Names have been changed.
My brother Thomas is only three years older than me. We didn’t feel close to our mom, our stepfather, or our dads. So growing up, it felt like it was just the two of us.
We had so much fun playing video games, basketball, and other games we created. One was miniature bowling, where we used a toy golf club to hit a toy bowling ball at pins. The objective was to knock down the fewest pins, though. This made sense to us.
Thomas knew I was afraid of my father’s temper, so he would go with me when I had to visit him on the weekends, even though he wasn’t his father. I was grateful for that.
When I was 10 and Thomas was 13, our stepfather died. My mom was devastated, and she shut herself away from everyone. Soon, Thomas began locking his bedroom door to talk on the phone. When I really missed him badly, I’d try to chip the wood off his bedroom door to get in. One time, I actually managed to pry open the door, and he laughed and let me in.
“OK, one game, but then you gotta go,” he said. We played a game we had made up called Remix. We took turns singing into the fan but whenever one of us said “remix,” the other one had to change the song in five seconds. I usually won, but that night I picked easy songs for him like “Buy U A Drank” and “Lollipop” so the game would never end.
Suddenly He Was Gone
Early one morning when I was 12 and Thomas was 15, I was half asleep when I heard him and our mother arguing about our late stepfather. I heard something hitting his bed while she cussed him out.
“Get the f-ck out of my house!” she yelled. “I said get the f-ck out! And don’t come back!” I had never heard my mom cuss; she was usually calm.
I thought I could ask Thomas what happened when I got home from school, but Thomas wasn’t home. There were two strange women in our living room. One explained to me that she was a case planner for foster youth and that my brother was put into the system.
“Is he gonna come back?” I asked sadly. My mom just stared down and shook her head, looking relieved.
My Anger Takes Over
After Thomas left, I was angry and unfocused. I didn’t finish my school assignments, and I began picking fights with my classmates. In the fall of 7th grade, I ripped the plastic leaf decorations off the school bulletin boards, and over the next few months, I tore up the school over and over again.
By the end of the semester, I was known as the crazy girl who trashes classrooms and hallways for no apparent reason, and I was sent to the hospital several times. Still, I struggled with my anger.
In 8th grade, I became depressed. I hadn’t seen Thomas since he left and I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and I had no one to talk to. One night, I grabbed a kitchen knife and tried to hurt myself. Fortunately, my mother came into the kitchen, snatched the knife away, and called 911.
My Mom Walks Me to Foster Care
After the suicide attempt, I spent a week in the hospital before my mother came to visit me. She came in with a big smile on her face saying I was being discharged.
But she didn’t tell me I wasn’t going home. From the hospital, my mom walked me to the foster care agency. Devastated, I cried. My mom showed no emotion and shook her head in silence.
I was assigned to Catherine, the same case planner that Thomas had. Catherine suggested that Thomas and I could live close to each other and have weekly visits. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years. I was glad someone cared about us staying in touch.
But that didn’t happen immediately. I was placed in a residential treatment center (RTC) on Staten Island and I couldn’t visit anyone without permission. I felt trapped out there.
A few months after I got there, the staff finally asked me who I wanted to see. I said, “My brother.” He was the only one I missed.
My Brother Rejects Me
Thomas and I were only allowed supervised visits. There was a bit of tension during our first visit because Catherine gave Thomas a hard time, telling him I’d be in a foster home soon while Thomas would be stuck in a group home. I tried to lighten up the tension and make conversation. But Thomas just sat in his chair and looked down. The following visits were similar; I would talk while he sat with his head down. Missing our old bond made me feel broken.
Then, Thomas stopped coming to our visits. When he showed up after a few months, Catherine asked him, “Why wouldn’t you want to see your sister?”
Thomas mumbled that he was busy and didn’t have the time. I began to cry. Catherine gave me a tissue, and Thomas said, “I’m going to the bathroom,” and walked out. He didn’t come back.
I saw a movie about a girl who’d been hurt by someone. She eventually realizes she feels unhappy because she hadn’t forgiven the person who hurt her. I thought that maybe I should try to forgive Thomas, but it was hard. I still wanted him to make an effort to be in my life.
The agency pushed us to have weekly phone calls, and he did call me sometimes. Then I stopped answering, hoping that might make him care again.
Four or five months after our last phone call, I was at the agency and I overheard Catherine talking to Thomas on speakerphone.
“Nah, she doesn’t need me around no more,” Thomas said.
“Thomas,” Catherine sighed. “She’s just upset because of how the last visit went.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going to any more of these f-cking visits!”
Hearing this made my heart jump. It was shocking to hear “I don’t care,” but it did finally make sense after months of him pulling away from me.
Doing Therapy for Real
While I was in care, I was sent to another RTF north of the city. I had been seeing therapists for several years, but at this RTF, I finally began doing therapy for real. I spoke truthfully about my troubles with my family and home life.
My therapist asked me if my mother had ever tried to comfort me. I told her that she hadn’t. My mom taught me to put “unnecessary things” like sadness or anger aside and focus. It never dawned on me before that she had been teaching me to push my feelings away, and that without knowing my feelings, I didn’t understand why I did what I did.
I’ve tried to look back at why I stayed so upset for so long at my brother. It’s natural that I missed him, but I realize that I had a lot more going on at the time that contributed to my level of upset. My mother didn’t seem to care about me and even put me into foster care. In under two years, I went through four placements.
Looking back, I think I used my grief about Thomas as a way to not look at the other problems in my life. It was avoidance. I pinned all my bad feelings on missing my brother, but that was just part of it. It took me over three years to talk about the pain of my mom’s abandonment and feeling like I had no home. When I finally shared with one of my therapists how I felt about what I was going through, I felt relief.
Telling My Truth
In addition to therapy, I started to rely on dance and creative writing to sort out my feelings about my family and try to move on. I wanted to feel better, so I Googled “How to improve happiness.” “Expressive dance” was the first thing that came up. So I put on “Lilium,” a beautiful, peaceful song I’d discovered in an anime, and danced. It released my negative energy, and I felt happy. Now I dance at least once or twice a week to “Lilium.”
I also wrote my first short story, about two kids who chase storms. Writing is also an escape from reality, and I feel less overwhelmed. I can control what happens.
Although I’ve re-opened lines of communication with my brother, I realize today I’m not the naive little sister and Thomas is not the fun older brother anymore. When I reminisce about the games we played, he says he doesn’t remember them. When we talk now, our conversations don’t last long. The sadness I felt before now feels more like awkwardness. We seem to be on different paths. I was lucky to be placed with a nice foster family, which was what I needed.
The longer we’re apart, the less I think about him. He’s still my brother and I love him, but we may never get our bond back.
To live without him, I need to dance and write and tell my truth.