The curse of being a creative

Oooh, it’s another post time.

I promise, it won’t be too depressing. This is just a quick word-vomit thing to get this horrible, repeating thought out of my head.

Sometimes, I feel like I got cursed with creativity.

Allow me to explain.

Being creative is a valued trait. In certain contexts. Some of our highest-paid professionals in America are creatives–singers, actors, directors, etc.

Yet, go to school to be a film maker, a graphic artist, or a creative writer, and people are going to laugh when you struggle to get a job and say, “Well, you should have done something more practical.”

So you look at other options. The reality of the situation is that you probably won’t be the next Veronica Roth. E.L. James. Jennifer Lawrence. Or whoever.

You begin to realize that you really have nothing else to fall back on. You’re good at one thing: making things out of nothing. You’re good at getting lost in your own head, feeling at home among the clouds, your eyes staring off into nothing, as your brain paints a picture that you need to get out somehow–whether it’s through writing, drawing, singing, acting, or literally painting.

And when you’re out of school, you discover..

no one wants to pay you for that shit.

So you end up going off on your own, looking for ways to make your dream happen. We’re that generation, anyway. Your job doesn’t exist? Fucking make it up. Make your life happen on your own if you can’t find it on monster.com (or LinkedIn, I guess, whatever people are clamoring all over these days). You control your destiny, right?

God, no.

It’s such fucking hard work. You know what sucks? Knowing that you’re really going to struggle at the start. knowing that you’ll have to change your strategy time and again to pin down the formula that really, truly work–it’s a business, after all.

You want to sell your art online? You can start up a store, but good luck marketing your stuff and having it take off immediately. You can show people your portfolio, but they’ll end up asking you to make a logo for free or else they’ll “ask their boss’s kid–he’s good with that kind of stuff.”

You wanna write? Have fun begging people for reviews and trying to get your book to climb the search result ranks on Amazon. Pour your heart and soul into these words to have someone look at the cover and shrug and say, “next.” or worse–submit to a traditional publisher and get used to being rejected over and over.

You want to compose? Are you going to be stuck trying to sell little jingles for a piddly little fee while trying to write an album that you only hope will put food on your table?–it’s not like you’re asking to be a superstar, right?

Want to be in a film? Ha. Work for days on end for no money, understanding that the people who are making the film probably can’t afford to even buy water for everyone on the set, let alone offering you a fair wage. But hey, it’ll look good in your portfolio, right? Maybe this role will be your break out role.

It seems that no matter which creative route you take, if you’re not already connected, it’s a rough road to travel.

I’m not saying it’s not worth it. These jobs are laborious, tedious, and slow-moving for most people. But they’re done out of love, and that’s why we keep doing them.

What I’m sick of seeing is people who shit all over art.

A blogger I used to follow has made a platform for herself by being pretty. Literally all she does is take selfies and make her hair and face into cool art projects. I loved her style and reading her funny, weird posts. Then she started getting preachy about other people’s bodies. Then about their lives and choices. Then about the recent celebrity photo leaks.

I cut her out of my feed like a tumor.

A makeup artist I follow drew some pictures and shared them with her fans. people told her to stick to “looking pretty”. For fuck’s sake, she was happy and wanted to share it, and thousands of people tore her down for daring to do so.

I can’t read those comments anymore. Her feed constantly rips on her appearance, anyway.

My female friends stream their games online. They get torn apart for their appearance

sometimes–because they happen to be women just sharing something they love with fans. Whether it’s a comment about their bodies or someone just being an asshole for no good reason, it must get tiring to be the target of such negativity. It wears you down.

I don’t watch streams for that reason. Can’t stand the comments.

So I sit here, thinking of the talents that I have. They are all in the creative realm. I will never go back to school to get a STEM degree. I respect people who do this, but I don’t belong there with them. I will never go into something lucrative–I’ll never own a huge business. That’s okay, too.

But I feel discouraged because creativity is all I have.

Really. It’s all I have.

And I don’t understand the

Creativity is a blessing and a curse.

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End of Hiatus

Although it was never officially announced (because I’m a terrible blogger) I took a short break from cross-posting all my articles at Beneath the Brand. Perhaps I’ll catch up and post them here soon, but in the meantime, I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to getting back to personal writing.

My break from personal writing was partially due to the number of commissions I’ve had to fulfill, and partially because I was so emotionally drained from dealing with everything else I’ve had going on. I have several pieces in the works that I am looking forward to sharing. Intense, yes, but not as difficult to write as the post on my sister. If I can write about that – the spotty, somewhat faded memories of my youth; the narrative of a child that must be relived and subsequently translated into a tale that an adult can relate to – then I can finish writing about the other experiences I’ve had.

If I can get past my self-flagellating tendencies, the posts will be done soon. I am inclined to build something that takes considerable time and effort, and crush it before I ever let another human see it. It needs to change, but I’m not sure how to keep myself from being so frightened of visibility… or vulnerability, for that matter.

‘Happily Ever After’?: Modernizing Fairy Tales for a New Generation

[Cross-posted from Beneath the Brand blog].

Recently, my boyfriend and I started watching Once Upon a Time. Other than the brief plot synopsis I’d read online, neither of us knew much about it. But we are both products of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so we were familiarized with storylines within the series, because hey — we’d seen Disney movies. This sort of sugar-coated narrative was how most kids of that generation generally became acquainted with the fairy tales, and in terms of popular media consumption, Disney had a monopoly on the production of fairy tales for many years.

So, with that in mind, we sat down to a surprisingly nuanced and dark story. In this tale, almost the entire cast of characters doesn’t realize that they hail from a fantasy realm, because a dark queen has cast a curse on them, banishing them to live in a prison (which is the small town of Storybrooke, Maine), all the while oblivious to their former lives.

One little boy is convinced that he knows their true identities, and embarks on a quest to get his birth mother to help him break the spell. The only catch? His adoptive mother is the evil queen (or, in her present incarnation, the mayor of Storybrooke), and she doesn’t take too kindly to anyone foiling her plans.

And I’m hooked — it’s modern, weaves together familiar tales in such a way to be comforting, and then retells them in a contemporary, action-packed manner that you won’t soon forget.

So watching Once Upon a Time brought up some memories for me, and it made me think about the history of fairy tales — and the joy we get from retelling them time and again, each generation putting its own twist on them.

Considered by many to be the godfathers of modern fairy tale lore, the Grimm brothers collected a wealth of German folklore and published the stories in an anthology. Many of the stories were exceedingly dark and violent, but kids read them anyway. The books retained their popularity surprisingly well, and in the 20th century, a large portion of the tales was thought to be too dark and violent for children. So, when Disney pulled inspiration and storylines from the Grimm’s tales, they deliberately chose to overlook the allusions to sexuality, as well as the descriptions overt violence and cruelty that were present in so many of the fables. This left us with the sanitized, moralistic good-triumphs-over-evil stories that we know so well today.

But the kids who once dreamt of the Disney versions of fairy tales have grown up now. Today, they are the story weavers, working on blockbuster movies and writing the hit television shows like Once Upon a Time. And so we are seeing the retelling of old German folktales in shows like Grimm, a story that features the Grimm brothers as cops, fighting modern, real-life versions of familiar fairytale creatures. Jack and the Beanstalk turned into Jack the Giant Killer, an updated story of the bravery and heroism of an unlikely “giant killer.” Snow White’s soft-spoken, naïve demeanor has vanished in favor of the valiant warrior we see Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel are now cunning Witch Hunters rather than helpless, abandoned children, and even the Rise of the Guardians chronicles popular contemporary fairy tale characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, who just so happen to possess some previously-unknown superhero powers — though it’s still child-friendly, of course.

So what is it that drives us to modernize these tales? Many times, we choose to reimagine characters like meek, fragile Snow White or little, gullible Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk as characters who are now powerfully in control of their destinies — presently, they are unlikely heroes at worst and completely bad-ass action heroes at best. In some of the new stories the women, who were formerly relegated to droll, feminine passivity, have advanced to meet their male counterparts as equals in battle: Snow White adorns herself in a warrior’s armor and fights alongside her male friends, and eventually squares off woman-to-woman to win back a kingdom. In Once Upon a Time, the female characters actually drive the story with their own set of decidedly un-princess-like desires.

Yes, it seems that modernizing these fairy-tale brands is a full-blown trend that has everyone’s attention. Today, people who grew up with the same old narrative of prince-meets-princess-and-they-live-happily-ever-after are creating worlds where our childhood heroes can be as powerful, flawed, and as nuanced as we always wanted them to be. And the whole point of fairy tales is to pass on these timeless stories to the next generation, even if it’s in an updated format, isn’t it?

So which tales would you like to see redone? I’ve personally always liked Little Red Riding Hood and Bluebeard — strangely enough though, both of those tales are from the French author Charles Perrault rather than the Brothers Grimm!

December Frenzy — Machinima, Blogging, and More

Nanowrimo and Aria’s Reprisal

So, November came and went.  I posted a few times about how I was falling behind on Nanowrimo.  Can you guess how the month ended?

If you guessed that I failed, you’re right. I only wrote about 12,000 words.  That’s more than I’ve written any other year for Nano (yay for mini-goals?), but I still failed pretty miserably.

I am still planning on working on this project, however.  It has been a ton of fun to plan, and if you’re interested in any plot points, quotes, notes on progress, world building, or soundtracks that I think would rock for a movie version of my writing (don’t hate; I make machinima for that reason…) then head over to http://hellystia.tumblr.com to see Aria’s Reprisal and take a look around.  You may find it interesting. Or, you might think, “What the hell is this? Now I definitely don’t want to read any of her writing.” Either way, if you are vaguely interested at all in sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, dystopian alternate worlds, and really intense descriptions of cold-weather landscapes, then you may find some of what I write on my tumblr interesting.

Machinima and Morningstar Episode 5

In the machinima realm, I’m slowly kicking off ep 5 of Morningstar.  I have a few things I’d like to address about this:

I am doing my best to keep multiple story lines going at once. It’s the way I prefer to tell tales. While I technically have a “main” character, I don’t see the point in focusing on narrating only her thoughts on the world. Azeroth is huge, diverse, and ancient. There’s too much opportunity to tell interesting as well as intersecting stories. That being said, I’ve heard some people say it’s a bit hard to follow. I will try to make sure that things are as clear as they can be at that point in the story, but the point of leaving the viewer hanging is… well, so that they want to watch more!

I have not made a final decision on whether or not I’ll use voice actors for this episode.  I understand that this was my #1 complaint about the series, and I also know that I’d reach a much wider audience if I did use voice actors. The funny thing is, I’ve known of quite a few people who’ve done their stories the way I do, and none of them get such terrible complaints about it.  I don’t know what it is about me that makes people want to point that out so much — I guess I’m just that socially-awkward nerdy kid that sits alone at lunch. 😦

I will attempt to keep the episodes around 10 minutes in length from now on.  I know the last one got ludicrously long.  I cringed when I saw the projected length, and for that I’m sorry.  I will keep it to 2 story lines per episode to remedy this, rather than three or more.  It’s simply too unwieldy at that point.

Yes, there will eventually be a ‘love’ story. I’ve also had a few people ask about this. I am aware that love is a common thread throughout the narratives of Azeroth; I, too, am interested in reading and writing about that. But love is not the primary focus of the story, because I want to tell a tale where my characters stand on their own as solid, well-developed individuals.  Too often, I feel love stories are used as crutches to avoid developing a character — who are they without their partner?  Characters, particularly females, can exist and be simultaneously intriguing, complex characters without a love interest. It can be done!

Beneath the Brand

I am a regular contributing blogger at Talent Zoo’s Beneath the Brand blog now.  I post under my real name there, so regular readers might see some discrepancy in the online personas I use.  I’m sorry if it’s confusing!

I will be linking my articles here every week (usually Fridays) so that you can read something fresh!

Other Projects

In addition to my day job of writing, and my night job of… well, playing World of Warcraft and doing more writing (as well as video effects), I am a — wait for it — freelance writer.  I take commissions  for a multitude of projects and genres of writing. If for some reason you’re interested in working with me on a writing project, get a hold of me on Twitter or shoot me an e-mail (ninja dot superwoman at gmail dot com). I’ve been busy of late, but I always love receiving new jobs.

I hope you guys have kept yourselves busy, happy, and creative!

❤ Helly

New Site Layout

I’ve been so terribly busy the last few days with getting my writing in order (I have a lot of commissions this week — on Thanksgiving weekend, of course!) that I’ve forgotten to mention that my next Beneath the Brand post should be up early next week.  I am looking forward to sharing this with you as well!

The new layout is cleaner, but the navigation should remain the same.  I may go through and do some reorganizing again later, but for now, I suppose this will do.

And I’m so far behind on Nanowrimo… I hope my followers are managing better than I am. I’m sitting at about 12k words but I want to get a lot done this weekend.  Let’s hope!

❤ Helly

Writing for a Living: Or, an Exercise in Open-Mindedness

Are you a professional writer? If you’re not a professional currently, then maybe you dream of becoming one? Well, I know the feeling. I’ve wanted to create stories for people’s enjoyment ever since I was a little girl. I made stop-motion movies with my sisters. We also wrote and drew comics. When we weren’t busy with creating our own materials, we wrote reviews on anime and games on our own website. Even as an adult I’ve been experimenting with creating my own projects. Most recently I’ve been putting together a machinima series (http://www.youtube.com/user/xephirproductions if you’re interested) and writing a novel for nanowrimo (more excerpts to come soon!). But I’ve also put a lot of effort into offering commissions, and I’ve received a number of bids already – which honestly surprised me. But more on that in a moment.

I have always been creative, and my creations have taken many different forms over the years. But one common thread that weaves all of my interests together is writing. When I did my reviews, my sister and I spent hours taking notes and writing our thoughts down for other people to read. We wrote our own stories and scripts for our comics and short movies. Even with my creative endeavors now, I find myself enjoying the planning and scripting process, where I can bring all sorts of characters to life through my words. So because I’ve enjoyed this so much, I decided I would offer my skills to people who needed a bit of help. I am creative and I can follow directions easily, so I thought I would offer to write what other people wanted, if they gave me the idea, characters, and a direction they wanted to take the story.

Oh, naïve Helly! You forget that this is the internet; that people feed on the power they get from anonymity and all the bounds they can push with it. You also forgot that a lot of people like to find porn on the internet. And a lot of people want to read well-written porn, not just watch it. And most of all, when anonymity and boundary-pushing meets the art of writing pornography, well, apparently there’s no limit to the things people want to request from a writer.

My first job was for smut. And I mean extremely graphic, violent, snuff. But I have maintained a professional relationship with the client for over a year now, and he is always kind and pays me on time. I am now working on another commission with graphic scenes, perhaps a little heavier than 50 Shades of Grey (and I like to think the quality of the product is better, too!). I have absolutely no problems writing this sort of material for people in a professional environment; that is, when we treat each other with mutual respect and I am paid fairly for my work. I am just surprised that so many people are hungry for well-written erotica, which sounds so obvious to me even as I write it. But it’s true!

I don’t know how comfortable many aspiring writers are with producing this sort of material, but I am writing this blog entry to say that for me, it’s actually become a comfortable and well-paying genre to pursue. I usually ghostwrite, so my name won’t be on published materials (which is actually good if I want to go through my portfolio with someone in the future) and I use a pseudonym for other materials that I publicly produce. Even though I have said here that I’ve written erotica, I want to make it clear that I’m not ashamed of it, nor am I trying to hide it. I’d just prefer to keep those materials separate from my non-erotic titles.  All in all, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a highly-desired genre, especially for private clients.  As long as I am paid fairly and treated professionally, it is no different than if I were writing a science-fiction or action story.

Have any of you ever written erotica for a client? Is it something you would consider? What sorts of subjects would you write about to make a living?

A Sister’s Love

Today, it has been eighteen years since I awoke to see my parents softly crying on the opposite end of the room.  When I asked what was wrong, the news emerged with wavering diffidence from my father’s lips: “Well, last night, Sara went…to see Kristin.” My mom broke into heaping sobs and ran into the bathroom of our little Ronald McDonald house apartment, locking herself away from the reality that cut her so deeply.  I don’t know if I began to cry immediately.  I think the power of the notion of my sister’s death had hit me like a ton of bricks, and I was just struggling to process it all in my ten-year-old brain.  I know my younger sister was upset.  But I can’t remember if she was crying.

I asked what it meant for me now.

“It’s okay to cry,” my father told me.

I said I felt angry.  Was it okay for me to swear?  I wanted to swear.

“Well, in this case, I think that’s okay,” he said.  I bet he wished my mother was there to help him through that oddball.  I remember the seething anger that started to rise up inside of me.  I felt like it was physically manifesting, coming out of my pores.  But I had lay awake in my fold-out bed for hours that week, in the clutch of fear, praying that my little sister wouldn’t die.  I wanted to bargain with God to save her, but I was a ten-year-old child who had nothing but her toys to offer.  With my hands wrenched tight and tears streaming down my cheeks, I promised I would make it up to God if somehow He could save her.  What a terrible God, to let a child die.  Was there even a God?  I doubted it.  I didn’t want to believe in that fable anymore.

***

My older sister Kristin was the first daughter born to my young parents on March 31st, 1983.  My parents were only 24 and 25 years old.  They were poor graduate students at the time of her birth.  Kristin was born healthy, but it became clear in the following months that something was very wrong with her.  She died October 16th, 1983, not even six months old.  Whatever was wrong with her was beyond medical technology and knowledge at the time.

I was born only 10 months after Kristin passed away.  I had been a huge gamble, because my parents didn’t know if I would be ill too.  I was colicky,  but nothing more.  My sister Megan followed in 1986.  My parents worried about her as well, but she turned out to be perfectly healthy, just like me.  When I we were very young, our parents told us of Kristin and her illness. I always just imagined her as being sick, like she had a cold.  This was the narrative I had in my head, because I was naive.  I don’t know what Megan thought of it.  But for me, it wasn’t until I was faced with the reality of Sara’s illness that I understood.

My youngest sister Sara was born healthy in 1990.  Like Megan and me, she went in to the doctor for regular tests to ensure she didn’t have Kristin’s illness.  But when she was about three months old, tests started coming back with strong indications that she was indeed ill.  She was diagnosed with Familial Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. I couldn’t spell that for years, let alone pronounce it.  But I knew, even from the age of six, what this meant.  It meant that she could die, because my older sister died from it. It meant that her immune system didn’t know when to stop attacking bad cells.  It would attack her good cells until it destroyed her body.  That meant even a cold could become life-threatening.  And that meant a lot of isolation for her.

I remember a lot of panicked decision-making in a short period of time.  Little Sara would be treated experimentally with chemotherapy — something that wasn’t guaranteed to work, but could perhaps keep her alive long enough to receive a bone marrow transplant.  I believe it was every other weekend, or maybe every two weeks, that we had to trek to the hospital and watch my tiny baby sister be hooked up to machines.  The small fluff of hair she had when she was born disappeared.  Her eyebrows and eyelashes fell out, too.  This wasn’t much of an issue early on, but it started to become a problem as she grew.

I remember shopping at Target with my mother, Megan and Sara.  A lady commented about how bald Sara was.  My mother owned her, so to speak: “She’s on chemotherapy and has lost all of her hair.”  My mother already had bonnets for her, but as Sara got bigger, she began putting a floppy bucket hat (remember Blossom?) on her to keep people from commenting.  I would overhear comments about her despite her protective helm.  Rage began to grow inside of me.  I mostly remained silent, but I wanted to choke people who made fun of her.  One time, on the bus while I was going to swimming classes, my mom, Megan, and Sara waved goodbye at me from the parking lot.  I waved back.

“Look at that kid,” said some brat behind me. “It’s got no hair.”  

It. Lack of hair erases your identity to such an extent that you aren’t even credited as human? I started to cry, despite my anger.  Sara still smiled and waved, having no idea what was being said of her.  I wondered how many other people made fun of her while I couldn’t hear.  I turned around to face the kid in the seat behind me.

She is my sister,” I said, trying to hide my tears with my anger.  “And she’s on chemotherapy. That’s why she has no hair. She’s sick.”

The kid sort of just shrugged at me.  I wanted to break his nose.  In retrospect, chemotherapy was probably the biggest word he’d ever heard, and he probably had no idea what it meant.

This picture says it all. Sara’s feelings about her lack of hair were heartbreaking.

Among my friends and peers at school, though, Sara became loved.  Most kids didn’t understand what was wrong with her.  But they knew she was special.  It was okay to bring Sara in briefly while my mom picked up Megan from preschool, and she obviously loved being the center of positive attention — who wouldn’t, when normally people fawning over you end up poking you with giant needles and IVs?

One time, as we picked Megan up from preschool, my mom panicked.  She saw spots on a kid’s skin.  Was it chickenpox?  My mother fled, I remember literally running to the van with her.  Megan and I were confused at first, but our mother explained that we now needed to watch her for spots.  Well, she came down with it, had to go into the hospital, and when she was stable, Sara had to be on an IV drip at home as she struggled through healing her chickenpox.  Most other kids got a shot and maybe some boo-boos that scarred.

Sara had a couple of times when her disease went into remission — these periods were bittersweet.  It was a hopeful time, but simultaneously we remained wary.  We knew that her improvement was good, but the possibility of her remaining stable wasn’t high.  Sometimes she’d go for a few months with no chemo.  Her hair would start to grow back, and she would be so excited and happy.  When she inevitably had to go back on chemo, all her hair would fall out again, and I would see the anger and fear on her face once more.  The poor kid was only three years old, and all she wanted was a life where she wasn’t feeling crappy and sick all the time.  She wanted to brush her hair and play with other kids.  But my parents taught her not to feel sorry for herself.  It was pretty remarkable that she didn’t complain very often.

The summer of 1994 Sara went in to get her bone marrow transplant.  The transplant itself was actually largely successful, from what I remember and understand.  Megan and I went back to school in the fall.  Every weekend we drove four hours to the Mayo Clinic to see her, becoming a bit scared around the October mark.  It had been three months since she was admitted to the hospital, but she wasn’t getting better.

I do not remember the exact date, but I remember I was in music class.  I was suddenly called to the office over the loudspeaker.  There, they informed me that my father was coming to pick me up, and I needed to be ready soon.  We left directly from school.  My dad drove about ninety miles an hour to get there as fast as he could.  He didn’t tell us something was wrong.  It was just there.  Looming.

Once we arrived, we went immediately into the clinic.  We went around a corner in the hospital, where I saw my mom at the end of the hallway.  My dad rushed to her and told us to wait there.  When he came back, they told us Sara had some “tests” that we needed to be there for.  This didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  I can remember my dad choking up while talking to the doctor.  My mom looked like a ghost.  We went to see Sara, who was in the ICU.

My little sister, cheeks swollen, yet body emaciated, lay still in her bed.  A breathing tube was taped to her mouth, creating a crude impression of a circle around her chapped, dry lips.  IVs were plugged into her arms, and a colostomy bag was on the side of her bed — I had never thought about how that worked before.  She had a bandage on her head, where I suppose they had taken a piece of her skull to reach her brain — there was a fungus attacking it.  These images will never leave me.  I tried to talk to her and she didn’t respond.  I asked my parents if she could hear me, and they told me she could.  I don’t know if she could.  I felt stupid and self-conscious. I wanted to talk to her alone, not with people listening to me.

We lived in the Ronald McDonald House apartments near the hospital.  There, I met my friend April, whose brother was there with leukemia.  She hung out with Megan and me all the time — we did art projects together (I remember having to go to a class where we tie-dyed T-shirts) and we played Super Nintendo all day.  Games became my escape while I was there.  Mario could defeat all his problems head-on: Jump on a Koopa or Goomba, defeat a boss, rescue the Princess, end up a hero.  I felt like my life was me helplessly flailing at problems, but they compounded rather than retreated, and I ended up ignored or alone.  I would read to my sister with other people in the room.  I would play games with April and Megan but feel out of touch.  Our homework started to be mailed to us at the apartments because we’d been out of school for weeks.  I remember getting a box filled with cards for my sister, handmade by my classmates.  I was so happy to receive them, that I immediately started to read them to my mother. But she told me she couldn’t listen to it — it was too hard.  So I read them by myself.  One that I still remember was made by one of my best friends at the time — she was very creative.  The card said, “Sara, open the doors to find a surprise!”  They didn’t know how bad it was.

I overheard my parents talking at night.  They sat in shifts at the hospital.  I knew the worst was about to hit when they talked about baptism.  Megan and I met with a pastor at the hospital the next day.  He baptized all of us.  It spoke volumes to me that my sister and I were never a part of this ritual, but suddenly, when my unconscious, terminally-ill sister is involved, we all received the rites.  I do not remember which day this was.  But I remember them telling me to tell her goodbye.  Again, they didn’t fucking leave the room.  The stood on the other side, as if that created some sort of barrier.  Some people teared up when I choked on my emotions and told her I loved her.  I’m not putting on a performance for you. I want to be alone with her.  I don’t know if she can hear me, but I want to be alone.  The pastors at home had told us we needed to pray for her.  This pastor also reminded us of the healing power of prayer.  I panicked, thinking that maybe I hadn’t prayed hard enough.

Dear God, please do not take my sister away.  I will be a good kid, I will go to church every Sunday!  I will never say a bad word.  I will try very hard to behave and get good grades.  I will give you anything you want, except her.  I think I need her more than you do.  I don’t mean to say that I’m more important than you, but what could you need with a sick little girl?  Her birthday is in three weeks.  She wanted to be Darkwing Duck for Halloween.  Well, she’s going to miss Halloween, and I’m sad about that, because she was really excited and she was walking this summer and she was getting better.  But please don’t make her miss her birthday. Am I doing this right?  Can you hear me?  Please give me a sign if you can hear me.

The little sister I will always love and miss.

The sound another human being makes when it is in so much pain, when its heart is breaking, when its child has passed on before it: I can’t describe it here.  The wracking sobs, the gasping for breath, and the pain in their eyes makes it so unbearable to witness.  I hurt too.  But my mother couldn’t even look at a picture of her baby without breaking down.  I found a drawing of Sara’s and there was a tiny tear in the corner.  She became enraged that someone had torn it and tried to tape it back together, to fix and preserve Sara had made with her own  hands.  (Understandably though, because it was a drawing of our family.)  We shopped for her funeral dress together at Target.  No one knows you’re buying a dress for a dead person.  At her funeral, I watched my mom’s hands shake as she tried to put lipstick on her daughter’s sunken features, complaining that they didn’t make her look good.  She wanted make her look as perfect as she could before she said goodbye forever.  It was one of the most painful things I have ever witnessed, and in that moment, I wanted to hug her and take away everything that had hurt her.  I had written a very personal letter to Sara that they read out loud at the funeral.  Why I was always denied the chance to say something to her in private, I don’t know.  Maybe because I was so angry but didn’t want to look selfish, so I never said anything.  And I guess it really wasn’t about me.  But after eighteen years, I say goodbye to her again, publicly, as I have every year since the day of her funeral.

I love you, I am your big sister.  I was, like my parents (and unlike Mario) unable to protect you.  My life has gone on.  I’ve had some good times and some bad times, but every year I examine whether or not I would make you proud.  I’ve been told that I wasn’t a good enough Christian and that’s why you died — I fixed that problem (I’m  no longer a Christian).  I’ve been told my whole life hinges on your death by ignorant people.  In some ways, it does.  But if they read what I wrote today and still don’t understand how profoundly this has affected me, then I honestly think they are incapable of experiencing the depth of feeling — of love — that I have towards you.  And that’s a damn shame.