Tag Archive | siblings

Breathing Underwater-or surviving giving a shit.

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So I’m having a bad day, like you do. It’s not so much that bad things are happening to me as it is that anything that does happen is being processed through my filters as emotional torture. You know the kind of thing, someone is rude at the grocery store and you can’t let it go, someone else has four dogs off the leash on a walk in a state park where it is clearly marked ‘no dogs’ and when you mention this, you get a condescending, “Thank you,” before the bitch returns to her loud cell phone call while her dogs harass the wildlife and poop on the trail and as much as I’d like to I can’t bring myself to drop kick one of the canines into the stream, (the rules don’t apply to them after all) my daughters are criticizing me for ______ (fill in whatever works for you cause I am not alone in this), there’s a dead fawn on the road where everyone speeds like idiots because it’s their god given entitlement to kill everything in their path because they want to go fast. Pretty soon I’m stuck on the ‘people suck’ loop and I’m crying for no apparent reason and contemplating returning to drug addiction or wondering if anyone will notice if I just move to a remote village in the Abruzzi.

But no, people need me here. That’s what we tell ourselves anyway. I get overwhelmed by the sheer annoyance of not being able to end it all because eventually someone will need help moving, a recipe, a ride to the hospital, or a babysitter. And I, sigh, will raise my hand and volunteer.

Being needed is a blessing…and a curse. I suppose that’s because the required minimum—making small talk with people who watch reality TV, showing up at family events to be mocked by your siblings, listening to your father make racist jokes that he thinks are funny and innocent without taking his head off, and not letting the general public’s general bad behavior ruin every outing—take so much energy.

Okay, it saps my life strength. Over the years I’ve come to dislike people, not all of them of course, but the more I paid attention and shifted what is important in my life from surface success to actual kindness and decency on every level, the more disappointed I became.

So recently my 82-year old father and his wife were moving out of their home of 30-something years in Atlanta and the entire nasty pack up and move fell onto my only sibling left on the east coast, I decided I’d better go help. My oldest daughter, knowing that if I had to sit a house with Fox news blaring all day without emotional back up I might actually commit patricide, courageously offered to come and help.

Now there’s nobody who collects shit and hangs onto it more efficiently and pointlessly than wealthy white folks. I kid you not there were a dozen full sets of china, countless boxes of unused and unopened stemware, expensive suits and dresses with the tags still on them that were out of style in the late nineties, and three punch bowl sets, one of them with 52 cups. When my step mom said she wanted to keep it, I asked her how often she was going to have a garden party with 52 guests. She shrugged and said, “Who knows?”

I do. I know. Never. I used to entertain like that, but no more. Fact is, it got to the point that I realized I was throwing parties, spending thousands of dollars and weeks of effort, to entertain people who didn’t appreciate it at all. I think I swore it off after the time I used the Limoge china at a garden party only to find two broken plates shoved under chairs the next morning and cigarette butts ground out on my patio. Enough. And after years of taking in every orphan who had no where to go on holidays, including them in my family celebrations, putting them up, buying them gifts, and cooking for twelve, pretty much every one of those people completely blew me off when I divorced the last husband. My response to that when I climbed, still  bleeding, out of the back of the closet where I’d been licking my wounds was ultimately, “Good riddance,” but it took a while to heal from that poison arrow puncture.

It’s come to the point that I’m in danger of becoming a recluse, which is fine, because my husband is the same way, but eventually and inevitably….somebody is going to need a hand cleaning their apartment so that they get their deposit back and I have all the pine-sol.

So after I get back from doing my good daughter deeds in conservative hell and I’m having this bad day, I’m driving around looking for a place I can pull over and just curl up in the leaf litter alone for a good hour or so of self-pity, otherwise I’ll go swimming with rocks in my pockets, when I get a text from older daughter. ‘Have you talked to my sister? She’s at the clinic at school.’

Time to be mom and shut down all concern for self. I turn the car around and drive to campus, find the clinic, and then find X-ray where she’s having her head examined, literally. Parking is a bit a challenge, but once I work that out I start trying to find a way to get into a building that was clearly designed to confuse and confound the non-student-or-faculty-visitor. Still fragile and feeling like my nerves are stretched thinner than five hundred feet of frayed, tangled dental floss, I see two young women sitting on a bench outside the building. They are hugging, one’s head tight into the other’s shoulder. I do not know if they are friends, lovers, or strangers thrown together in some difficult moment, but it does not matter. What I see is love, compassion, real connection. Tears start streaming down my face and as they both look up at me, I say in a choked voice, “That makes me happy. I’m having a really bad day and that really makes me happy.” I am aware that I look and sound like an emotionally unstable wreck and while I learned long ago that experiencing my emotions honestly is a strength not a weakness and that I cannot control what others think, I am just hoping that I don’t freak them out.

And then the miracle happens. They both make eye contact and smile with authentic warmth, the one with her head down says, “Oh, I’m so glad!” with such enthusiasm that the fog in my head and heart dissipate in an instant, clearing so that the light on the dogwoods around us and the shadows of the ferns on wall shine with fresh beauty. They were just as beautiful a moment before of course but as I said, my filters, like sunglasses smeared with pond scum, would not allow me to experience it.

I continue past them, tears coming harder, but joyous now. Yes, my pain and my fullness are my strength, I know this, and sometimes, just every once in a while, some one else sees that too.

My daughter turned out to have a sinus infection instead of leaking brain fluid, so…that’s good, and most important. But almost equally elating was the look on her face when I came into the exam room. The shy, almost child-like smile that let me know she was glad I could be there even as she told me I didn’t need to come. She doesn’t need me, this one, she was born independent, but she was still glad for my presence.

And that’s why I will continue to volunteer to be dragged over the searing coals of the emotional exposure BBQ. Few people in our lives will appreciate the percentage of effort or the sacrifice of our personal happiness that giving up our own peace of mind just to care—for them and their world—costs us. That’s okay.

I’m glad I went to help my Dad, even if my blood boiled at his willful ignorance and apathy. (We don’t recycle, it’s too much trouble. Global warming is bullshit.) I’m really glad I took a small portion of the responsibility off of my sister, the one of the four of us who always does what’s right. I’m glad I get angry when people treat others or their environment with disdain and arrogance. I will endure the exhaustion that comes from fighting for others who can’t fight for themselves and for a future I will not live to see. I’m glad that I can speak through tears when I needed to stand up to someone for treating me or others badly. So many people see those things as weakness, as unnecessary, as overwrought, or they just plain resent you because caring or calling them out makes them uncomfortable.

Too fucking bad.

It’s just who I am.

Weepy, overly-emotional.

Sensitive.

Human.

Alive.

Bring it.

Shari, May 15th, 2018

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The Baby in Black

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Or how your memory fucks with you.

One of my earliest memories is of standing next to my sister’s bassinette when she first came home from the hospital. It was Halloween, and in my memory, I can feel the weight of my candy bag in one hand. I was barely tall enough to see over the edge of the low crib so I had rocked forward, up on my toes. In this crystal clear flash of memory, I see the baby so clearly, my new sister, a scrunchy-faced little interruption that didn’t belong there, dressed as a witch.

My mom had dressed her in a witch’s costume and even a pointed little black hat and shoes that curled up at the toes. I recalled this image with perfect clarity in a session with my psychiatrist, who commented, “How darling that your mom took so much trouble to dress a baby in a costume.”

Later that day I called my mom to boast of my razor-sharp visual recall of my spanking new baby sister. She was duly impressed, noting “That’s amazing, you were only three.” I went on to explain how I even remembered the baby costume, hat, pointy shoes, everything, causing her to pause a minute before saying, “Uh, Shari? Steffi was born on Oct 25th, she would have been six days old. I would not have put a newborn in a costume. Especially not a witch’s hat.”

Well that’s not how I remember it. Something wicked had my way come and I’m guessing in retrospect that I didn’t care much for the experience.

Up until that moment I was the baby, I got all the attention and hugging, and then this little hag shows up out of the seventh circle of hell and blatantly steals my mommy.

I was robbed.

My feelings for my sister improved vastly over the years, but apparently I’m not the only one with memory confusion. The demonizing of my sibling, it seems, is not unique to my mental processes, as I found out a few years later when my sister was recalling a different story at the dinner table.

Here’s how I recall the event under discussion. Growing up in Atlanta with lots of trees, we always had amazing rope swings. My dad would tie a thick rope to a high branch, put several knots in the bottom for standing or sitting on, and we would find a thousand ways to create new adventures.

I always loved a show (if only there had been some clue to my future!) and when my sister was about five, making me eight, we decided to put on a circus.

Steffi was smart, strong and flexible. So I set about creating tricks for her to do while using the rope swing. We worked up to her being able to hang upside down from it, holding on with both her hands and ankles, putting her in a position not unlike a human dart, her little body streamlined into an aerodynamic bolt, arms by her sides, legs straight up, and her face, the point, straight toward the ground.

Once she had that down I decided it was time for her to swing in that position, so far we had only done it with the rope dangling. So, with her holding on, back arched, toes pointed, I took hold of the knot and started to pull the rope back so that I could release it and see her fly.

But when I pulled the rope, she didn’t come with it. Instead, it came out of her hands and away from her feet and she dropped like a rocket, like the dart she was, face first, into the ground.

It still hurts when I remember the visual. She landed, nose first, rolled to one side and lay there. My recall is a little fuzzy after that. I remember parents fussing, a trip to the doctor-neighbor, to determine if Steffi’s nose was broken. It wasn’t, but the absence of skin and proliferation of bruising made for a pretty scrappy school photo that year.

I don’t’ remember my sister blaming me at the time. Just her little body sitting patiently on our neighbors’ sofa while the doctor gently prodded at her face and announced that her nose was not broken. I suppose I was relieved, but you know, as a kid there’s always that terrible fear that you’ve hurt your sibling, that you’ve been bad and that will suck because, you know, you get punished. I lurked around waiting to get into trouble, and I do not remember now if I was blamed then or not. Most likely I’ve selectively blocked that part out.

So it was a bit of shock, when, years later, I listened to Steffi tell the story at the dinner table. Except it wasn’t the story of two girls playing circus, rather it was a swift and condemning accusation of how I had deliberately pushed her and broken her nose.

And that definitely wasn’t how I remembered it. At all. Being accused of an action that was untrue hurt my feelings, and I moped about it, feeling the ‘poor me’ of being misunderstood. Or mis-remembered, as the case may be.

The visual of her falling three feet, face first onto the dirt, with nothing to break her fall but her nose, is seared into my memory, so I think I’m right. But let’s look at it from her point of view.

And her point of view was the ground, the earth in all it’s solid mass rushing up to meet her face.

Yep. I think it’s vaguely possible that the same moment might have registered slightly differently in her memory. So why do I keep feeling betrayed that she remembers it differently from the way I do? Why does that hurt my feelings like the child of eight I was when it happened, many moons ago?

Oh woe is me, the loneliness, the alienation, the lack of sympathy and love. No one understands me.

Because I know I’m right, damn it, and I will not concede! No matter how unhappy it makes me, how unreasonable it is, or how valid it is for someone else to feel differently.

The truth is…Memory and subsequent judgment are slippery little fuckers.

Don’t trust ’em.

Alas! The only way to clear my name and soul is to acknowledge that, though I’m not wrong, (universe forbid!) she might not be either. (grumble grumble) Though that’s as far as my indignation will allow me to chill. Which is stupid; human, but really truly stupid.

These days when I listen to someone who views a current situation in a way that I cannot even process, I try to remember that dichotomy of interpretations given by two sisters, who were both actually there, and multiply by infinity. We all remember things differently, each and every human being processes events and memories based on our very unique point of view.

 

So, even though not one single person’s perspective, in its entirety, will ever be accurately felt and understood by any other single person…

I still catch myself clutching my resentment and pain of feeling misunderstood tight to my chest like a beloved toy, a relic of childhood I should have outgrown. I’ll go on insisting my point of view is the only valid one, that I’ve been wronged, refusing to grow out of the hurt.

Cause memories are useful that way.

 

Or…no…wait.

 

 

Shari, August 16th, 2016

Her, Them, Me, Us.

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The gang is back in town. Two of my three siblings live here in LA, so we get to see a good bit of each other and help out with kids, holidays, etc. My mom also lives here, so I’m used the the dynamics between us all, interesting to watch, experience, and sometimes learn from.

But one of my sisters stayed back east. She lives in Charleston, SC, a city with history and charm which I love to visit, so that’s good, but when we all get together, with kids, old patterns jump up and if you’re not careful they bite, leaving a welt that frankly itches.

Now that we are all past mid-forty, there’s a lot more consciousness than there was when we were kids or young adults. It is fascinating to me how four kids raised by the same parents in basically the same environment can all be so different. It’s the same in pretty much every family, and now I get a chance to see that same dynamic unfolding in our children.

We each have two kids, totaling four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 21 to 5. it’s almost impossible to get them all together at the same time, especially with one at college, but we almost managed it. The cousins all adore each other, every one is unique and very special in their own way. The IQ’s, the height, and the humor runs into the ninetieth percentile, so it’s entertaining to say the least.

Like when my golden haired nephew, who is 11 walked into my kitchen and said with his cherubic little mouth, “Kennedy jacked our Maserati and threw it in the pool,” it took me a minute to figure out he meant the scooter, which she confiscated and did in fact submerge, because he had refused to pay the toll she was demanding, (cracking his knuckles).

I have girls, so having young boys around is very cool for me. I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘butt,’ (from the five year old Cayden) or the words ‘penis’ and ‘boner’ (from the 11 year old,) as many times in my life put together as I have in the last few days. We’ve had tears, and tickling, and the scrape or two, but overall, it’s a big pile of fun.

And yet, old habits die hard. Almost anyone woman will tell you that no one pushes her buttons like her mother. I’ve had a good look at that in two generations this week. My mom, who is one terrific lady, is the source of our ADA trickle down tendencies. From her to me, from me to my oldest daughter. Attention deficit can lead to narcissistic behavior, not out of selfishness, but stemming from the inability to stay focused on a group. My mom can change subjects so many times in a conversation that we often end up saying, “What is she talking about?” My mom is super smart, and she knows for sure, it’s just us that get left in the verbal dust.

Here’s an example. “So remember the Wilsons who lived down the street on Knob Hill? You were friends with the daughter, Terri, and Dwayne was in school with John, and they had that cute dog, Spunk. Well, she started drinking, and he got a job out of state, and then when she graduated from college, she married this guy from France, and they lived in Paris for two years, and her brother couldn’t have kids and the daughter had some mental issues, then the brother sold his house and moved to the old house, and…”

At which point I stop her and ask her to clarify what she is talking about.

My mom’s response is dismissive. “Well, anyway…” she says, waving an impatient hand at my thick head, “he died.” 

Leaving us looking at each other saying, “Who died? The dad? The husband? The dog?” It’s a bit tough to follow, but we can generally keep abreast.

What amuses me now is how old things, like my mom needing to do things her way sometimes, in spite of the obvious fact that nobody else wants to do it that way, still frustrates and annoys us. You think we would know better. She’s 79, and exhausts us all with her energy and interests, and you’d think we’d focus on that now. She doesn’t do it much at all with just me, but something about the whole family dynamic being reactivated brings it back in her. You’d think we’d get that and let it go, but no, every once in a while our inner five year old jumps on our head and kidney punches us, and we’re taken off guard. We are all leaving the zoo and two people need to ride in her car, but she ‘has to stop by home and pick up some tomatoes.’ “It’s right up the street,” she insists. It isn’t right up the street and the kids are exhausted and just want to go home, and nobody needs tomatoes, but she will not relent. I’m driving, so I can’t volunteer.  My sister does, with rolling eyes and head shaking, but the kids are all refusing. Finally my sister nominates her daughter, who mutters and bitches, but goes. It’s like a comedy rerun. How many times in our lives have we let our mom upset us over such a small thing. How many times has she done small things to upset us? Why don’t we learn to take a breath and just go with it? Later, I watch my sister dealing with her own spirited seventeen year old daughter, and I can only think of all the trouble she got herself into and the word, “Payback” leaps to mind.

My siblings think I’m too easy on my kids, they are all three more conservative than I, but when I think to back to my teen years, out of the house at sixteen, married at eighteen, off to New York and drug abuse by nineteen, well, let’s say I’d be a hypocrite if I expected my daughters to dress in pressed khakis and refuse a beer after prom.

I’m blessed to have so many loving, healthy family members. We’ve been through some changes, that’s for sure, we’ve grown, regressed, noticed that the world is bigger than we once knew, that there are other opinions besides our own. Between the four siblings, we’ve had eight marriages. (Only the sister back east stuck with one, and I hold the record with three). We judge each other, have strong opinions, rush to support during tough times, drift away, and return to hug and laugh. The flotsam and jetsam off our lives is ever moving, ebbing and flowing, and I have sailed but half that sea. I’m hoping for many more adventures, discoveries, and growth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get pissed off over politics and fire the cannons.

In the meantime, I’ll whip up some dip, grab a bottle of bubbly and head out for another family dinner.

I’d ask you to join us, but we all talk at the same time, and we’re the only ones who can understand us.

Ain’t it always the way.

Hug your family.

Shari, June 18th, 2015.