Previously Deleted: The [first] Sister

I deleted a post a couple weeks ago and I felt like I deleted a 3-4 year chunk of my life, a key piece of my story. I did it because without realizing it, I violated privacy and trust by including specific details and speculating about others. In addition, what I wrote brought up some painful memories for people I care about and empathize with, though I feel like some of my words were misinterpreted, which is a classic mistake that beginning writers make. Part of that was my writing, which was read out of context with the rest of the pieces in this blog.

I sincerely apologize to all of you for violating any trust, reminding you of an awful time in your lives, and for possibly pushing you further away, but I cannot let the omission stand.

For those that did not know my family then, I’ve obscured your identities as much as possible. If you read this and are miffed that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, please take the time to read the rest of my entries; I’m guessing you think my life was one thing because my parents were the people they were with you, when it didn’t turn out quite like that. I also don’t mean this to be a pissing contest about who had it worse, whose life was more traumatic, who had less. Everything is relative; I am trying to get at the truth, understand & accept myself, and get closer to forgiveness. I only ask the same of you.

I think I was in 4th or probably 5th grade when Ella came to live with us. She has several siblings, most of whom had been split up and placed with different families. One of my Aunts, who I imagine has a lot in common with Christina Crawford’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, decided that Ella needed to go. After talking with my brother and I, all of us agreed that Ella should come live with us.

Mom and Dad moved out of their bedroom, which was the largest bedroom, and moved into my room, which my brother and I had shared when we first moved into the house when I was 2 or 3. Ella and I each took a half of the back half of the big bedroom, the front half being occupied by the washer and drying racks (a dryer was too expensive to run), and a large closet Uncle Bert had built.

Ella and I got along reasonably well, although not without conflict that was usually initiated by me. As I recall, I was so annoying sometimes, I even annoyed myself – 10-12 is a difficult, awkward age, tweens are reaching for teenagerhood, young adulthood, and slowly saying goodbye to childhood. I was also the silly kid, the stubborn kid, the tomboy who would take dares or challenge myself to them, the short kid – one of my nicknames growing up was Midge, short for Midget. Once, in 5th or 6th grade, my Dad called me a flake, a prime example of his unintended insensitivity; he had to explain that he meant it affectionately when I closed up and turned away from him

All of us admired and loved Ella. She was one of the most determined people I know. Not only was it so awesome and cool that I had an instant sister that I could talk to about boys and clothes and make-up and girl-stuff, but she was a great role model also. She sued the school district so she could play hockey on the boys’ hockey team (and won) because there wasn’t a girls’ team. She dealt with racial slurs with understandable outrage, including an unintentional one from me at dinner one night. Just as my father had unintentionally called me a flake, I called Ella a name at dinner one night, a name that I didn’t realize was a bad until she said something equally nasty to me and left the dinner table. Eventually it was smoothed out, though I suspect this was one of the wedges between us.

Ella was the one I asked about my first kiss, since she and her boyfriend picked me up from my first boy-girl party. Ella listened to music I’d never heard. She put makeup on every day before school. She was more fashionable than I was. I worshiped her, emulated her, I name-dropped, I associated myself with her as much as possible.

Once, Ella and my Dad were one-upping each other at the dinner table about who could run faster. It got to the point where my Dad threw down the gauntlet and they raced about a quarter of a mile south down Route 12 (the only feasible place to race). Ella tripped or overextended herself and sprained her knee. Dad, after helping her limp home, was so angry with himself that he punched our refrigerator and dented it. This was the only time in my early childhood that I saw him lose his shit. The only other time I heard either of my parents coming close to that, he and my mother had an argument after coming home from a friend’s house one night. There was some shouting, maybe a door slamming, and then quiet murmurs of them talking things over calmly.

I also remember Ella spending a summer working at her a friend’s family camp on a lake in New York. We all piled in the car, drove her to camp, made sure she was settled, and drove home. At the end of the summer, my parents made a really great dinner for her, even Dad contributed with grilled a whole chicken. The only problem: he got so caught up in catching up with her or watching a game that he forgot about the chicken and it was so burned, the skin and exposed bone was charred. The meat inside was still edible, but that burnt chicken was a long-running, ironic family joke for a while.

Other things happened, not-so-great things. Ella was told by a teacher that he’d improve her grade if she would help him with a few things, wink wink, nudge nudge. At the time, my mother worked in the high school cafeteria; the next day, she spoke with the principal. Ella was moved to another class and the teacher – I’m not sure what happened to the teacher.

When Ella went to college at UVM, we all piled into the car again to get her settled into her dorm in Burlington. I don’t remember events, though there must have been many, between this and Ella’s wedding in November, 1985. To me, her wedding on par with Princess Di’s wedding, which Ella had woken up early to watch in July 1981. She asked me to be a bridesmaid. I felt so grown-up to be asked, even though I wasn’t allowed to stay at the hotel with her other attendants, and I took my duties seriously, though there weren’t exactly any duties involved other than acting appropriately, not calling attention to myself, and helping as much as possible.

After she got married, Ella and I drifted further apart for a lot of different reasons – her in-laws welcomed her into their large family and she became busy being the wife a young lawyer. I don’t remember hearing about her pregnancies or the births of her children, but I may have forgotten about it in the turmoil of my family falling apart (the year following her wedding, in January of 1986, my parents separated). I can only guess that the way the family fell apart was embarrassing to her (or more likely, her Bible-abiding in-laws) – my father had an extra-marital affair with the a much-younger woman who became my stepmother.

Whatever the case, we did have an amicable reunion in 2000 at my mother and stepfather’s house. My brother and his family were there, my husband and (at the time – sorry Henry) two children were there. It was a nice afternoon and while I intended to stay in touch, and she probably intended to stay in touch, it is difficult to lift yourself out the day-to-day and make the effort to make new connections out of old memories. I’m trying to give us both an excuse for not staying in touch after that, but really, there is no good reason. It just happened.

In 2008, during one of the trips to Florida to help take care of my Dad, I asked my mother to call Ella and let her know what was going on. As my Dad got closer to death, which is hard to determine in someone who is so good in maintaining the illusion of normalcy, I asked my mother again to call Ella. I had called Ella’s sister, who was also very close to our family; I had reconnected with when her when we lived close together as adults and I had current contact information for her. I should have gotten Ella’s phone number from my mother or her sister instead of trusting my mother to take care of this one thing. Unfortunately, she put it off until after my father died and Ella did not have the opportunity to say good-bye to him and vice versa.

Watching my father’s face when he spoke with her sister, I wish I had gone directly to Ella instead of trusting my mother to call her in time. I am angry that the morally right thing did not happen and I feel partly responsible for that. On the other hand, any number of other people could have let Ella know – why should I feel responsible for someone else’s inaction? But I do because I should be the nice one, the generous one, the bigger person. I knew what was right and when I spoke to my mother about it the second time, I should have taken care of it myself instead of letting her fail to overcome the procrastination.

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