"Is this Kiki's sister?"
"Yes. Who is this?" I didn't recognize the voice. He sounded agitated.
"This is her boyfriend, Matt. Kiki overdosed last night. Heroin. And pills, I think. She's in the hospital." He paused. I said nothing, taking it all in. "She may not make it."
"My sister does drugs?"
Kiki is two and a half years younger than I am. She reminds me of this whenever I mention how close we are in age. She wants me to think I'm ancient in comparison to her, which makes me laugh. Despite the difference, it always felt as though we were the same age because we were inseparable.
As kids in Park Ridge, Illinois, the two of us used to pedal up and down the driveway in a toy blue Jeep my dad bought. Kiki would sit beside me, begging to drive. We'd pretend to be a pair of sophisticated actresses, dangling a cigarette—actually, a #2 pencil—from our lips, drawing it in deeply. I would lead her around our version of Beverly Hills, pointing out 'Rodeo Drive' and the homes of our favorite movie stars, my dreams of Hollywood starting to form.
Kiki always possessed this calming quality. I remember crawling into her bed at night because I was too scared to sleep alone. She protected me. She was the strong one. If I was around Kiki, only then could I turn out the lights and fall asleep. Alone I was a frantic mess.
In high school I was known for staying home a lot. The truth was, I had the most fun with Kiki. Instead of attending parties, I preferred eating Dove Bars with her and grandma—a special ritual only we did—or laughing with her and mom in our kitchen. My friends learned to preface invitations with, "I know you're probably going to be with Kiki this weekend, but there's this party..." And often ending with: "PS: Kiki can come too!"
When I was moving away for college, to finally pursue my dream of becoming an actress, I suddenly realized Kiki couldn't go with me. She was still in high school. I wouldn't have my best friend by my side, my biggest supporter. I would have to sleep alone, with the lights on.
Slowly, over the next few years, Kiki and I started to grow apart. I'd see her at home during Christmas vacation, but I felt like I didn't know her anymore. After high school she chose not to go to college. She didn't seem to have the same driving ambition that I did. Instead, Kiki got a boyfriend and went out every night. Sometimes she wouldn't come home until morning.
And then something started happening with Kiki.
She stopped returning my calls. I rarely heard from her. I figured it was a phase. We all go through phases. But this phase didn't end.
Out of college I moved to Los Angeles and began to pursue an acting career. I made new friends, became busy with auditions. I landed a couple of commercials, as well as a few parts in TV and movies. I started dating someone, which became a long-term relationship. My life became Los Angeles and my career. Acting was who I was, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. And I was living that dream.
But my other dream was at home, with my family, with Kiki. Though I didn't forget about her, of course, I reluctantly accepted that Kiki and I weren't as close anymore, and threw all my energy into my new life in Los Angeles. That dream would have to wait.
Hanging up the phone, I felt like I'd been splashed awake with icy cold water. My heart ached. When I thought my sister could be dead, I felt like a part of me died. The dream became a nightmare.
Kiki was in Chicago, and I was in L.A. I could not see her—I just couldn't afford a last-minute plane ticket. Just to make ends meet, I was already working 24/7 plus auditioning. Besides, my parents were there. They would take care of Kiki.
She was in the hospital for three days. After her release, things were fine at first. Then, over the next couple of months, I started to receive phone calls about Kiki's whereabouts and problems. Pretty soon that's all my parents and I talked about.
I became overwhelmed with worry. After one particular episode, I lost about 10 pounds in two weeks. I was not hungry. I wasn't even thirsty. I remember forcing myself to eat. I barely slept. I feel like a zombie. I looked like a zombie.
I remember standing in my bedroom in front of a full-length mirror I'd bought from Ikea. I looked like a stranger. My already smaller-sized jeans are huge. My normally pale skin looked translucent. Dark circles formed under my eyes. No matter how much makeup I put on, people could see the pain in my eyes.
It affected my whole life. I could barely pull myself out of bed. I picked a drag-out fight with my boyfriend over ketchup. I felt like I was dying, and I wasn't even the one with a drug problem.
I dreaded answering the phone. It rang again. My dad tells me Kiki was found passed out behind a garbage dump behind a bar. And then a few days later she went missing. And then a few days later she showed up home and stole money and jewelry from our parents.
I went home, finally. When I saw Kiki, I almost didn't recognize her. My sister went from a beautiful girl to a malnourished drug addict with hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. Her hair once long and naturally blonde is now short, bleached and thin. She became skin and bones. The girl who once protected me from the world was the one needing protection.
My thoughts were filled with my sister: What was she doing, or not doing? What could I do to help. How can I save her? I didn't want to move home, but I couldn't stay in Los Angeles. My two dreams tore at each other.
I had to go back to Los Angeles. I had a job. But with all my mental energy focused on my sister I had absolutely no energy to memorize lines for auditions or acting class. Acting took a back seat.
Then Kiki took a turn for the better. She was off drugs, and in treatment. She went to AA. I started to relax a little. Maybe it was all a bad dream that had quickly passed.
But I was wrong. It wasn't like those TV movies; she quickly relapsed. The calls started again, then she recovered again. It became a cycle. She'd recover, we'd gain hope, then she'd fall back into it. Again and again.
At times, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. I didn't know what to do. I feared I'd lose her. I wanted to help her, but I didn't know how. You can't watch someone every minute of every day. She was fine, then she'd just disappear, without warning. That's the nature of the disease, I later discovered. My parents, who were nearby, were feeling just as helpless.
And I admit, I didn't want to give up my life, either. I'd worked hard to establish myself in Los Angeles, and I didn't want to just throw that away. I was lost. I wanted my dream, but I wanted my sister to be ok. I was losing myself in the struggle. I was torn, and felt powerless.
Slowly, over time, light returned. I found Alanon, which helps the families of alcoholics. It saved not just my spirit, but my life. It helped give me perspective.
Then, months later, I received a call from Kiki. She was out of treatment again. She'd remembered that I'd wanted to try makeup school, studying cosmetology, as a sideline. Kiki said she would too.
She promised she was sober, and showed enormous enthusiasm. So I agreed. Kiki came to Los Angeles and moved into my studio apartment. I knew it was a risk, but I wanted to try.
I felt like I was reliving my childhood. Suddenly, Kiki and I were laughing and eating dinners together. As far as I could tell things were back to normal. She had gained weight back and started to look like her normal self. Everything was coming together.
Then, my relationship with my boyfriend imploded. We'd been together for nearly five years. Days after, I remember taking a bath and bawling my eyes out. I felt like my life was going to fall apart without him.
Kiki heard me crying. She walked into the bathroom, and sat leaning up against the door. In her hands was my Alanon daily affirmation book. She knew I read it every morning. The book is filled with great sayings that gave me comfort while Kiki was struggling.
She opened the book and started reading affirmations, one after the other. It took about forty before I stopped crying, and then she read more. We hugged and cried together. Once again she was protecting me, saving me, just like when we were kids. Just when I thought I was supposed to be saving her.
I wish I could say that Kiki was perfectly ok after that. She's continued to struggle—she's had relapses. But she's better.
And I'm thrilled to have her back in my life. I've learned the hard way that I'm able to love my sister, but I just can't help her. She's got to want to get better. What I do know is I need to take care of myself despite what Kiki is doing or not doing. If I'm healthy, I'm better prepared for the times she needs me.
I want to be an actress so I could explore my dreams. I thought I had to move away to do that. But when I did, I lost something—a relationship with my sister, my best friend. The person whose love and support I needed more than anyone else's, and, it turns out, the person who needed my love and support more than I realized.
Now that Kiki's back in my life, my two dreams have become one. I feel whole again. And the best part is, now I can share a Dove Bar with my sister anytime I want.
Alexis Peters graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood in 2004. Alexis played "Ingrid" in the Sci Fi Network original film Grendel. Other TV work: Days of Our Lives, and the FOX pilot Faceless. Alexis's latest film, Thor: Hammer of the Gods, debuted on the Sci Fi Network in spring 2009. Stage roles include Summer and Smoke and the 2004 ADA award-winning Moonchildren. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.