(Once again Laura writes from a sister’s perspective. In her last post, she spoke of ‘The Text’—when Sarah cut off communication with her and unfriended her on Facebook).
We are house hunting in Oklahoma on a chill March day. One week has passed since The Text, and now I know something bigger is wrong here. Now I know something more sinister than regular anger snatched my real sister away. A beast with a name flung around anytime someone’s mood surges from sad to happy or drops from joyous to angry. Such a name cannot describe such a beast.
On the drive from one house to another, I stare out the window at the barren branches of Tulsa trees.
My phone rings. The number marching across the screen says Unknown, but I know who it is. I do not want to answer. Before my “hello” is complete, Sarah starts talking.
“Hey Laura, what’s up, I don’t know why they have me up here in this place, yo, like, I’m going to get out of here ASAP, I’m going to go to Hollywood and I’m going to meet up with Sia, you know, write some songs with her, and then I’ll find J. Lo and see if she wants to do some shows with me, you know, we’ll go to the Grammys together, like, there’s this guy here, he’s so cool, he’s going to take me down there with him, he says I’m so sexy, we were kissing, even though no one here is supposed to touch each other …” She laughs, a high tittering thing. I snatch the opportunity to speak and ask her about the treatment, the medicine.
She says, “Screw treatment. Screw lithium. I’m not going to take any effing medicine after I get out of this place up in here, yo.”
She abruptly hangs up after several more minutes of talking talking talking. I shove the phone into the bowels of my purse and get on with the day. My mother, father, husband, and I see houses and loan officers and the Realtor. We smile and laugh but Sarah lurks behind everything we do.
She is talking to me, at least. Even if I do not feel it is Sarah talking to me at all, not rational comforting Sarah, not the Sarah of before.
We get out of the car, poke our chins over this windowsill and that. The phone rings; my mother speaks into it for a long time. After she hangs up I walk beside her through the old Tulsa neighborhood. Wind knocks pale dead grass down and down again.
“Insurance is going to stop paying,” she says. “They say she’s not in immediate danger anymore. They want the hospital to release her tomorrow.” She looks at the iron sky and folds her hands behind her back, knitting her fingers into one fist.
She says no more. If my sister is released now, she will find men to pay her for sex in exchange for clothes and lodging and drugs. Left untreated, she will kill herself in one way or another.
Two days pass. Two more phone calls filled with quixotic plans and fast, fast speech, and yo and dude and eff this and that. My father calls the insurance company and convinces them to keep her just long enough, just until Friday, and then on Thursday he leaves Tulsa. He will travel 1,770 miles to St. Helena, California, to try to intercept her before she dives back into hell.
By tomorrow, Sarah must understand that something is wrong.
By tomorrow, she must be willing to go with our father, to keep taking her medicine, to keep seeking treatment to quash the beast that is bi-polar disorder.
Tomorrow dawns and drags itself, head lowered, through the raw morning hours. At one o’clock, in the car again, my phone rings.
“Hey,” Sarah says. She sounds hesitant, a child emerging from a hiding place while the seeker is still out. She takes a big breath. I let the sound curl around me like warm water.
Then she speaks. “How are you?” In these fear-choked words I hear the phrase she cannot speak: Help me. I close my eyes and rest my temple against the chill glass. “Hey, Sally,” I say, calling her by one of my hundred nicknames for her.
Her breathing quickens. I know she hears what I cannot say aloud.
I am here. You are coming back to me.
This time you will stay.
Take my hand, sister.
This time I will not let go.