Sunday, April 13, 2008

Family Ties

See this family? They are that beloved TV clan, The Keatons. And they have nothing whatsoever to do with my family.

My older sister and I have never gotten along. And I do mean never. Just a little more than a year older than I am, she has always resented my very existence. From the time my mother bathed us together in the big tub to the day I moved out, she physically hurt me. I was pinched, kicked, scalded, and hit in the head with a baseball bat. When we were in high school, she threw me into the stove so hard my body caused a gas leak.

My mom used to minimize this by saying, "the girls fight." That was not true. WE were not fighting, I was getting the shit beat out of me on a regular basis. When my sister was a college freshman but still living at home, she lost her temper with my mother and slugged her in the face with a broom handle. Suddenly my sister's violent tendencies were considered serious and we were all dragged to a family counselor. A highly-attidunal high school senior, I thought it was all sad but funny: you can do whatever you want to me and my body and it's dismissed; touch anyone else in the family and it's a problem.

The family therapist said that my older sister needed more attention from my parents than they could give -- my dad because he was so distant and my mother because she had another baby (me) so soon and then, just as my older sister was entering adolescence, my baby sister arrived. We couldn't stay in family therapy long, though, even if it probably would have been good for us because my older sister was 18 and refused to go any more. She believed the shrink was persecuting her and blamed her for everything. My mother thought SHE was being blamed. The irony of all this is, I'm the one who has returned to therapy off and on for decades. (And I'm better for it.)

My sister's antipathy toward me hasn't abated with time. Even though we are now in our 50s, she still gets jealous of the time my mother spends with me. She lives 2000 miles away in Los Angeles, and yet the competition continues. Yet when my mom needs help, my sister is conveniently unavailable. She also did something pretty sleazy and unforgivable in regards to my late grandma's estate, and she kisses up to my sick uncle when it suits her because he's a millionaire and I think she's banking on him dying soon. (HA! He has Parkinson's and could linger in agony and depression for years more, so she won't get to cash that inheritance check any time soon.)

Her husband left her. Her kids hate her. She doesn't have any close friends. And no matter how pudgy I get, she somehow manages to be fatter.

She got engaged recently. Her betrothed is a widower in his 60s with a huge family. She's done the rounds of showing off her ring to his huge clan and is embarrassed that she has so little family interested in seeing it, or her. (My kid sister has her own issues with our oldest sister, but let her post them on her own blog.) She came in for the weekend but has been dreading it. My sister's sadness over her sorry family relationships has been depressing my mother, who keeps hoping, hoping, hoping that this new man (or new job, or new car, or new home … whatever) will be the thing that finally makes her oldest daughter happy.

So last night I did something uncharacteristic. I stopped by my mother's house to meet the fiance and see the ring and then I let them buy me dinner. I was home by 9:00, so the whole ordeal was 5 hours long. And I do mean LOOOOONG. It was awkward, of course. Still, I'm glad I did it. It made my mom so happy to see us together. And besides, how often do you get to save another human being from discomfort and embarrassment?

Don't get me wrong. We aren't going to be buds. I realize that my sister still/eternally has competition and anger issues. I know her patterns, I've had a lifetime to observe them -- when she gets stressed, when life doesn't go her way, she gets mean and vindictive. I am not putting myself in harm's way in the future, just because last night didn't end in bruising and bloodshed.

But I helped her save face and I made my mother happy. And I ordered dessert! (Peppermint ice cream.) I believe that last night just might be my ticket to heaven.


  1. Golly.

    You sure have a strong sense of self and a good perspective, Gal. I envy you.

  2. Way to get the dessert. All families are screwed up, isnt that great?

  3. Gee I was felling sorry for myself b/c I didn't have a sister and I guess you just never know. At least growing up with my brothers, we may not have been the best of friends, but as adults, we were okay together.

    Interesting observation about the anger management issues. One of mine sounds just like your sister in therapy. It's never his fault and the therapists are stupid. But as a mother, it does break your heart that your Brady Bunch ideal of a family doesn't exist.

    What a good early mother's day gift and you got ice cream too!

  4. Damn! I was literally cringing when reading of your older sister's misdeeds. It is interesting how it took your mother to be on the receiving end of your sister's abuse for your family to realize that she has a problem. Anyway, you seem to have come to terms with it.

    You mentioned that your younger sister should post on her own blog about your older sister. Does she actually have a blog? If it's open to the public, I would be interested to read it.

  5. Thank you all for the supportive words. I had to work hard for that peppermint ice cream, didn't I? Oh well, I have gotten this much out of the last 2000 years or so of couchtime -- I am in control of my own life. If my older sister oversteps and causes me any discomfort at all, I'll withdraw again. I can do that, I have that power, and realizing that makes it easier to be kind to her and most of all, my mom.

    No, Malcolm, my kid sister doesn't have a blog. Although come to think of it, she doesn't know I have a blog ...

  6. Ahhh...the life of an only child, all of the sudden, doesn't seem all that bad! LoL...

    Ya did good...I bet your mom is STILL walkin' on air, knowin' her two "babies" are getting along...even if you had to work at it (maybe, *especially* cause you worked at it!!)

  7. I can SOOOOOOO relate to this point. I mean totally!! You did good!! And yeah...definitely your ticket to heaven...


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