I called my sister the other day. She lives in Stockholm, our hometown. She’s only two years older than me but we fought all the time when we were kids. There was a lot of competition and jealousy.
When I was 17 she moved to Switzerland. Just as we were starting to treat each other like adults, instead of slamming doors in each other’s faces. She married Gabriel – the Swiss love of her life – and they moved to England.
Almost four years ago he got really sick. He had an acute psychosis, probably triggered by a depression none of us knew he was suffering from. Five months later he was in Switzerland with his family and I was in London trying to cheer my sister up. We’d been to dinner and were just about to get off the bus when her phone rang. I could see how something shifted in her eyes. As we were getting off she started yelling in French – il a quoi? – he’s done what? Seconds later she’s screaming on the sidewalk that Gabriel is dead. He has committed suicide in his brother’s apartment. My first thought was: it’s not true. They’re wrong. He’s gonna start coughing soon. Like in the movies. He’s not dead. My second thought was: I need to make sure my sister doesn’t run into the street. So I held her as hard as I could. She was screaming and she kept falling to the ground. My third thought was: I have to get her home.
That night, it felt like I was all she had.
Eventually my sister took a sleeping pill, but I was afraid to fall asleep. What if she woke up and did something stupid? So I stuffed my mouth with candy because I thought the sugar might help me stay awake. Every night of the next week, in Switzerland, she woke up crying. There was nothing I could say to make her feel better, so I held her and stroked her hair.
That week she made me promise that we would never be like our parents. They’re always fighting with their siblings. We are gonna stick together. We are gonna be there for each other.
I remember every second of that night in London. The fear, the panic, how unreal it felt. How scared I was of being alone with her, of being responsible for her. So after that I decided I never want to live far away from her again. I need to be close to her, so I can come running if something happens. Three years and 52 days later I’m here, in New York. All the way across the Atlantic, the opposite of close. But I also know I need to live my life. It’s what my sister wants. My sister, who managed to get up and continue to live hers, my sister, who I am insanely proud of.
That night three years ago – everything changed. If you count the miles, we’re further apart than we’ve ever been. But in every other way, we’re closer than ever before. So what does it really mean when we say we’ll always be there for each other? It means I know that she would hold me and stroke my hair if I woke up crying. It means I know that when it counts, I’m there for her and she’s there for me. It means I pick up the phone and call her – and for a few minutes, she’s not far away across the Atlantic, she’s right here. With me.
OUTSOC: Åsa Secher lives in New York, but part of her is always in Stockholm, with her sister