Kid Sister

It started with shoplifting when she was 11 and sneaking out when she was 12. Then cigarettes, pot, pills and booze. My sister Sara is eight years younger than me. I was already off to college when she was still in elementary school. I guess my influence didn’t stretch the 3000 miles that separated us. Sara grew into an enigma after I left. Despite good grades and a generally pleasant demeanor, the drinking tickets and deadbeat boyfriends piled up, she was fired from about every job she ever had, her purse or phone was stolen once a weekend, innumerable car accidents, more shoplifting, possession of marijuana, a broken jaw from a drunken brawl. The list goes on and those are only the things she’s been caught for. At least once a month, my mom would call me on the verge of tears to relay the latest disaster. It all culminated two days after being fired from her last job at Ruby Tuesdays and a week after outrunning a cop in her car. Sara, still just 18, and her friend ended up leaving a bar after last call, totally obliterated. Sara offered to let her friend drive her car. Minutes later then ended up crashing into a house, totaling the car. Everyone was physically fine, but that was the moment it all changed.

Before noon the following day, my mother and sister Nicole moved Sara out of her apartment in small-town North Carolina and put her on a Greyhound to New York City with two hastily packed suitcases. That was it. Sara had become too much of a liability, unable to support herself and unable to be supported by my mom. In all reality, she’s not the worst kid there ever was. Still the financial and emotional devastation were too much to bear. But before my mom could put her on the street, I suggested she go to Egypt to live with my father. The following photographs are from the week in New York before moving to Egypt, before life flipped upside down.

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I picked up Sara at Penn Station and she could hardly talk. Didn’t know what to say. Didn’t know what to think. So much had run through her mind during the 24 hour bus ride but still nothing made sense.

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We finally talked about it that first night in Brooklyn. She was frustrated because she felt like she had no say in the situation despite being an adult. But she also couldn’t think of any alternatives. She confessed her problems and a desire to get better. But at what sacrifice?

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After a day or so, Sara came to terms with her future. She’d go and live with our father in a small town in Egypt, where alcohol is virtually nonexistent by muslim law. She doesn’t know any Arabic and wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone but my father. But it would give her a chance to get to know our Dad who left when she was still young.

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This was the first time Sara had ever come to visit me in New York. I tried to show her a good time knowing it might be her last for a while. I also suggested she watch “25th Hour” where Ed Norton ties up his loose ends in the days before a prison sentence–a dramatization of her situation of course

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As a symbol of this next phase in her life, Sara decided to chop her hair off in my backyard. She used dull scissors to cut off six inches of old hair.

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Exhale. Inhale a new existence.

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My father doesn’t have a phone in Egypt and only checks his email sometimes. I concocted the entire plan to send her to Egypt before I even heard back from him. Fortunately, he approved everything. He said he was excited to have her and asked could she bring four bottles of whiskey and a package of bacon with her.

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We ordered Sara a rush passport and bought her a one-way ticket to Cairo. It took three days to make all the arrangements.

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On the way to the airport, not knowing how long she’d be gone, out of tears and ready for something real, whatever that may be.

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At the airport, Sara said she wasn’t scared. Some part of her was actually looking forward to it. What was she leaving behind really? Hardly any of her friends called to wish her goodbye. Maybe it really is for the best.

All of that was almost four months ago. I’m happy to report that Sara is doing really well in Egypt. She emails me almost everyday with well-written insights on life, Egypt, family and falafel. She’s finishing her associate’s degree online and teaching English at an elementary school across the street. Her best friend is a 7 year old girl that lives downstairs. Neither can speak the other’s language but they get along just fine and watch cartoons in Arabic. Her one American friend is an older man named Mr. Patrick that works at the school with her. He listens to all revelations that come with being 19 and in a strange place. My Dad treats her well and enjoys having her, but still likes to complain about having another mouth to feed. They got a puppy. She’s been proposed marriage twice, though she claims to be holding out for love. She wants to stay through the next school year to continue teaching. The following year, she’d like to return to the States and transfer to a university and meet some quality friends.

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This is one of Sara’s photos from Egypt with a camera I gave her. I don’t mean to communicate that we hung her out to dry. It’s just my favorite one of the few that she’s sent. It shows me that she’s looking at things differently. She fucked up and for maybe the first time she’s really realized it. But now she’s making a big sacrifice to change. I have faith and love my little sister.

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37 Responses to “Kid Sister”


  1. 1 Pat Parra

    Your sister is a sweetheart. I hope she’s doing well out there, she’s a really great person and deserves the best.

  2. 2 sara

    love it

  3. 3 JASON EARLEY

    Bryan. It has been many years since the last time I seen you, skated with you or laugh at things. I have heard from your sister that you have traveled alot and seem to be be doing exceptional for yourself. Its remarkable how you stepped into to help your family, help your sister. I told her many times, that she needed to surround herslef with better people. The focus getting wrecked multiples times and your mother having it fixed each time, only to find it wrecked again. I talk to sara weekly and even though she might miss what she called home, she was headed down a dark path. She can vouch for the hell I have also given her, about her choices.

    This is a nice lil peice and hopefully it will inspire others, to pick themselves up out of the poor choices and the things they “settle” for day to day, thinking its the only options they have.

    props,

    an old friend,

    Jason Earley

  4. 4 Sarah

    wow, that is quite a story. I am glad she’s better, and I wish her all the best for the future.

  5. 5 Sara Lafleur

    Content content content trumps pretty pictures anyday. what a winner. I should really write her if I go back next year. Your narration was really beautiful and thought out. i’m getting a better sense of when black and white photography can really speak more. thanks for getting back to the important stories – the ones closest to us. And nice call recommending the 25th hour. Did she cut her hair after watching the film? That movie moves mountains.

  6. 6 ATREAU

    yeah, i think that was the best thing for her…or for anyone in our hometown of asheville…just get out of aasheville far far away for just a little while…then your perspective changes. She’s going to be fine in about a year….thaks for posting bryan! this is truly life on lifes terms. people seem to forget that sometimes. its all about going through whatever you got to to get to the next and the next and the next…it never stops. Much love.
    Bless.

  7. 7 Noel Morgan

    I love sara to death, and I was there in home room chats to hear about her through all the stages of American “adventures”… It broke my heart reading this.. Touching..

  8. 8 Owen

    Wow, really powerful and really well articulated. If she wants to see a bit more of the country next year, she’s always welcome in Luxor.

  9. 9 pp

    This post doesn’t sit well with me but you definitely got a strong emotional reaction out of me.

  10. 10 Layne

    A truly beautiful story and photographs to follow. As always, nice work. Good luck to your sister!

  11. 11 ana

    I make my own the words of Layne.

    ana

  12. 12 sandy

    wow wow wow

  13. 13 danilo

    The Parra Bros talked about this post for a while, some arguing went down, a few tears shed, but in the end, I really like this story and I’m glad you and your sister were able to tell it. I wanna share a story about my brother now, one time after a game of street fighter, where I was Blanca and my brother was Ryu, me and my brother got into a real street fight in our house. I was mad since my brother kept haducanning me with fire balls, and so we fought in real life, and since I played as Blanca I bit my brother really hard, in real life. Street fighter had a powerful effect on us in a violent way. We were so excited to have street fighter, but it just made us mad and violent in the end. Since then, we no longer play street fighter and now play dance dance revolution, which is a game that I think improved the family. My mom got skinnier. Pats legs got sexier. And my dance moves are more on point.

  14. 14 pp

    nooooooooooooooo, I still play streeet fighter all daaayy. Ryus my shit lets dance battle.

  15. 15 Barbara

    Hi Bryan,

    Pat allowed me to read and see your story about your sister. It is so moving. Some of your pictures are amazing in how they tell of her beauty, her pain and suffering. Throughout, I wondered what happened to her that she was trying to anethasize herself. Your last words brought tears to my eyes. She, at the crossroads of this part of her story, is a most courageous woman. I wish her well. She is so lucky to have you as a big brother.

    Much love, Barbara (Pat’s and Danilo’s grandmother)

  16. 16 pp

    Grandma likes everything but the title, and for some reason she likes you a lot. :/

  17. 17 Josh Anderson

    Really well done, man. Hope she’s doing alright.

  18. 18 Bryan Derballa

    Grandma’s always right. I changed the title.

  19. 19 Robin Shwedo

    Wow. Beautifully done, Bryan. I really hope things start going well for your sister. Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions and hard moves to get out of a hard situation. Here’s hoping all the best for her…and thank you for being a great older brother.

  20. 20 Brad Armstrong

    Bryan, A difficult and personal story. Good move on your part getting her away from the toxic environment that has enabled her to consistently make poor decisions. You may have saved your sisters life. I wish her good health and happiness and thank you for sharing your families story. Regards Brad

  21. 21 sarah hart

    amazing stuff Bryan. I’m always deeply inspired by what you & and your amazingly talented friends are doing and this is a really huge sacrifice; to show people (and probably a few total strangers) about a heavy personal experience. Thanks for sharing & I hope that your sister is doing well.

    All my love to you & yours.

    -S

  22. 22 Mike Belleme

    This is kind of reminiscent of Kristen’s brother’s story. In his case it was more of an emotional transformation, but still there are similarities. He is kicking ass as a wildland fire fighter in California making shit tons of money and loving it!

  23. 23 Drew Angerer

    This is a beautiful story, Bryan.

  24. 24 Jimi Mead

    I met Sarah through Brian in highschool and really go to know her when my little brother became probably her most notorious dead-beat boyfriend. I saw alot of love between those two, unfortunately they both had too many personal issues that kept them from being happy. After a few years they eventually broke up and went their sperate ways. My brother fell deeper into the life of drugs and the problems that come with it. I saw less of Sarah, but heard stories from friends of her similar misfortunes. When i saw these pictures today they filled me with a sense of hope for my brother. Im very proud of Sarah and and of bryan for stepping up and saving somebody he loves. I plan to use this inspiration to better the lives of the people i love that need my help. Thanks Bryan.

  25. 25 Shaena Mallett

    Really powerful, Bryan. Thank you. You win the best big brother award.

  26. 26 chloe

    bravery in many senses

  27. 27 babygirliegirl

    Relationships are never easy, but it´s really good, that she´s doing better! I think I know this situation and you deserve so much respect for talking freely about it – a step I haven´t reached in my life yet.

  28. 28 Mom

    Bryan,

    I’m at a loss for words. Tears are flowing….is it the perspective? The presentation? Because I’m overwhelmingly happy and proud and sad and hopeful? I love you and Sara deeply and am so, so grateful you have such a bond. You are both amazing and I am so blessed!

  29. 29 Lloyd

    Bryan, Your Mom and Nicole visited today to discuss the music for the wedding. They left this for me to see. I feel honored to read and especially to see your work. I taught Sara here at A-B Tech and knew most of the story. You comments and especially the photos made it so meaningful. Let’s hope Sara will benefit from her experiences and become the successful woman we know she can be.
    See you in October.
    Best, Lloyd

  30. 30 Ron

    I have also had the pleasure of teaching Sara. She is more talented than most realize and from a completely selfish place, talent should never be allowed to self-destruct. I knew the person without the insights into her life. I have made my share of similar mistakes and will make many more in the future. She is an amazing individual with an incredible family to share her journey. She is loved and has a deep capacity for love.

    Bryan, your work speaks to all of us who have shared, grieved, and have hope for those we love.

    Thank you,

    Ron

  31. 31 Scott

    I know we havent spoken in a while, I sincerely apologize and want you to know there is no one else who understands more than me and my family. I completely understand what you and your family are going through. I am glad to hear things are picking up for her, same with my sister, we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll see you at the wedding. I really look foward to talking to you.

    CUZ

  32. 32 Carol Bush

    Bryan,
    Wow, what a way for Sara’s plight to come alive. The pics all in dark tones speaks to her life. You did such an act of love to help facilitate her trip to Egypt. I was so worried about her, she’d tell me her dreams and truly she was headed for destruction!
    As part of the family we just wrung our hands and prayed.
    For the first time in a very long time she seems to be making it and getting real insight.
    Thank you dear Bryan for using your art and love of your sister to probably save her life. Her Mom is so grateful and so are we.
    Much Love,
    Aunt Carol

  33. 33 Niki B.

    Bry-Even though I usually here the family stories through the grape vine from gram, I really didn’t know everything Sara was going through. It makes me feel so much better to know that, once again, you step in as the responsible big brother and help her out in crisis. Sara is amazing, and I am so happy to see she is in a better place. I hope to see you someday in New York, and maybe I will feel adventurous and head to Egypt to find her- thank you for this story. Much Love-Your long lost cousin Big Nicole

  34. 34 Alecia

    My heart goes out to my beautiful cousin Sara.
    Life , and finding one’s way in it, can be so hard.
    I hope that sara finds a special part of her self there in Egypt.
    And Bryan how lucky Sara is to have you as a brother.
    My Love to you both

  35. 35 m.a.

    really sensitive, comes through in a lot of the frames. the passport one might be my favorite.

  36. 36 orion

    thats some deep stuff hope glad to see her doin better, the light will always shine through

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