Today marks the one year anniversary of my baby sister’s death due to a drug overdose. She died the same way Whitney Houston died. She was on the same drug that Whitney Houston was on. She started doing drugs in junior high school. First came cigarette smoking, then weed and next up was crack and that was the beginning of the end.
But here’s some background information on my sister. She didn’t grow up in the ‘ghetto’. She didn’t eat lead paint and thus start out at a disadvantage like most inner city children do. She lived in a two-parent household and no, it wasn’t perfect, but what family is? We did all the things that children do. We swam; roller skated, rode our bikes, bowled and hung out with our friends. We had birthday parties and we attended birthday parties of the children we played with. In the summer, there was always something to do; if we weren’t picking vegetables by the bushel full, we were shucking corn, shelling peas and snapping green beans and wondering where to put yet another container of strawberries. On our uncle’s farm, there were horses that we could ride and my middle sister was the only one with enough courage to mount one, only to get thrown and get right back on it while my baby sister and I just looked on and laughed. Like I said, we did all the things that children do and all the things that ALL children should have the ability to do. We attended the best schools, wore designer clothes and we were driving as teenagers paying no insurance and gassing up the vehicles without a care as to where the money to do so was coming from. We were carefree, most of the time or so I thought.
At this point, I must say that being the oldest, I was never able to attend school with my baby sister. We are four years apart and I never thought that she had the same problems in school that my middle sister did. My middle sister was bullied and because she was so scrawny, she was scared and would come to me. And since I was a strapping girl who took no shit, I quickly put paid to that shit even if I was suffering with the flu, I kicked ass on her behalf. However, I was not a bully; I just fucked up the bullies. It never dawned on me that my baby sister would get the same treatment. Yes, she was scrawny, but people liked her because she was so damn funny and I didn’t think she needed me because she never came to me and said that anyone was picking on her or telling her that they were going to beat her up if she went to school the next day. Little did I know that her situation was so much worse than getting bullied. She had gotten in with the ‘wrong’ crowd and they stole shit that they didn’t need to steal and since my sister had never done anything like that, she only got away with it for so long and then, the call came that she was in jail for shoplifting. But I digress.
My baby sister and my middle sister were close and since they were also two years apart, they would meet up in school, eventually and get to ‘pal’ around with each other. So, my baby sister would tell my middle sister things that neither one would tell me. Now, my middle sister, if she got mad at my baby sister, only then would she tell me her business and her secrets. Well, the very day that she told me that my baby sister was stealing and had been doing it for a while, was the very day that I told our mother. One of the reasons why I was hardly ever privy to their little secrets is because they knew that once I got a hold of them, I was telling mother. Unfortunately, in this instance, I was too late. We got the phone call about my baby sister’s arrest for shoplifting. I remember my mother crying her eyes out and my father left to go and get her out of jail and that was the beginning of a long and hard road for us all, but especially for my baby sister. After that, there were the suspensions from school, detention, smoking cigarettes, then weed, more stealing, back in jail and now comes the crack epidemic and that was it.
My parents tried everything. When she stole from them, they had her arrested because they had begged her to go into treatment and she refused and they figured that one way to get her into treatment was to make it a condition upon her release. Well, that happened and she went in for treatment for thirty days. She came out and went right to a known ‘crack house’. She knew where they all were. I didn’t even know ‘crack houses’ existed because I was doing my own thing and wasn’t even aware that this was going on until my middle sister was able to get into contact with me to tell me what was going on. My mother and father were having a time with my baby sister. They finally got her to go out of state to a rehab facility that was supposed to have a great success rate. She spent three years in and out of rehab and each time, she’d get out and head to a ‘crack house’.
Some sort of third cousin of ours sold drugs and told my middle sister that he had given our sister drugs to keep her from doing things for other drug dealers in order to get more drugs(he’s also dead, shot fourteen times), she was that hooked. We had heard stories, but just couldn’t believe them, not about our sister. Finally, things got so bad, that my baby sister was ostracized from the entire family. No one wanted her around because she lied and she stole and she’d sell anything you gave her for crack. When she would phone family members, they’d sometimes answer the phone and sometimes would not because they knew she would get to begging and they just didn’t want to deal with it. I was long gone by this time and hadn’t seen my sister in years. When I made it back to my hometown in 2006, she was at my parent’s house with her boyfriend and that was the last time I saw her, alive. Her boyfriend told my mother that he had had enough because my sister was constantly threatening to have him arrested since he kept attempting to leave her. She would throw herself against walls, get bruises and pick up the phone and threaten to call the police and say that he had beat her. She had gotten that bad. That was not the sister I knew. The crack had taken over and consumed her.
In the end, my sister died, alone and had to be found by one of her friends and an autopsy had to be performed because she died, suddenly. No one knew of any illness but of course no one knew what was going on with her as her calls were rarely accepted. A year ago today, she died and here I sit crying my eyes out and blaming myself because since I am the oldest, I should have somehow protected her. There must have been something that I could have done. Why did I not remain in my hometown and take care of her? I keep asking myself that. Why has it been so easy for me to turn my back on them for so long and to forget that they may have needed me? What penance can I do that would even come close to relieving even a tiny fragment of the guilt that I am consumed with? I have the unmitigated gall to write poetry about how I loved my sister. I can even form words to that effect that bring me to tears and yet, when she was alive, I was not there for her. I haven’t the right to even say her name because she was the baby and how the hell is she dead and I didn’t do a goddamn thing to stop it? How the hell can I say that I love her? How? And yet I can write words of a love that will never die when I was never there to fan the flames of love for her. And so, I cry!
So, people, understand something. You can tout the legalization of drugs until the cows come home, but drugs are not the answer. Drugs are destroying lives. Drug use is no respecter of persons. Drug addiction doesn’t care about your GPA. My sister was brilliant. She didn’t need a computer because her brain was a computer. There was nothing that she couldn’t do except get off drugs. She started off playing the clarinet and decided that she wanted to play the tenor saxophone. She excelled at that. She joined the band and marched in tune to the beat while playing her tenor saxophone. She went to college and never picked up a book, so her roommate says and yet, aced every exam. She just decided not to complete college with just two more credits to go. She could cook a meal for a 5-star restaurant and had never gone to culinary school. She could have been the highest paid comedienne there ever was. I have never seen anybody with as many natural talents as my baby sister had and yet her downfall was crack. I wish that I had one tenth of the smarts that she had because beside her, my middle sister and I would qualify as kindergarten rejects and I am SO not kidding. I don’t know if neglect or a predilection to addiction took my sister, probably both. I just know that I am mad as hell at the shits that introduced crack into communities all across this country. I am mad as hell at the shits that introduced heroin into communities all across this country. I am mad as hell that my sister needed me and I was nowhere to be found until they ‘found’ me to tell me that she was dead.
A poem, written for my sister by a cold, heartless hypocrite and that would be me!
Death does not become you.
Within my heart is where you will always live.
When I hear a tenor saxophone played,
It is to us, this gift you’ll always give.
When I’m attempting to cook a decent meal,
I hear your laughter when I know I get it wrong.
You whisper and you tell me how it’s done
And your words are the sweetest sounding song.
No, death will never become you.
Cold and lifeless, you can never be.
Within my heart and my soul, you still live.
And so long as I shall live, you will live in me.
The sound of your voice rings clear,
Even though you have been gone for a year.
Shelby I. Courtland
©2014 Shelby I. Courtland