Somehow I feel this eulogy that I delivered at my sister’s funeral service belongs in my memoir. I am not sure how or where. I do know I may never do a better job in putting into words what she was like. Last year, somewhere between June 30th and July 1st, Debbie put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. I received the call from a detective at the Palm Beach sheriff’s office on July 2nd, when her body had been found. I flew down the next day.
She had been alone at the time, standing just in front of the sliding glass door, in view of her dogs on the patio and the empty cages that had served her beloved menagerie of animals beyond. Deb had already managed to place the exotic animals, but her dogs bore witness to those last moments, the glass preventing them from rushing to their injured friends’ aid. It was clear that they had tried.
How do I describe her? She was an adorable child, all dimples and delicate blond ringlets and skinny little legs that had knees patched with bandaids — badges of honor for tom-boy activities.
Back then, our parents took delight in watching us say our prayers together at bedtime. They particularly enjoyed it because our iconoclastic Debbie — after thanking God for Mommy and Daddy, her Grandmas, her sister Helen, and our dog, Pitapat — would conclude her prayer with, “And POP goes the weasel!” — in place of “Amen”. She liked to do things her way- even then.
Debbie had a mischievous sense of humor and a devilish grin. In the room we shared as children, she drew an imaginary line down the center. All the toys were on her side. The bathroom was on mine. When she needed to use the bathroom, I could choose a toy to play with. I was her big sister, but she was the boss. It was always that way.
And she was funny. I never knew anyone who could wear a lampshade and a makeshift monocle with as much jauntiness. And nobody — and I mean nobody — could think up better words in a rousing game of MadLibs. She was a fierce competitor, whether it was at a game of Monopoly or Old Maid, she gave it her all. Once, in seventh grade, she went out for the broad jump competition at school. She put so much effort into that jump that she had to spend three days in bed recuperating. And that jump, when measured, surpassed the distance of everyone, including boys some grades above her.
It was how she approached everything. She tried… hard.
And she died hard.
She couldn’t see any other way out of the misery that plagued her one way or another, for much of her life. Many had hoped for more for her.
The truth is, Debbie never had a chance. The confluence of hard parents, bad luck and genetic accident combined with a series of bad choices that ultimately led to this unspeakable and tragic result.
People enjoyed her wicked sense of humor and that loving side she guarded so well. Those who really knew her were familiar with that side of her and the strange sense of accomplishment they felt when they could tease it forward. Sometimes she was hard on them, but I know with an absolute certainty that she was much harder on herself.
She was an original. There were people who stood by her when she let them — and others who tried but were sent away. Her expectations of others was immense. Her needs were complicated and even larger. She could be generous to a fault and then she could wage battle, taking no prisoners. She lived fiercely, but at some point that fierceness turned inward — and it left her with no safe haven — no place of solace- no chance for hope. Her illness took over and it took her.
I didn’t want to say goodbye to you Deb. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my adorable, bossy, big hearted, pain in the ass, tender, fragile, fierce and honor bound sister; the one with the big laugh and the strictest rules; the girl who wouldn’t allow me into her pre-teen bedroom without the pass she’d written out for me; the girl who would begin a sisterly tussle with me, only to stop mid-air to comically ballroom dance with me before resuming battle….
She was the six year old who protected me — who, 20 pounds smaller, stood up to Frankie Green and his threats to hurt her big sister — landing a solid punch to his solar plexus, and making sure he’d never threaten her again. And he didn’t.
She was the teen who took delight in setting up her stereo at my bedroom door, blasting “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” and waiting gleefully to watch me emerge bedraggled, angry, sleepy and confused — both of us dissolving into laughter and silliness.
She was the Tarzan to my Jane, forever in my memory swinging from that old banyan tree, pounding her chest and commanding all the beasts of the jungle- and her big sister too.
Goodbye to my childhood companion; my dear, darling hard headed little sister. You are in my heart and in my soul. You will never be far from my thoughts. I miss you today and I will miss you always.