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  • A year ago today, one day before her 45th birthday, my sister, mother to six children, died of complications surrounding a heart attack and seizure. Our relationship at best was ‘complicated’. Sister to sister, we were technically half-sisters, compared for traits from our skin color (she was dark and I was light), to the texture of our hair, and our personalities, in podunk sunny Southern California suburbs no less. She was three and half years my senior and, as it seems, never was prepared to share the glory with a baby sister. For some that period passes. For us, I’m not sure it did.

    No matter how much you learn about life and death, there’s only so much you can do to prepare for the unknown. Through troubled times in a mostly single-parent household, we learned that the hard way as many black families do. Alongside corporal punishment being ‘in’ and encouraged to discipline kids, which was already a lot to handle, we encountered foul play from a then step caretaker who was a rage-a-holic and also happened to have a police badge to hide behind.

    One issue that drove an incredible divide between Kym and I was the fact that when struck, my light skin bruised. Her bruises and welts were not clearly visible, and as a bold, unapologetic personality that was highly intolerant to being mistreated, it infuriated her and it led to conflicts with an unstable caretaker. Although I always loved my big sister, it was always work to engage her. I was always a burden. Between my rabbit like fear of assault and her perception of my habit of ‘sucking up’ for fear of my own safety which she abhorred, it became easy for her to see me as a trader and to shut down. Ghosting me, checking out or manipulating me to cover her own wounds led to more conflict between us for longer and longer periods of time.

    While we know, understand and sometimes even embrace that death is a part of the cycle of life, the maddening depth of it is highly personal and can only be experienced. She tried to reconnect with me and even called me on a birthday or two, but there were just too many times she had been blinded by her own feelings to be good to me, or a real friend. Real talk: black families: sometimes you can’t force the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel before you truly embrace you walked in hell with a loved one. That changes you forever. That’s how that works. Often, reaching forgiveness still doesn’t indicate there is a healthy relationship to be had. Growing up means trusting life and that love needs little prodding, it will blossom and blaze on its own.

    Kym slowly declined in the months following her heart attack due to fluid that compromised her system. During the prolonged hospitalization, I shrank away plunged in my own world of our story. With too much love and too much anger at so many things, I was utterly dumbfounded as to how to manage complex feelings surrounding my relationship with her and the memories that came with having a sister who I was never really sure was on my team. I know. It’s a tried and true Black family no-no, never own this truth. Never say this out loud. It’s too much.

    Returning to compassion has been no easy task, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel or care. Looking back, it’s the things we don’t feel were heard that linger when a loved one transitions. It’s the urban myths we invested in, that offered distorted logic in our attempts to patch festering wounds surrounding our identity and right to be safe and loved for all that we are. Shatter haunting myths, even if it’s been a year since the loss of a loved one, even if it’s been ten. I’ll start.

    *Although there are countless myths about beauty and being of African descent that effect kids deeply, I always thought you were beautiful. Your dark chocolate skin, full lips and woman body.
    *We were compared a lot, by family, friends, teachers, white people and black people, some with small minds but we are two completely different beings, unique and independent of each other.
    *You never deserved to be berated, humiliated, or assaulted for the color of your skin. That’s wrong, sad, and utterly toxic on every level, but that was never ever your fault.
    *I used to wish your dream of us moving away together one day would happen. When I think about that it makes me want to time travel and hug us back then.
    *Where you are now, I hope you never have to hold toxic, scary secrets anymore (I wrote that like a little sister on purpose). I know that was asking too much from you. You deserved better.
    *I was not as brave as you growing up. I know with so much happening for you this was impossible for you to understand. Looking back, you were incredibly heroic to tell our scary secrets to our summer camp counselors to try to get us to a safe place. Just in case, I was too young to really speak on that, thank you.
    *Young people should never be pitted against one another for the wrong doings of adults who need help. We were but that’s not our fault.
    *As free beings, we never owed each other anything.
    *It’s not your fault that other police who had the chance to do the right things hid our scary situation to protect their bro in blue. That’s not our fault, it just means they are douchebags who should not have the right to be badge holders because they have not, in fact, lived up to the promise to protect and to serve.
    *Even if we weren’t close I am glad that you survived a suicide attempt early on and went on to live for thirty more years. While most abhor such sentiment or prefer to enforce the ‘no-no’ topic family law, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
    *My brand of tough love towards you was based on knowing you could do better and push harder to push through. I didn’t do that to judge you or to project the image I was better, I did it because I believed in you and I believed in us.
    *We can’t do anything in life or death that we’re not ready to do. I know that now.
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