Mum has decided to spend the entire day on the patio. I get her set up in the lounge chair, with a pillow behind her head, and a lap robe to keep her from becoming chilled. Her lunch is on the table beside her, within easy reach. We settle in with our books.
Reading has become my therapy, and every spare minute I have, I grab a book and bury myself in it. Mum has a book as well—a Carol Higgins Clark book that she has been reading for at least three years. She brought it with her on her last visit with us, and the book mark had moved very little in all that time. I peek at her over my book to see if she is either reading or eating. She is doing neither.
“Mum, please try to eat some of your lunch!” I chide.
She tries to distract me. “How is your sister?” she asks.
“My sister died, Mum, almost three years ago.”
“How did she die?”
“Oh,” she says. “Then how is Buz (my brother)?” she asks, determined to avoid her lunch.
“I don’t know, Mum.”
“And Bill (my other brother, 15 years my junior), does he live here? Have you seen him?”
“No, Mum, I haven’t. Please try to eat!”
She begins to pick at some apple slices.
The subject of my siblings is sticky. Mum has no concept of the term “dysfunctional family”, and I always try to avoid discussing mine, especially now. There would be endless questions, many of which have been asked and answered in years past. I particularly do not want to answer questions about my sister, who had always left a path of destruction in her wake, and who, over the years, had become more and more hostile toward me, more violent in her verbal attacks. She had gone to a psychiatrist, who gave her anti-psychotic drugs, anti-depressants, and God know what else, to keep her calm. Either they didn’t work, or she wouldn’t take them, I don’t know which.
I had long decided that when Mother died, I would make a run for it. I would break with my sister once and for all, and live a quiet and gentle life with Rod in Tucson. And so I did. This infuriated her even more, to the point that when she learned she was dying, she swore the rest of the family to secrecy. They were all WARNED that no one was to tell me she was dying. So no one did.–until the near end. Four days before she died, my brother Buz, 6 years my junior, call me and said in an over-dramatic tone, “Andrea is dying!” The word “dying’ was stretched out so long that in my head I could actually see each letter with a dash in between. He then went on to explain in a clipped and disdainful tone, everything that had happened, including the fact that HE had been a bone-marrow donor to his beloved sister (the same one to whom he had not spoken for five solid years, but with whom he had “made up” a couple of years before her illness.).
“Hmmm,” I told him, “well, keep me posted.” I was shocked that I was so calm and apathetic, and I was certain that there must be something seriously wrong with me. I had read case studies of abuse victims who, after finding the courage to finally escape for good, eventually had absolutely no empathy for their abuser. This was definitely me.
I never received a call from either of my brothers, and when my sister died, my cousin Sandra, with whom I am particularly close, called to tell me. I sent my brother-in-law a sympathy card.
I did receive an email from my sister-out-law, Buz’s ex-wife (see my post, dated Friday March 12). She likes me, she says, and always has. She says I am smart, and talented and more creative than anyone else in my family. She says that I got all the good genes, and they got all the crazy genes. She’s right about the crazy genes—I lucked out there.
Several months after my sister died, I got a scathing letter from Buz, telling me what a horrible person I was, and how I was the cause of all their problems (I have not lived in Atlanta since 1978), and so from now on, I could consider myself no longer a member of the family. The letter was long and rambling, and sounded as if he was in the manic phase of one of the several mental disorders which he and my sister had inherited from my father’s side of the family. I decided the best way to deal with him and his craziness, was not to deal with him at all. Actually, becoming a non-member was a relief for me. It meant that they had finally decided to stop trying to drag me back into the chaos.
All this is not something I want to get into with Mum, because 1. She would not understand the first thing about it and 2. She has always been a worrier and she would start worrying about me and my family day and night, trying to figure out a way to fix it so everyone was happy. Instead, I get my scissors and a comb and give Mum a badly needed haircut, hoping it would make her feel a little better about herself.