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How an Ugly Elephant Transformed Me
What follows is my son’s personal statement for his college applications. He did not mention that Ugly Elephant was gender. Queer theory is designed to tear apart families. Gender leaves no prisoners.
The clinks and bangs of our forks and knives hitting the plates and table were the only sounds breaking another silent “family” dinner. I sat next to the empty chair that my sister used to fill, peering up every so often to see my parents’ exhausted and sad faces. Dinners were different a year ago. Gone were the lively conversations and that levity used to fill our kitchen. A new unwelcome guest was always present - the ugly elephant - mental illness. That beast had overtaken my sister and sucked all the air out of the family.
My younger sister was suffering from depression and anxiety. I learned firsthand that adolescent depression is often expressed by angry outbursts followed by puddles of tears. No one in the family was left unscathed. My dad, always an upbeat guy, who was extremely social and goofy, walked around the house with a strained look on his face. His wit and sly smile had all but disappeared.
My mom fared worst, getting the brunt of the verbal attacks, as my sister took her pain out on her. I listened as my sister said horrible, vicious things to her. I watched as my mom retreated to her room to cry.
I heard my sister’s sobs through the walls and my parents trying to comfort her. I watched as my sister grabbed a bag and ran out the front door saying that she would not ever return. When my parents came home from their unsuccessful search for her and sat with their faces in their hands at the kitchen table, where we used to play Rummykub, I worried along with them.
I wasn’t sure what to do to help. At first, I lashed out at my sister for mistreating my parents. I knew that this reaction was not helping the situation, so I decided that my job was to become invisible for a while, to not be a burden, and to try to provide some snippets of joy for my parents.
I became more independent and responsible. I no longer asked my parents for help with schoolwork. I learned to be more patient with my sister and helped get her to school on time. I started cooking my own dinner and stopped complaining when the refrigerator was empty, instead offering to go to the store. I began asking my mom to go on my nightly walks with the dog and me. I would load up on stupid stories to distract her from her stress. I asked my dad to go to lunch or if he wanted to sit in the hot tub with me.
I tried to be perfect, or at least limit the time that they needed to spend on me. I made a new routine of asking them “how was your day.” I finally started keeping my own activity schedule and not relying on my parents. I pretty much said “yes” to any of their requests, and I actually followed through on responding to those requests, which had not been my style before the elephant arrived.
After a long period of time spent battling the beast, it is finally gone, and my sister has returned to her seat at the table. Dinners are back to normal; however, the battle left an effect on me that is permanent. I stopped leaning on my parents for everything, became a responsible young adult, and added one-on-one time with my parents to my daily routine. In fact, I have to run because it’s dog walking time now, and I’ve got some stories about my job that I know my mom will love to hear.