names have been omitted in this post
I had the house to myself... the three stories were quiet other than the occasional sound of a bird call outside or a plane flying overhead. The floor to ceiling bare windows overlooking the back edged in water offered an expansive view and I could watch egrets take flight from the dock down below at the outskirts of the property. I heard the ping of the stainless steel toaster and knew that meant my Eggo waffles were now crispy and hot. I snatched them up and placed them on a white plate and reached for the syrup. Usually I took the time to heat it separately in a small bowl but this morning I didn’t feel particularly motivated to go to the effort and decided squirting the cold Aunt Jemima syrup on them sufficed. Still dressed in gray plaid pajama pants and a charcoal gray sleep shirt I padded barefoot to the dark stained antique table holding my plate. As I did so my eyes spied my laptop sitting open on the granite kitchen countertop.
The laptop computer was opened to Facebook and my glance took quick note that the little red message icon was lit up showing I had a new message along with a new friend request. Immediately the usual ambivalent feelings stirred in me upon seeing I had a friend request and wondering whom it could be. Just seeing that red icon lit gave me trepidation. Someone from my past was reaching out. That past that often seemed like it belonged to someone else because so much time had passed. Yet other times felt like it was yesterday but was still mine nonetheless. But who was it?
Part of me wanted nothing more than to just swiftly shut the laptop and go about my day… back to my breakfast that was waiting for me, to my errands and the signs of spring outside. It had been a very mild winter and the outside world had begun to prematurely explode with spring colors and temperatures in the sixties. Tiny green buds were about to bloom into delicate white fluffs on our bare crepe myrtles and would soon resemble snowy umbrellas. Pockets of yellow daffodils were in full bloom in our flowerbeds and it was only February. I was suddenly anxious to get on with my day and forget whatever was awaiting me in my inbox but curiosity overcame me. Pushing my feelings of dread aside I used my long nimble fingers to hover the cursor over the inbox icon then clicked. I had no idea what to expect next. Relief ensued, washing over me. It was a sweet friend from high school reaching out, wondering whatever had happened to me our junior year, as I had inexplicably disappeared.
I had hidden my past for years. In the early years post returning when anyone had asked "Where did you go to high school?" I would freeze and feel panic overcome me. I sometimes wondered if people knew the secret I was holding and yet in reality no one had a clue of the enormity of what I was hiding... much tucked away like a dirty napkin in one's pocket. I had been advised for years to not speak of what had happened... to not speak of my time gone. I was the embarassment of the family. Leaving home at seventeen I had fallen from the pedestal of being the golden child to the scorned black sheep of the family. Yet the truth was I had always been seen as a second place prize for not being born a boy. You can't continue a family name without the right set of genitalia. You can't continue a family legacy when you're the beginning of three disappointments due to merely being born girls. You are the consolation prize and chronically reminded of it... your paternal grandfather chastises your mother for not "producing boys". Like it was her job to satisfy a job requirement. She with a transparently icy tone let him know: "Actually, it's the man who determines the sex of the baby... not the mother." But of course her words fell on deaf ignorant ears. My grandmother's lips would purse as she didn't hide her disdain for my mother... because she felt threatened by another woman in her midst. My grandmother was in charge and only liked me because I was her spitting image. My two younger sisters were openly regarded with derision and dislike because they favored my mother's looks more... but only behind closed doors. In public she was the adoring grandmother... it caused division between my sisters and I and always left me feeling like I was in a tug of war of allegiance.
As children we love our grandparents dearly and yet with keen eyes we see the dynamics of how they treat others. We have our perspectives of them as children and then later as adults... maybe trying to grasp and come to terms with the gap that resides between the two. The way my grandmother treated my mother... at best like an unwelcome guest in the family... but really as an outsider barely tolerated, as a child had me chronically feeling as though I was a traitor to one woman or the other. But ultimately as I sorted out the ambivalent feelings... as I grew older and married... had children of my own and then had my own mother in law who didn't care for me I gained more perspective... I could appreciate the moments I'd shared with my grandmother as a child baking pies, playing dominoes and singing old Judy Garland songs... yet I now realized the true enormity of what my mother had endured. My mother had already suffered in a marriage that wasn't healthy and yet instead of my grandmother joining with her... banding with her in support and two women being there for one another... she made it worse. She made it known my mother was not who she wanted for her son, edged my mother out and worse lied outright to me about her. At seventeen when I returned from being gone and was sent by my father to live with my grandparents my grandmother and I would talk into the wee hours. One night she told me: "You weren't planned. Your mother found out she was pregnant with you and called me upset saying she didn't know what she was going to do. I had to go to their place and talk to her. She was worried about what your father would say." That night I cried myself to sleep in the quilted guest bed in their home. Later... much later... over a year when I shared what my grandmother had told me to my mother... she blew... she told me my grandmother had lied... she went to my father and relayed what had happened. He confronted my grandmother who gave me a piercing silent look and denied ever having said it. I was floored and indignant. Of course my father believed her and once again as always his loyalties were not to my mother but instead the cord he'd never cut from his mommy. That was their marriage in a nutshell coupled with his fits and control behind closed doors. He had his real true family; him and his parents. My mother and I and my two sisters were a family on our own shoved to the side. I tucked that moment away in my memory. I realized no matter how much someone claims to love you they have every ability to hurt you... maybe just in the hopes of using you to hurt someone else. Collateral damage happens chronically in families where narcissism lives. It was these scenarios that I grew up with... where people didn't actually talk to each other transparently about how they felt but instead alliances were attempted behind closed doors, insinuations were made and glances were taken note of... you never could be certain where you stood with someone... triangulation and agendas were rampant in the shadows and if you stood strong and openly called someone out on their bs... you were deemed a troublemaker and ostracized.
Growing up I was deemed the troublemaker. It's like it had become my middle name. I had been the outspoken one, the one who called it like it was... and very often that's not a popular way to be. Because sometimes no matter how much truth you speak with tact, grace, love and well intentions (or try to) people don't like hearing what you have to say. Eventually I saw it as a strength instead of something to feel guilty or shamed for... but that took a really long time. My younger middle sister lived quietly... unlike me she stayed away from questioning our father and his actions... her solution was to chronically bite her tongue and eventually just leave... she moved out when she was still a teenager. It was all any of us wanted to do... leave. Because living there was miserable... but that left our youngest sister behind and with that came all sorts of horrible consequences over the course of a six year period that would eventually lead to a permanent loss. The what if's ensue and leave you questioning everything... if we'd done x,y,z would she still be here? If we'd done x,y,z what would have changed? If you've suffered the loss of a loved one you know that stuff has the ability to drive you crazy because the beating up you do to yourself can be all consuming if you let it.
On a September afternoon in 2008 when we went to my grandparents home and met my grandmother at the front door to let her know my sister had passed she stared at us blankly... her alzheimers had taken over and she had no clue who we were talking about. "Our daughter, mom! Our daughter! She died!" My dad had snapped at her angrily as we entered and filed past her one by one giving her silent somber expressions. Her astonished gasp infiltrated the house and I carefully took a seat on the edge of the fine cream antique chair she'd had custom upholstered in Scalamandre or Lee Jofa as she always fancied in the Town and Country magazines. The grandfather clock chimed in the nearby entry and I heard my grandfather call out to my father from their back master bedroom. My father excused himself from the room and I sat staring blankly in silence as my grandmother sank into a nearby chair and kept saying over and over "Oh My God... Oh My God... the poor girl..." detached, like my sister was just anyone. I felt the living room start to spin and tilt slightly as tears sprang to my eyes and I could hear my mother weeping in a corner. I wanted to run. I always wanted to run. Unknowingly at the time the ADHD magnified wanting to run by a million. Renewed rage in me ensued. I found it so ironic that my grandmother now escaped the reality of the final outcome of all the horror we'd endured for years... alzheimers had not just stolen her memory but also the realization, the reality, the effects of what we'd lived and what had come of it all. It made me want to scream and hurl all at once as the floor seemed to engulf me. She had escaped fully understanding the final result and yet here we were being slapped with it like a stone cold pan. She at that point still recognized me... and would for a few years... but as she slipped away more and more I stopped going to see her... each visit became increasingly more difficult and I wanted to leave it all behind. It was all more than I could emotionally handle at that point on top of the grief of losing my youngest sister while also juggling a demanding husband and two children.
Growing up in a narcissistic family you endure so much... in our case there was not just the agendas, the pristine image sought, the fits of rage and division... but also being closeted away like unsocialized pets. We weren't allowed to have friends or lives. We weren't allowed to have voices or feelings. We weren't allowed to have a close connection, nurturing and affection. We were controlled and told, conditioned on what to think, how to feel and what to believe. It's comparable to living in a cult and only seeing glimpses of how others live make you realize how limited your childhood is... as a child or teenager you instinctively know something isn't right but you aren't sure what it is... and living a restricted existence sets you back for adulthood... leaving you wholly unprepared and thus life so much more challenging than necessary. You realize you can't run. It's what you want to do. Understandably. But you must stay put and go through the emotional work needed. You eventually begin making sense of what you lived... you perhaps substitute how some would cope with drugs or alcohol instead turning to music... you engulf yourself in hard rock... angry hard rock and embrace the pent up no's you've been told for years, you embrace the understandable anger you feel and you slowly find the rage dissipating and you disentagle yourself... it takes years... tears and more tears are shed... you drive and drive... driving is one way to lose yourself to the wounds that need to be soothed... hours upon hours pondering on it all and working through it... you finally go to therapy... where you gain additional insight and affirmation on what has happened and as you work through it you fly away to a new place... a healthier place.
That limited philosophy of "the horse that couldn't be tamed"
as he put it has been released from such binds...
She's soaring to new heights and unstoppable. She, (as maybe you have) lived through it and survived and not just survived but thrived. Fly on... fly on and continue to lead those who are afraid to get up off the ground... fly for those who can't because their wings were clipped... fly for those who need you to speak for them because they no longer can... fly on and soar high in the sky because you weren't meant to be tethered and kept in a cage of a limited life. You were meant to ascend into a new chapter with more than just a dream but a real life filled with peace, a life filled with friends and fulfilling connections, a life with affection that gives life sweetness, a life infused with songs sung with hope. You were meant for being loved by someone who's not scared by what you've lived... whose not frightened by what you have been through but instead views you with awe and pure love. You were meant for someone who will take more than a chance on you but that knows you are worth every chance they take.
-- this post is dedicated to my sister with love --