A Very Sad Thing

We last saw our sister at the funeral of our first stepmother nearly 20 years ago. Since then, we've communicated with her twice.

The first was the day after the September 11 tragedy. The phone rang and she casually asked, "So, what do you think about this terrorist thing?" Her voice betrayed nothing of the near-20 year lapse. It was if we' spoken only the day before. The Omnipotent Dad had recently and repeatedly warned her not to call us, but she violated that boundary like every other one in her life. We wormed out of the phone call quickly, extremely uncomfortably, and somewhat politely by telling her we were just leaving the house - which, by happenstance, was true. It was a very unomnipotent experience.

The second time was six months later. That time we were markedly less polite. We simply hung up. A few seconds later the answering machine crackled with the voice of our nephew - recently released from prison, and soon to return for parole violations - begging us to pick up the phone because they loved us so much. Sis cried dramatically in the background. The last time we'd heard from dear nephew was 30 years before. He'd called to berate us for not giving him our drum set and the call ended in a hang up to avoid further abuse.

Some find it odd that we've cut our sibling out of our life and we must admit it sometimes troubles us too. People find it odder still that we can claim to bear her no ill will - not withstanding our ironclad rule to stay incommunicado - but it is true. We love her, though we can't be near her.

The troubles between us came early and often. Our first memory is a hide-and-seek game at age 4. As we counted, Sis grabbed our piggy bank and ran. We last saw the piggy bank on the street and in her arms. We banged on the window to get her attention and her response was to lift the treasured bank over her head, smash it, and grab the money from the ground. She looked us directly in the eye the whole time. There was no punishment because there was no complaint. We'd already learned she lived by her own rules. There were no punishments that deterred her.

The intervening years, were a blur of thefts, ruined holidays, bad checks, violence, and more, stuffed between our mother's psychotic schizophrenic episodes. Sis well-knew how to add insult to injury though. During the Poobah's early teens, she constantly told us she had a vision that we'd die at 21. On our 21st birthday, she called to see if the prediction came true. Her response to the failed prediction, "Hmm, I guess I was wrong. I could have sworn you'd die."

The next week she called threatening suicide because, "no one loved her".

We finally severed contact after she appeared on our doorstep at 3 am, asking for help finding her nominal husband (who beat her, was jailed twice for assault with a lead pipe and knife, and who finally died of AIDS, still threatening to kill her). At the time, we lived 750 miles away and our phone number and address were closely guarded secrets. She was always resourceful, if nothing else.

We think of Sis often. Today she sits in a crumbling apartment 3000 miles away, collecting disability, and in failing mental and physical health. Her paltry checks support her, her frequently unemployed boy friend, her 40-year-old daughter, and her son who's now back in prison.

Seven years older than us, we fully expect to outlast her. The toll of her life is too much for anyone to bear. When we think about her, there is a longing that we had the relationship that adult siblings can have. Sometimes we feel guilty for cutting her out of our life. Other times, when the Omnipotent Dad calls with a new white-trash tale or trouble, we're confident we made the right decision.

But that's the point with Sis, we never knew when it was safe to love her and when it was dangerous to be near her. Distance was a survival instinct, carefully crafted from repeated dreadful episodes. The intertwining of our lives played against an awful backdrop and seemed doomed from the start. The only sane solution was to put space between us, and we, as the sane one, was the one who had to do it. Still, we love her and wish her a best she will never have. We just accept the fact won't be doing anything together until one of us dies and the other attends the funeral.

And that, is a very, very sad thing.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, April 19, 2006

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