was 16 years older.

I could tell Marie was unhappy. She was often irritable and she’d tell me that sometimes she felt like nobody understood her. She cried a lot too, even though she felt bad about crying in front of me. Looking back on it now, I think she suffered from depression and that’s why she wasn’t living on her own. It didn’t help that my parents only had unkind, unsupportive words for her.

They expected her to take care of me on top of the jobs she worked. They complained about her laziness when she had a hard time getting up in the morning. But she never let that get in the way of taking good care of me.

She worked odd jobs, mainly babysitting and working in my father’s office. Since she couldn’t leave me home alone, she took me with her.

At her babysitting job, Marie had to cook for us. Their freezer was full of kid-friendly but unhealthy TV dinners: chicken nuggets, French fries, fish sticks. Marie would sit us down on the living room rug, pick out some of her favorite songs on YouTube, and talk to us while she cooked something healthier, usually pasta. I still remember all the words to most of those songs.

“OK,” she’d announce after we’d eaten and sat around a little, “We need to walk Rusty.” She was their family dog, and she had so much energy that walking her was a pain for all of us.

The kids she was babysitting and I didn’t move from our spots on the couch. We moaned “No!” and “It’s hot out,” as she grabbed the leash. “A five-minute walk and she’ll be fine,” Marie said as she paused the video on the screen. “I’ll buy you snacks at Dee’s on the way back.”

Never Good Enough

Even though she juggled these jobs and took such good care of me, my parents thought she was a failure. They often shouted insults at her. To make matters worse, she smoked and that gave her dental problems and a constant cough. She was obese, and my parents said these were reasons why she couldn’t get a “real job.” They often made comments just loud enough for her to hear like, “She just doesn’t take care of herself.” “She looks awful. I can’t believe she could leave the house like that!”

There were frequent all-out scenes between her and my parents. I would leave and go into the bedroom we shared to lie down or try to read. Marie didn’t talk back to them because she didn’t want to get hit. My father would use a belt on her and my other older siblings when he got angry. For some reason he never used it on me.

Sometimes I would wonder to myself if Marie really was a failure and why she wasn’t leaving home to have her own life. My parents told me she was a freeloader and a mooch, and said the same to her. I was confused because I didn’t know who to believe.

I never said anything to her, but when I looked at her, sometimes I heard my parents’ words. She was my older sister, shouldn’t she be acting more like a role model? I went through a period when I was convinced my parents were right: Marie was just being lazy. Now I feel terrible for having thought that.

Looking back on it I think they wanted the best for her, even if the way they communicated it was angry and spiteful. Maybe my parents thought they were helping, or maybe they didn’t know how to help.

Goodbye Girl

By the time she was 26, she finally had enough. She decided to move to Greece to live with her biological mom. (Her mom and my dad separated, badly, when she was a child.)

image by YC-Art Dept

On that last morning she let me take a little more time getting ready. I said goodbye to her when she took me to the school bus. I didn’t want her to go, even though I knew she’d be happier away from our home. She told me not to contact her and that I wouldn’t hear from her for a while because she’d be settling in. She said she needed to get away to start fresh. That afternoon my dad picked me up instead. I was worried because I wasn’t sure if I could do things alone, like travel on public transportation, cook, or do homework.

A little while after Marie left, my parents started accusing me of acting lazy and selfish.

“Are you going to start treating me like you treated Marie now?” I shouted before I could stop myself.

“What are you talking about?” my mom shouted back, just as loud. “We tried to give Marie the best! We did everything for her!”

“You act like she didn’t do anything for you.”

My dad stood up from the couch.

“Because she didn’t! She was nearly 30 years old and still living with us! I sure as hell hope you don’t turn out like her.”

I wanted to remind them who fed me every day, who had been there to pick me up from school for all those years, who had been there to listen to me. Instead I stayed silent and went to my room. I wanted to defend her but I was too scared to try. But I thanked God that Marie had gotten away.

The Phone Call

When my dad said he hoped I didn’t turn out like her, I was angry. I thought about how little my parents understood Marie, and then I realized that I hadn’t really understood her either. I had thought she was lazy too for a while. I wanted to apologize, but I didn’t know how.

After Marie left, I was alone in the apartment every day from the time I got home from school until 7 p.m., and all I thought about was her. I resented her for leaving me. How could I just stop depending on her? It was hard to adjust; I got to school late, I worried myself sick over whether I was taking the right train, and I burned my hand on the stove a few times. But eventually I learned to manage.

I know now that Marie needed to get far away from my parents. Now I don’t resent her and I think she made the right choice for herself. Still, I miss her.

When Marie finally called, I was surprised and thrilled to hear from her. We talked for hours. I found out she’s going to college and moving into a nice apartment near a river. There’s also a farmer’s market that she goes to because she likes to cook with fresh ingredients and a horde of stuffed owls on her bed that she feels really childish having. I mostly just listened because I wanted to hear all about how happy she was.

She still seemed a little melancholic, but I think it was just because she missed me. She also seemed relieved. I was close to tears through the whole phone call. She got her teeth fixed and dyed her hair, and was wearing a nicotine patch in the picture I saw with her and her family. I’m glad she’s making an effort to look better and get healthy.

It wasn’t until recently that I realize how much I learned from her. Even though my parents thought she was a failure I learned that Marie truly was a role model for me. She persevered through so much grief from our parents and even from me, only to forgive us and start talking to us again. I know the attitude I’d sometimes give her because I was influenced by my parents’ opinion of her hurt her.

As much as I want to say I’m sorry, right now I don’t want to make things awkward for her by outright asking her to forgive me. I just want to have easy conversations with her for now. We Skype every few weeks. But at some point I also want her to know I feel bad that she had to be responsible for me. I hope that calling us again is her way of telling us (or me) that she doesn’t resent us.

Looking back, it shocks me how little I appreciated Marie and how influential she was in raising me with good values and judgment. My sister did so much for me and I never thought about what she had to endure until she left. I’m hoping I can have the chance soon to tell her that I understand her now.

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