Saturday, April 21, 2018

"We are sisters. We will always be sisters. Our differences may never go away, but neither, for me, will our song." Elizabeth Fishel

My sister got an apartment. For the past few years, she, her husband and her young son have been living in the basement of her mother-in-law's house. She calls it the cave. They were doing it because housing is so fucking expensive around here, and she was working nights while her husband worked days, and it kind of didn't matter that they lived in a dungeon for a while. They made do.
But at the end of the month, they'll be moving into an apartment, close to where her husband works, and in a good school system for their soon-to-be-kindergarten-age son. She got laid off from her night job at the end of November, with a pretty nice severance package, and decided to start a home business selling bath salts and essentially-oiled-soaps, and she seems happy. Excited. I'm happy for her.
But I haven't asked if the apartment is on the first floor yet, because I know it's basically just another opportunity to have my heart broken.
Because this is the sister who gives me a lift whenever I need it and doesn't complain or make me feel like a huge burden for needing the lift in the first place, but she's also the sister who was getting married and told me she wasn't having a bridal party because she and "my real sister" were fighting and there wasn't any point in having the rest of us.
(By real sister, she meant the only sister who is 100% blood related to her, and with our mishmash of halves and steps and somes, our sisterhood is a wee bit complicated that way, I suppose. But I'd never considered it so until that moment, until the second she told me that she considered me to be some second tier sister, with the carelessness of someone who's just mentioning the truth as they know it, as simply as saying "fish swim in water": As if it was given, a thing that everyone already knew and acknowledged.)
Sisterhood is a complicated, messed up, confusing mix of shit, sometimes.
I have five sisters.
One of them - the one who joined us last, by marrying our only brother - is dead. I watched her die, with both startling suddenness and screeching slowness. I let her down, and let her kids down, because I allowed her to live those last months in a denial that seemed impenetrable at the time, although I recognize now that that was mostly my own cowardice: I knew the end was coming long before anybody else here could recognize it, and I so wanted to be wrong that I allowed myself to be convinced it wasn't true. I knew what was true, though, and not confronting her with it, not presenting it to her in a way she could accept robbed her of her goodbyes, I think. Robbed her kids of all the letters she should have written them to open on graduations and birthdays and weddings. When I think of the hole she has left in our family, in the threads of us, I couldn't be sadder. I feel guilty that I am raising her children, or talking with her sister, or having Easter dinner with her parents, knowing that it should be her there instead. I miss her laugh, and her "let's do it" spirit, and I'm still mad about the time she told me to suck it up, and guilty that I felt vindicated when she was sick enough herself to apologize for having said it. The feeling of missing her is a feeling of weight in my chest, of tears that want to flow for her, and her children, and her husband, and her family. I hope that she knows that I loved her, and that my love for them is not just because of my brother, but because of her, too. I know I'm just a placeholder here, but I hope she knows how much I miss her.
My older sister, the one that came with the dad my mom chose for us, is distant in a different way. She's independent of the rest of us in a way that I both envy and pity. She has her own happiness and her own path, and I wish her well on them both, but I'd rather not be lectured on them any more, if it's all the same to you.
You know that pop psychology saying where the things you don't like about other people are the things you don't like about yourself? This sister is the one who makes me most feel like a hypocrite. Because I talk about what I need and making it work with what other people need, but when she does it, it seems so selfish to me that I almost cannot process it. Our needs are different of course, but I'm not sure hers are any less mandatory (in her mind) than mine are to me. That's a hard thing to face - to feel like you are being self-less when you are in fact being selfish.
This sister has a laugh that I miss: A cackling snort that was a staple of my childhood, and that I doubt I've heard in years. She's aloof in a way that makes me feel aloof. I know she's a mama bear, but she protects her cubs in such a different way than I would, that it's hard for me to hold out my hand to help. She says she has healing ... abilities. She has never once offered them to me. (And I cannot think that I would be anything but pissed off if she did. Hello, hypocrisy. Hello, mirror.)
She shuts doors with an enviable ease, but I think they're the wrong doors, so we find ourselves on opposite sides. I have never felt like she was my big sister: I feel like in everyone's eyes, I have always been the oldest, and I'm jealous that she somehow avoided all of that responsibility. Her favorite board game when we were children was Aggravation, and I'm not sure there could be a more apt description anywhere of how our relationship has evolved.
The rest of my sisters are younger, and they are all babies to me in some way, even though the youngest will be thirty this year, and the other two are mothers.
The other two are amazing mothers: Such different mothers, but both so caring, so capable, so determined to avoid the mistakes of our parents. And yet, their mothering reminds me so much of our mother, that sometimes it's indistinguishable. They have their own relationships with our mom, fraught with the opposite complications of my own (I was her chronically ill child; they were the children who wished for the attention I had stolen. I cannot find it in me to blame any of the players in that play for resenting the roles they were cast in, even as I regret and resent our casting.), and so to say to them "You have the best parts of our mother, mixed into your mothering" is a bridge I haven't crossed with either of them, unsure of the reception I'd get on the other side, but it doesn't make it any less true.
One sister mothers with an ease and grace and adult-ness that was shocking and unexpected from one of our family's 'babies'. And yet, somehow, mothering is as natural to her as breathing, and her bond with her son is mesmerizing and sweet, complete and thoughtful. I know she is hurt, as I am, by the children who haven't come, the siblings she wishes for her son. Maybe they'll come in time for her; maybe they won't, like me. I'll be sad with and for her, if she doesn't get the family she wants, but I also know the family she has is enough. I hope she feels it too, if she needs to. Her boy is her heart, her guide, her star, and only good things will come from/for either of them.
The other mother is anxious, and eager to avoid the generational mistakes that plague us. It's hard, when she's living in our parents' house, having to balance a pregnancy and a tantruming toddler, and a chronic illness or two that are untreated/able. But here's the thing I can't make her see, although I have tried, and will continue to try, every day if she requires me to. Every day, she battles, and she believes, and she begs and barters and bends her way through the day. Every. Day. And there's nothing that could make me more proud of her. Nothing that could make me say "You are the mother your kids deserve," than that. The need, the drive, the willingness to keep going, in the face of all that she has to handle, makes her a mother, full stop. Makes her THEIR MOTHER, and that's all they will require from her, if only she could step back and see it.
She's the most closely connected to our mom, right now, and I am both envious (because I miss that for myself) and grateful (because I don't miss it ALL). She was the sister closest to me by age, who came along and stole whatever attention I must have been getting at the time (I was a pretty cute four year old, guys), and that made some of our relationship pretty rocky. She's the teenager who planned her sweet sixteen up a huge flight of stairs, then got mad at me for "making a scene" when I needed to be almost carried up them. Who my college roommate called a bitch (but only to me), the 300th time I was crying about some illness-related issue that she refused to accommodate. (She was big on perfume, as a teenager. And tantrums, including name calling her 'lazy ass, fake ass' pretending poser of a big sister.) But she's also the only sister who's apologized for all of that, who has acknowledged that teenage-her's behavior was shameful and horrifying. She's the sister I've sat, huddled under the table with, as she battled her own demons, and who would text me hysterically laughing during The Office. ("He's wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes: This shit is TOO MUCH!") She has a fierceness that made me sort her into Slytherin before the Sorting Hat could choose, but with such a Hufflepuff heart, it's hard not to build a giant shield around her so nothing bad in the world can hurt her. She's the one who calls me her person, and who tries to make me recognize that I am probably not a hideously dreadful human being, when I most feel like one.
She's jealous of the connection the next-in-line sister and I have; I'm jealous of the one they have. There's so many twists and turns between us all, we could outdo most soap operas, pretty easily.
That next-in-line sister and I have a physical proximity now that has helped us be closer, and a nephew we both love that we work hard to show our love for, together. She's become a friend I wish I could have, to her chronically ill best friend - the kind that listens and does your grocery shopping if you need milk, and calls your husband an ass if he calls you lazy, and remembers what you're allergic to - and I wonder where the girl who made me feel like the biggest imposition for daring to STILL be sick on Christmas, or her birthday, disappeared to. Her evolution as a human being has been so impressive and inspiring, and I wish I didn't have to tip toe so much around her that I don't get to enjoy all the benefits of that. But she never treats me like I should stop asking for favors, and she genuinely seems to appreciate my helping hand and occasional words of wisdom when it comes to her kid.
She's the baby I carried around on my hip the most, the one I learned how to fill bottles for and change diapers on, and I remember her tiny, chubby little hand holding mine as she hid behind my leg, from whatever people my parents had over. She has a level of warrior and witchcraft I wasn't expecting, and I feel lucky to be able to watch them bloom.
The youngest of us, the true baby chronologically, lives the furthest physical distance away. She came to us late - a voice on a phone, a high, happy giggle - and everyone who should have loved her most abandoned her (either through death or by choice, or both) her whole young life. Some of us have stood up for her, and I think she knows that she is an integral part of us, a vital finger on the hand of us, but I also think that she's the furthest away because she's afraid of the abandonments to come: Her adoptive father, my uncle, is elderly. I am unwell. My brother checked out a long time ago. There are only so many times you can say goodbye.
She's our scholar, our high achiever, and I may have spent some time in my younger days resenting her nabbing the title away from me, and still managing to be the bohemian adventurer at the same time. I may spend some of my older days doing the same thing: who knows? She's careless with money, and has the same lax communication skills we all have, but she knows what matters, and how to say it out loud. She's a word wizard, a poetess (by both trade and temperament), and whatever she decides is what she does. Another independent spirit, somehow scattered in our flock. Maybe she feels like the black sheep, but I see her as yet another fuzzy cuddler. She non-ironically owns a typewriter, although she was not around when I was using one way back in grade school. She thinks up last minute crafts for Christmas gifts, and makes sure every piece of tinsel on the tree is strategically placed. Her artists eye may arrive a tad bit late, but you can depend on it, no matter what. She does not give up on the people she loves, even when they turn their backs, even when she maybe should.
These are my sisters: Spread out amongst the world, and another world, and always in my heart. It's hard for me to not be physically near them all, and yet, when I am physically near them, that is often hard too. Sistership is a more tangled thread than friendship: It comes with it's own weight and weariness, it's own rememberances and remorse. And yet I would not trade it for anything.
I wonder often about my mother, who lost her own sister so young - How did she go on from that? Did she ever feel that missed connection feeling of sending out signal into the universe only to have it bounce back unanswered? Does she feel it still? (It has been 30+yrs since my aunt died.) I do not remember my aunt well enough, as an individual adult, to recall what their relationship was like - there was more than 12 years separating them, after all: My mom was the baby, my aunt the eldest. I wonder too, how my remaining aunts and uncles go on, having lost so many of their number - They started (in my memory, anyways) as a clan of nine; their ranks now hold only 4. Less than half of them, and hardly ever in the same space. My heart hurts for them, and I can see how they hurt when we're together. How they reach for the stories, or the storytellers, and that pang when the only other one who'd remember isn't there to tell it with you.
One of my goals lately has been to strengthen the connections I know mean the most to me. Sometimes this has been easy - making more dreaded phone calls (only the doing is dreaded: once we are talking there's nothing but warmth), poking and checking in on people who'd rather live in their shells. Often, though, it has been difficult. Sucking up my pride and apologizing for a thing I didn't mean to do wrong, but did wrong. Listening to opinions I do not agree with and not responding with sarcasm or spite. Leaving space for the needs of others, knowing that I may not (will not) be able to fill them all. And sisterhood has proven to be one of the trickiest.
Because we're all these diverse, different people, and in some ways we're exactly the same. Some of us hate texting; others hate talking on the phone. Some have heartfelt meaningful discussions, told only in meme form. Others have no idea what memes are, or why we think they're so funny. All of us are hurting, in our own ways. All of us love each other, even if love means deeply different things to each of us. But I'm working on it. I'm working with it, and as much as I can, with them. Trying not to hold on too hard, but never giving up the fight.
They're worth it. Each and every one of them.