I almost texted her on Thanksgiving, then on Christmas.
I got the phone call while on the road, passing the Beau Rivage. I barely made it to the Biloxi Yacht Club to park.
“Miss DeRae, we’ve found your sister unconscious,” the lady said. Before she could explain further, I asked what hospital she was sent to. I usually got calls that she was sick and had passed out at school or home. I had just figured it was an episode, considering she had just had a surgery the week prior.
“No ma’am, she is gone. She won’t wake up,” she replied.
I just lost it. My heart hit the floorboard of my Honda Civic. It dragged along the highway as I kept up in traffic. I thought the surgery had gone well. The color of her skin was the most beautiful I had seen in a while and she had said she felt so good. All we had to was wait for a new transplant, her second one. I had forgotten that she was dying.
I had begged and begged my mother for a sister. I was so lonely. I spent my days in my room, playing by myself. I was either left alone while Dawn worked, if she had a job, or left alone because she was asleep. Dawn was dating someone great at the time and decided, “Well, okay.” Everyone worried about how my baby sister would appear — would she be addicted to drugs? She came on May 6th, 1997. She was perfect and everything changed.
I would get the shit beat out of me if I played too loud and woke her up. But I still loved her. She would get the shit beat out of her if she colored on my drawings that I kept on a high shelf. But she still loved me.
Dawn hated most things. She hated for anyone to say she was a bad mom, she hated for anyone to defy her, and she hated the way my family tried to confront her. But one thing was for sure — she loved Dusti.
Dusti grew ill shortly after the hurricane. I had run away at this point and was staying with family in the meantime. I was called to the office at school to say that Dusti was admitted to the hospital. They fought to tell me that it wasn’t my fault, while Dawn placed the blame on me. I was the reason she was overweight, and running away from home caused the stress that lead to her heart failure. I was a weak kid, very emotional and super fragile to any criticism, but I wasn’t fucking stupid enough to think that I made her sick. That was always one small victory I had over Dawn.
She received her heart transplant the following April after she fell sick. Dawn lived in Birmingham with her while she received hospital treatment. She had wiped out my whole bank account and savings (accruing from my father’s social security check that she had only given me access to a few months prior to Dusti’s hospitalization). But I didn’t care, I knew she needed to eat and feed Dusti, too.
Dusti and Dawn were always close, forming a greater bond by hating me, but now that Dusti was severely handicapped from her transplant and health complications, the bond had grown from loyalty to absolute need. They couldn’t live without each other. Dawn needed the unwavering companionship, considering she had used up her favors with most of us. Dusti needed the companionship and continuous ‘care’.
One day, while in college, I received a phone call. Truancy had turned Dawn into DHS. They took Dusti from her care. I thank God everyday that I had the professor that I had. She didn’t even blink when I cried in her office to explain that I couldn’t be there any longer, and I had to find a way to see my sister. Dr. Price is an angel among us, not asking for details, just asking that I stay strong. How do you explain that your sister was taken to foster care because your meth-addicted mother probably hadn’t waken up enough days in a row to get her to school? I didn’t even have to.
It hurt tremedously knowing that there was nothing I could do. I lived in an apartment with roommates. I worked nights and weekends to pay for school and my bills and Dawn’s bills. Even if I did have the means, Dusti wouldn’t live with me anyway. She really despised me, as Dawn created this thunder dome in her head where I was always the opponent. No matter the situation, I was one she needed to fight to survive. I was the one keeping them from excelling and living a happy life.
Dusti caused a lot of problems. But she was mad. And I get it. She didn’t have a chance from the beginning. I had freed myself from the mental hell that was living with a substance dependent, undiagnosed bipolar parent. She was stuck. That was her only friend. Her caretaker. Her teammate. She couldn’t be a kid. People were barely willing to open their doors for her if she needed a home. She had no rules with Dawn and had developed some of Dawn’s ugly habits. Plus, Dawn had literally threatened to kill anyone who got in the way of them.
But, I still had hope for her. I remember the point in my life where I stopped being mad at the world and started to just pave my way to a life that didn’t have to be so angry. I had hope that she’d harness her intelligence and make a career that she should be proud of. I never expected her to hate Dawn like I did, but I wanted her to see that she didn’t have to live in a hell. She didn’t see it as a hell, though. She saw it as home.
I can’t believe that I forgot she was sick. She was working hard on creating a life for herself. We had our issues. It was always anger versus depression versus fault versus regret anytime we were in contact. When the phone rang, I knew the conversation would go one of two ways… I was either getting cussed at for failing as a sister, or she was asking for help. I didn’t mind either, honestly, so that I could have contact with her, to know that she was still working towards her future.
I haven’t been the same since she left. It’s been the hardest seven months of my life and I fear that the pain isn’t over. I don’t know who I’ll be when I wake up in the morning, and that’s something I really hated about Dawn. You’d think that I would have had this revelation that life is short and you should never get upset about the small things. I’ve only realized that I don’t have to waist my time trying to hold a family together because God says I should. God tells me how to be a better person, and he has shown me that blood has nothing to do with family. Action does.
I don’t regret any interaction I had with Dusti. She was still a baby in my eyes and I knew the way she acted wasn’t her fault. I never said anything I would regret because I made sure that the things I said to her were something to learn from. I should regret that I forgot that she was sick. It hurts me that I did, but I think forgetting created this dialogue between us about the future. I didn’t rush her to make decisions because her time was short. I didn’t know how she wanted her funeral. I just knew she was building her life, one piece at a time. I find some peace in knowing that she finally has her friend back, in the clouds of heaven. I wish things could have been different. I wish she had had more of a chance.