I write a lot about sisters. I am the oldest of three, and when we were young, we were so close we never wanted to be apart. We shared a bedroom--three beds, three desks, three bookcases, and us.
Sleep didn't come easily because we'd be talking, laughing until we hurt, jumping on our beds and playing hub-a-bub, a game we invented, or telling "Kathlene Stories," an ongoing made-up-on-the-spot series involving a curly-haired older neighbor who wore silk print shirtwaist dresses and referred to herself as "a maiden lady." We improvised the pitfalls and perils of Kathlene and her sidekick, a French poodle named Coquette. Our protagonist had a tender, easily-bruised heart, strong opinions, and a steely inner strength, somewhere between Jane Eyre and a character, whose name now escapes me, on The Doctors, thr soap opera we watched.
If I called my middle sister right now, I bet she could tell me the name of that character. She'd probably say it with an English accent like Colin Wakefield, a handsome doctor on the show. Or she'd growl like Billy Aldrich, the bad boy played by Alec Baldwin. Speaking in character is something she'd do--it was one of our ways of communicating, part of our secret language. But I can't call her. She's not there.
She's lost to me. That sounds like a line from The Doctors--dramatic, said with the back of the hand pressed to the brow, tears welling. But it's true. She is alive and, I hope, well, and she lives just a few miles from me and our youngest sister, but she doesn't want to be in our lives. It started a long time ago, and I have no doubt she has a list of reasons for why she doesn't speak to us, want to get together, want to talk and figure this out. I've emailed her from a bunch of different email addresses because every time I do she blocks me and I have to try a new one.
After a while, you stop and wonder. I mean, what's the point, if every time you write, you get the alert that you've been blocked? After a while, is it rude to disrespect her clearly stated desire that she wants nothing to do with you? Or do you follow your heart, hope that this time will be different, that this time your message will get through? You've wracked your brain for ways to circumvent the email situation: call her phone. But the number has been changed. Write her a letter. But she's moved, and although you've heard from friends and cousins the town she now lives in, you don't know the address.
She has her point of view. I don't know what she's saying, lately, about why I'm horrible. That story has changed along the way; it's been layered and layered with infractions. Yet a decade ago we had a very brief and shining thaw, when whatever was wrong melted away. No more hurt, no more anger--our sisterly love was there as strong as ever. We called each other every day--our old closeness was back. When I say I'd have done anything for her, I meant it. Then I tried a little too hard to help with something she didn't think needed helping and maybe that's what drove her away. Maybe I touched a nerve.
See, I have a point of view too. I want to talk to her, explain, hear whatever she has to say to me. I want us to heal this, but how is that possible without actually seeing each other? Without speaking? Will we go through the rest of our lives living ten miles apart, never visiting or talking again?
I can't say I've made peace with the situation, or that I'm okay with it. But the feeling of missing her is so deep--the teetering between frustration and anger, helplessness and sorrow at the passage, the waste of time--the only way to live with all is to practice mindfulness, lovingkindness meditation toward her, toward us. It eases the bottomless grief.
People hear that we're estranged--I hate that word--and they want to bring us back together. They'll say to me, as if I'd never considered it, that life is too short to go through it being mad/upset/stubborn/intractable regarding my sister. That it's time to bury the grievance, whatever it is. I listen, my stomach tight, and nod as if I think they're wise. I blurt out the story of what happened--tell my side of it. I tell the well-meaning friends or distant family members that my door is open. I'd love to have my sister in my life, it's her choice to have this distance.
I think I'm going to stop telling them that or anything. This is between us--the three of us--the sisters. It's pain that belongs to no one else, and I can't expect anyone to understand something that I can't comprehend myself. Just yesterday a friend at a local shop told me she'd seen her. That my sister had said of me and our other sister "We're not in touch." My friend told me this hesitantly, with sensitivity. She wondered how it could be, and I don't blame her, or anyone, for wondering that, for wanting us to reconcile. I nearly fell all over myself trying to explain. When I left the shop, I felt exhausted and a little sick. It is a story I'm so tired of telling, justification I've stopped being able to bear.
My sister loves A.A. Milne. Back during that glimmering time when we were close again, she gave me a copy of one of our favorite Pooh books. The inscription, in her tiny, perfect, dear handwriting said Rusty urges you to pay SPECIAL attention to Chapter X. Rusty was one of our imaginary characters, a key part of our secret language. The chapter contained a message from my sister to me, and as soon as I read it, I understood.
So, now, my message to her: Call or write me. My phone number and email address are the same. I love you. And Rusty STRONGLY urges you to pay SPECIAL attention to Chapter X.