I recently added a photograph to the pictures that currently sit on the mantel above the fireplace in my apartment. These photos include pictures of friends, an inspirational image or two, what I think is a really good recent photo of me, and, now, a picture of the semi-fictional person I used to hide inside.
I should stress that I do not mean this literally. But I am now making a habit of practicing gratitude, and the only way I can think of to be grateful to myself is to employ literary license and speak as if I were someone else.
He was a deeply, if quietly, unhappy person. In some ways he could express aspects of my personality that were close enough to “normal” to be socially acceptable, at least among intelligent adults. My interest in the fine arts and literature and classical music is something that, at least once we escaped the hell that is adolescence, he could channel without getting ridiculed. Some of my “bleeding heart,” pacifist-leaning politics. Some of my inclination to be formally polite in a world that has abandoned such things. Much of that came through.
Aspects of me that had to be tirelessly monitored and suppressed were distinctly feminine body language that always came naturally to me, an unconscious tendency to speak in italics (using shifts in pitch to emphasize words, to speak in a slightly sing-song manner, and to do quite a lot of emotional expression), my tendency to ready tears when moved by something beautiful or sad, the overall feminine tone of the woman that I am.
His existence was painful. Every day was a struggle just to get through. Pretending to be someone that you are not is hard work, draining work. It exhausts you. It makes you sad. It makes you want to just give up and check out, stage left.
Yet he held on for many, many years although he wanted to die. He held on because he worried about what his suicide would do to the people he loved. He knew that was the only thing keeping him alive.
But there is more. He didn’t know it, but he was also staying alive for me.
Rather than die and take me with him, he stayed alive until I, his real self, was able to emerge into the sunlight.
I am so grateful. I am so grateful that he lived through such misery for such a long time so that I could live the joy that I now have.
Thank you, my half-unreal brother. I, your sister and true self, owe you a debt that I can never repay.