Dollhouse Family

“Layla got admitted to a mental facility. She's been self-harming and she tried to kill herself.” Did I fail as a sister? Did society fail her? I thought I should feel upset or sad or worried for her, right? I'm supposed to be more concerned that she tried to take away her life and ask her how she's doing. But this wasn't how I felt. I was pissed. Your life isn't your own, you hurt people by making the choice to take your own life. I was so angry that she tried to go without some sort of goodbye or note. I was infuriated that she didn't try to fix the problem or get help. But I knew that if she was successful in her attempt, I would be having a different conversation. The successful cases always start out with people who were unhappy and struggled to reach out for help, and the only difference between them and Layla was that she failed. I thought I was heartless for my lack of empathy until I heard what my mom had to say about the next day: “Go to school tomorrow. Get the homework for your sister. If people ask where your sister is, just tell them that she got sick. You aren't lying to them. Don't tell your cousins, just keep this to yourself.” Our dirty little secret was swiftly swept under the rug and we were still the picture-perfect family that she imagined in her head. Do the work, get through the day, go home. It went like this for some weeks as Layla was in and out of that haunted building. That nightmare that put bars on an already trapped mind. She laughs about stories of "butt juice" and funny nurses, but I knew when she told me those stories that every night she cried herself to sleep on that firm mat, in a room of people she never knew before. Girls shared anecdotes that made Layla's story seem like a lullaby. I knew the cage that she had to suffer in for what must have felt like ages with only minutes of communication with friends and family on a daily basis. I walked around school pretending that everything was okay; all I had to do was say “my sister isn't feeling well” and smile. I know the frustration that my mother had to endure with Layla's situation, so I took care of myself. I was one less child to worry about. I didn't have time to be sad. Every day, after eight hours of pretending that everything was fine, I walked myself to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, and when I got home, I would begin the process of feeding five mouths- one less than “normal”. I would clean up everything and get to work or bed. I didn't have time to be sad. That one weekend was supposed to be like rain in the desert. I was finally going out for the first time since the storm struck. I was out with a friend when I got the call. Words that would echo in my mind forever as I answered the phone to a furious mother: “I'm done. If Layla wants to kill herself, then fine, let her do it. I don't care anymore. I just want her gone and out of the house. I don't ever want to see her after she graduates high school” In the span of one month, I became a mom, a therapist, and alone. Part of me was furious that she couldn't maintain her composure and have the patience to attend to her mentally ill child after all the hours I spent to make sure she had little housework to do. But I knew when I heard those words that my mother wasn't trying to be difficult, it was her cry for help. “Hey, mom, you don't mean that. I know that she's frustrating at times, but she is your daughter and you love her. She is trying her best to get better, but it's a long process.” Who did I have to bring peace to my chaos? I grew even madder at no one. I took on extra responsibilities, I did what I was told to protect the perfect dollhouse image of our family, but in the process, I lost myself. I did nothing for myself and I stopped talking to the people that were knights in protecting my mental health when hell went loose. I found a safe haven in the one place I have never enjoyed since the third grade: math class. Anyone that tells you that math teachers are terrible people either (1) failed math or (2) never took a single good math course in their entire life. My math teacher let me rant to him about completely irrelevant details like the perks of being a Disney princess or the lack of warm bagels in the cafeteria on a daily basis. He was the only person to point out tendencies in Layla that kids my age have never recognized. He knew about the responsibilities that I had going on at home and it felt nice to be seen. I felt like I was sacrificing my time for people that didn't even notice me, but someone was looking in from the outside and he knew the pain I was putting myself through. He knew the fake smile that I put on and the fire that I couldn't seem to put out no matter how hard I tried. I didn't blame people around me for not seeing me clearly, I was simply grateful for finding a space where I could relax my shoulders and stop holding my breath.

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