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One Hour

The argument was over as quickly as it started. Five minutes, that was it. I brushed it off like it was nothing. I was more concerned about going to Target with my mom and trying to convince her to let me get me Starbucks. But now it seems so mundane and stupid to be that excited to go to Target. I mean, what else can you expect from a thirteen-year-old? How was I supposed to know that my life was about to change? 

Like I said, only five minutes. Five minutes of yelling back and forth. That’s all it took. One simple argument on the front porch between my mom and sister. That was the breaking point for her.

Five minutes, three hundred and fifty seconds. It doesn’t seem like much, but that day, it made all the difference in the world. It was a hot, mid-June day. The kind where you don’t want to go outside because it feels sticky, and you feel like you are suffocating from the heat. I was in the kitchen when the argument happened. I didn’t think much of it; it was normal.  

We were a dysfunctional household. My sister and I have depression and anxiety. I think of it as a genetic curse that follows our family around, creating chaos wherever we go. We fought all the time and this wasn’t any different. I just stood in the kitchen, listening and watching as the fight went up in flames. I had to swallow down the tinge of dread I felt crawling up my throat, especially when I made eye contact with my sister through the dining room window covered with fingerprints. She was devastated, tears pouring down her face as she desperately looked to me for help. I turned quickly, wanting to escape the awkwardness I felt creeping up my spine. I just reminded myself that it was normal. Nothing is going to happen, right? 

Ten minutes to Target. Not too long, only 600 seconds. Add about 20 more minutes for us to wander aimlessly and another five to check out, get in the car, and get on the road. On our way home, I begged my mom to let me get Starbucks. All I wanted in my life at that moment was a Caramel Frappuccino. It sounded like heaven on earth. Going to Starbucks, especially during late afternoon on a hot summer's day, would take twenty minutes to get back on our route to the house due to how busy it was. This would have made our ride home thirty minutes. Round trip would have been an hour and five minutes, yet we didn’t go to Starbucks, making the trip only forty-five minutes. Not too bad for a Target run, right? However, every second since the argument began was vital. There was no time to waste, but how was I supposed to know that? There was no way I could have known…  

By the time we got into the house, it had been about fifty-two minutes since the argument started, forty-seven minutes since it had ended with the slamming of a door and the sobbing of my sister. After unloading the car, I immediately went straight to the couch, plugged in my headphones, and watched YouTube on my iPod Touch. The minutes continue to pass, fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five. And then I hear it. A commotion from somewhere else downstairs that ended in a loud bang. I yelled at my mom, who had been switching out the laundry, and asked if it was her creating all the annoying racket. It wasn’t. So, thinking nothing of it, I settled down, plugged my headphones back in, and continued to let the precious time pass me by. Fifty-six, fifty -seven, fifty-eight, and then bang…I hear it again. Annoyed, I forcefully yank my headphones out of my ears and throw myself off the couch.  

I drag my feet, carelessly wandering around the house to find the source of the noise. I make my way to the last room, the most unsuspecting of them all, our sunroom. It’s full of ceiling to floor windows and dozens of beautiful plants and my sister…who is helplessly grasping on the tall lamp I keep by the couch for reading. She looks drunk. I open my mouth, ready to yell at her for touching my precious lamp. And then she falls. It feels like the seconds have slowed as I watched her tumble over along with the lamp. It seems like it takes her minutes to fall, when in reality, it happened in less than three seconds. I can sense that feeling again, except this time it’s quickly spreading all over my body. Dread. It crawls over my skin, etching its presence onto me so I can’t escape it. Something is horribly wrong. I’m frozen, but time continues on. Fifty-nine minutes have passed. I feel like throwing up as I connect the dots. She attempted suicide and time is precious, especially now.  

In an instant, I’m moving my body towards her and desperately yelling and questioning why she would do this to herself. My body is in autopilot as I start screaming for my mom as I run to my sister. How could she do this to our family? To me? The blank look on her face causes that dread to carve harder into my skin, seeping deeper and deeper into the core of my body. It’s like she isn’t even there, just a lifeless body. Slowly her head slumps to the side, her eyes drifting closed. I feel a sharp yank on the neck of my shirt, and immediately I’m tumbling to the cold tile floor, watching in terror as my mother is shaking and slapping my sister’s face, desperately screaming at her to wake up. 

It’s been an hour. One hour: sixty minutes, three-thousand six-hundred seconds. In that short amount of time, everything has changed. I’m frozen in fear. Watching your mother cradle your dying sister’s head in her hands does that to you. But now, Mom is yelling at me. I snap out of my trance and follow her instructions. “Keep her awake and don’t let her close her eyes.” It’s simple right? I get up and take her spot next to my sister, cradling her head. As I start talking to her, I feel wet drops hitting my hands, tears. They are pouring down my cheeks as I desperately attempt to keep my sister awake, every blink she takes makes my heart stop. I don’t remember what I said, but the words just kept pouring out, like the warm, salty tears. I look up to find my mom and see what she’s doing, and my eyes widen in fear as I hear the door slam. She left me. That damned woman left me to sit with my dying sister. 

It’s been what seems like eternity since my mother left us. As the minutes and seconds continue to pass, my sister’s body becomes more limp and her eyes droop even more. I desperately try to prop her up on the wall and place a pillow behind her head, but it just causes her head to smash continuously into the window. Desperation takes over and I begin smacking her in the face, anything to keep those deep blue eyes open. But then, they don’t open. One slap, nothing. Two slaps, nothing. Three slaps… not even a twitch. Shit is the only word running through my brain. I attempt to slowly lay her on her side, not realizing the weight of an unconscious body, and she hits the floor like a brick. I cringe at the sound of her head hitting the floor, but it is quickly  replaced by the pulling feeling in my gut. I grab her ankles and pull with all my strength, adrenaline coursing through my body. I need to get her out of this house. I can’t let her die. 

My sister is now doing well and has a very happy family of four. I found comfort in writing during these times, as well as a way to help raise awareness and advocate for mental health in hopes to erase the stigma around it. 

  • Mariah Starnes is currently finishing her senior year at SIUE and will receive her Bachelor’s of English with a minor in History. She plans to pursue graduate school to gain a Master's in Library and Information Science with hopes of becoming an archival researcher to support her dog, River, and her cat, Willoughby, whom she loves to spoil. Mariah would like to thank all the professors at SIUE who have supported and inspired her academic career. 

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