Wednesday, July 6, 2016

An ode to Kim

For those who don't know, my older sister Kim died in a terrible car accident in 2004.

It was movie-worthy--a real-life horror/drama. My parents were out of town in San Francisco, and it was the first time they had ever left us home alone. Kevin was at our grandma Gugs's house. It happened in the middle of the night. No one knew whether to wake Kevin or not. No one knew how to breathe or think or talk. Kim's boyfriend survived and probably faces mental trauma I can't even fathom. It was a nightmare. An actual nightmare, except we were all awake and alive and forced to live through it.

It shocked us all. It rocked all of our worlds. It shook up our whole small town.

High school turned into living hell for me. Fake people stuck out like sore thumbs. Pity was on everyone's faces constantly. People walked on eggshells around me at all times.

Home turned into an empty shell with 4 human souls doing all they could day in and day out just to survive in the huge void left in Kim's absence. We didn't talk. There was absolutely no laughter. "Home" really ceased to exist, as a structure at least. Everything became upended and meaningless.

Writing was my only escape. Plucking the words from my mind and putting them to paper was my lone distraction, my one place of solitude in the midst of all that had crumbled around me. Being able to write about Kim's death is the only thing that helped me trudge through my emotions those first few years and make sense of the most nonsensical event of all time.

It took me years and years to be okay. I missed dozens (at least 3 of them) of days of school my senior year of high school, simply because I was too emotionally exhausted to pry myself out of bed those days. I have absolutely no clue how I maintained my perfect GPA through school because everything I "learned" is a blur. The Board of Education threatened me with truancy, and I wrote an essay rebuttal telling them to suck it because my survival was more important than school. No exaggeration: I was literally just trying to survive day to day. There was no concept or fact or theorem in school that held any actual, tangible meaning in my life next to the earth-shattering trauma of losing my best friend in a single instant of time.

Moving away to college helped me heal even more, but it also opened new wounds. No one in college knew my sister. There was such discomfort in that reality. When new friends asked me how many siblings I had, my new answer became: "I have 2 older half-siblings, Rachel and Cody, and a younger brother, Kevin." I could never seem to force Kim's name to roll off my tongue in that answer. Instead, I replaced her name with a lump in my throat and choked-back tears and self-loathing for undermining her memory.

I didn't feel anyone was even deserving of knowing about Kim until around my junior year of college. I remember the night I finally opened up about her life and death with my closest group of guy friends and how relieved, terrified, and emotionally spent it made me feel to talk about her. I cried myself to sleep that night, both out of relief and deep, deep sadness.

The life event that healed me the most, though, would have to be my pregnancy with Kimmy and the way my world brightened with her in it. She filled up so many little rips and tears of my heart. She may never know the depth of the impact she had on me by simply existing, but I hope to always do my best to tell her and show her through everything I do in my journey of motherhood.

Kimmy is Kim made over in so many ways--more ways than I can even articulate. And not because I need her to be Kim made over, but because she just innately is so much like her. Her bravery. Curiosity. Kindness. The things that make her laugh. Facial expressions. Angelic singing voice. Zany sense of humor. Her old soul. She is my biggest blessing.

(Kimmy is also so very like my brother, especially these past 6 months or so. I am so happy she is helping me see all the ways I ever took Kevin for granted. In so many ways, Kim's death and the time we each spent grieving robbed us of years of time as brother and sister that we can never re-claim. But I think we are finally getting in a good space and making up for it. I am the luckiest sister to have my awesome brother. For all the times I never said it: I love you, Kuh-man. We're all we've got, and I don't mind it one bit.)

Overall, I'm pretty okay these days. I have found happiness and bliss. I live authentically. I find true joy in things many people would overlook time and time again. I still think of Kim all the time, but I only catch myself crying every now and then. Usually, I laugh and smile and consider it an honor to be the keeper of her memories. We have memories as sisters that no one else can ever touch, and she fills up places in my heart that no one can ever get into.

Kim was my very best friend in the entire world, and I know she would be so proud of me.

I miss her. I miss her cackley laugh, the way she made everything challenging seem easy and natural, the way our voices fit like puzzle pieces when we sang together, her very odd and hilarious sense of humor, her brave and adventurous spirit, her strange food pairings, her wit, her incredible depth and intelligence, the way she made me strive to be the best version of myself at all times, the wacky songs she was always making up, her terrible parking skills that she always needed me to help with, her inventive solutions to problems, her ability to empathize deeply with just about anyone, her amazing artistic talents, and just the way she saw the world.

I will never forget our adventures together, especially in Midelburg and camping and at the beach. I will never forget the way it felt to speak, many times without even uttering any words, to a person who never once doubted my integrity or character or abilities and who truly got me. I will never forget our sister slumber parties on Christmas Eve or taking shifts getting ready on school days and waking each other up when it was time to switch off in the bathroom. I will never forget laughing so hard that I felt I would never be able to stop, complete with coughing fits and pee and any other type of bodily function that sometimes follows laughter. I will never forget the elevation my heart floated up to when Kim and I sang together. I will never forget Seaweed & Starfish. I will never forget crying in front of someone who never made me feel ashamed. I will never forget "helping" her clean her room (AKA reading magazines for hours while she cleaned it herself). I will never forget spelling our names so fast it was nothing but a blur of sounds. I will never forget plucking our eyebrows together and making fun of each other when we messed up. I will never forget all the weird games we invented. I will never forget her stinky morning breath that smelled like pure death to me (though it was from her albuterol inhaler). I will never forget the 50 billion times she jumped out and scared me. I will never forget her twinkly brown eyes and sneaky smirk, always concealing some wild and wonderful plan for what's next. I will never forget the feeling of "home" with Kim in it.

Today would be Kim's 29th birthday. She died when she was 16. We're nearing the time when she will have been dead longer than she was alive.

But no one can ever, ever tell me that my sister's life was short or that it was meaningless or that she didn't exist or have purpose. Kim lived more fully in her 16 years than most people can live in 100, and that's a fact. There will never be another her. No one else will ever shape me like she has.

Thank you, Kim, for being the best sister and friend I could have ever hoped for. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and always having my back. Thank you for making me me.

I love you.