Five for Ten: Courage

May 10, 2010

Two of my most favorite people in the Blogosphere, Jen and Sarah from Momalom, are embarking on round two of their wildly popular Five for Ten series.

If you are interested in joining in or just finding out what all the fuss is about, you can do so here. Or you can just click on the handy little button on my sidebar.

There are tons of terrific, thoughtful voices participating, so I encourage you to hop on over to Momalom this week and check the links!

So on with the first topic of the week–Courage.

Many of you have asked why I write so often about Mama and Daddy but don’t tell more tales about my sister. I’ve mentioned her a few times, like here and here and here, but for the majority of the time, I’m fairly closed-lipped about the subject of my sister (nearly 4 years my senior).

And many of you readers, clever dogs that you are, smelled something rotten. Because I can’t keep my mouth shut for anything. Why would I, the girl who always has the flapping pie-hole, be quiet on this subject?

Because talking about my sister makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Sad. Angry. Ashamed. And really mixed-up. Most of all, it makes me afraid.

I’m afraid that when you hear the story of my sister, you will judge me. I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, think I’m a coward, think I have ice running in my veins.

I’m also afraid that all of those above things, when it comes to my sister, might be true.

But maybe after a year of blogging and dancing around the subject, it’s time to quit being such a ninny. Maybe I just need to muster the courage to lay it all out there, for you to make of it what you will.

My sister, like many older siblings, was less than thrilled about my arrival. She quite liked being the lone wolf, the center of attention. She sulked when Mama brought me, swaddled and squalling, home one February day. Everyone else saw a baby. She saw an Interloper.

This is, of course, completely normal. What kid doesn’t want to be the only game in town? Difference is, most older siblings eventually get over the affront of having to share top billing. My sister never did.

My first clear childhood memory is of a hard shove to the back and a tumble down a flight of stairs. I learned to always hold the railing after that. And no, I didn’t tell on her.

I never told on her, even when she locked me in our dank, spider-infested basement for hours when she babysat. I didn’t tell when she got into cars with strange boys. I didn’t tell when I found two bottles of schnaaps hidden in a backpack in her room. I didn’t tell when she came back from a Tom Petty concert with five angry, purple hickeys. I didn’t tell when she told me I was weak and stupid and spineless.

I didn’t tell on her because I deeply, desperately wanted her to like me. She never did.

Don’t get me wrong; she wasn’t always cruel. There were times (usually when there was nobody else around to entertain her) when she tolerated my presence. I reveled in those times, when I could listen to her stories and watch her every move, as she primped for a school dance or a date, smitten. I loved studying her as she riffled though clothes, experimented with eyeshadow, carefully painted her toenails. I’d lie on her bedroom carpet, Styx or Journey or Foreigner blaring in the background, as she’d regale me, step-by-step, what had transpired at the dance, the party, the concert.

She fascinated me. She was worldly and daring. She always had a boyfriend, if not two. She sassed back, tossed her glossy hair in defiance. She talked on the phone for hours, in hushed secrecy. And I sat in the corner or in the background, studying her. Watching. Because she was everything I was not. Two girls were never more different.

I’ve studied her all my life. It’s uncanny, if not a little disturbing, to go through old photographs and see myself doing this:

She was the butterfly, I was the scientist. She was exotic, mysterious, changeable.

There were a couple of years in college when we actually got along. My rebellion years. The years where I grew so tired of being silent and responsible and good that I decided to become a completely different person. I became the girl who drank alcohol, experimented with a few choice pharmaceuticals, partied until 4 in the morning, kissed dangerous and unsuitable boys. I told Mama to “fuck off.”

My sister was delighted with the transformation. “God, you were always so boring,” she’d say, rolling her eyes and taking a deep drag of her cigarette. “I always wondered what the Hell was wrong with you. Mom and Dad’s little perfect pet. You were so gross.”

I’d smile and nod, peeling the label off my bottle of Coors Light, feeling raw and unsettled.

After a few years, I had to abandon the charade. It was just too hard to be an imposter. Deep down, it was my nature to be a cautious brown moth.

The most compelling reason for my defection: my devil-may-care, daring sister was quickly moving into reckless territory. She started cracking beers at 7 in the morning. “Lookee here! Cereal!” she’d say, waving the can and laughing.

On weekends, she passed out at noon, slept until 4, woke up ready to continue the party. She began craving stronger, more dangerous highs. She showed up late for holiday gatherings, eyes dilated and skittish, chattering with manic verve. For the first time in her life, she wasn’t struggling with her weight. I began noticing mysterious, inexplicable dents in her car. Her boss called several times, concerned because she hadn’t shown up for work, and did I know anything?

My parents asked questions. I lied. I kept her secrets like I’d always done, partly out of fear and partly because I didn’t know how to do anything else. I felt dirty, ashamed. She expected my silence, I’d kept it, and now that things had spiraled deeply out of hand, didn’t that make me an accomplice?

Finally, the weight was just too heavy to bear. I did something I never thought I’d do. I confronted my sister. Shaking, I told her that she was off the rails, needed to stop. The results were incendiary. Denial. Lies. Spite. Years and years of buried resentment, now put into words, given life.

“I hate you,” she hissed at me, pinning me against the door. And suddenly, with a bolt of clarity, I realized that it was true.

She refused to get help. From that day forward, I was done.

I did not tell my parents much. I never will. Frankly, they’d known plenty for many, many years, just as I had. They aren’t blind, and they understand my decision.

I have not seen my sister in over ten years. She has never met my daughters, although she is desperate to do so. I have spoken to her maybe a handful of times on the phone, and she’s always sounded loaded, so the conversation is short.

There’s been rehab and relapse and rehab again. Wash, rinse, repeat. There’s been so much hope on my parents’ end, hope that’s dashed and kicked to the ground, only to rise again with the latest promise or subterfuge. They sometimes believe her.

I do not. I cannot. I won’t. Because I know her. All those years spent watching…I know her better than anyone, perhaps because I spent so many years trying to find a way in, a way to her heart.

She has periods of being clean. People ask me why I don’t reach out to her then, let her know how proud I am, try to re-build fences. When they ask me, I don’t know how to answer. There are so many things swirling in the mix: anger, guilt, hurt, grief, hope. My final answer is just that I don’t trust.

I don’t trust her. I don’t trust her promises. I don’t trust her to do the hard work of staying sober, because she’s never done anything hard. I don’t trust her not to rekindle hope and then disappear again for days, weeks, years. I don’t trust her not to charm my girls, win their open and easy hearts, then shatter them.

Am I hard-hearted? Maybe. Paranoid? Possibly. Unbending? Probably. But I’m also a mother now. And there are things more important than saving a relationship that never did anything but falter.

That I’m writing this piece for Momalom, a blog started by two sisters, is a sad little irony. I envy Jen and Sarah. I envy their bond, their knowledge that they will always have each other.

A kinship like that is something I’ve been denied, and like a petulant child, I feel small and cheated. I grieve the loss of my sister, but more than that, I grieve for the kind of sisterhood I always yearned for and never had. I grieve for myself, that little girl watching her sister’s every move, begging to be let in.

When Miss M. was born, I was bowled over with joy and wonder and most of all, hope. I hope my two little girls won’t squander the gift that has been given them. The bond of sisterhood. The beauty of having someone who knows you, marrow-deep, like nobody else. Please let them be gentle with each other. Let them realize that the strings that tether them together are not chains, but gold.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharlee Damon July 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Loved this, but made me cry.


Social Bookmarking July 15, 2012 at 2:30 am

Mb5psu Great blog.Really looking forward to read more. Much obliged.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: