Dear Elder Sister,
Hoo boy. You are a doozy of a person to write to. Partly this is because, I gotta tell you: you are the craziest person I have ever known.
No. Really. I’m not being silly or facetious or whatever. You. Are. Crazy. Don’t feel bad. I am, too.
I need to go carefully here for a couple of reasons, BUT you don’t get the same considerations that Tom does. No one knows your name, and if anyone who reads this actually met you they wouldn’t know you are my sister. You are over the hills and far away. Hell, we don’t even really look all that much alike.
No. Really. We don’t.
Being honest with you is going to make me sound like the world’s worst bitch, but fuck it. I know why I’m saying what I’m saying. If you actually read this you would do your level best to make it seem like I’m making shit up, and you’d put your version of “events” out there, and maybe you’d convince a few people that I’m just a vindictive bitch. In some ways, my dear, you’re just like Mom, too. Just a hint, though: you’d do better to ignore it entirely and forgo identifying yourself.
I’m just sayin’.
First things first: I admit that the family member I most resemble is NOT our paternal grandmother. It’s Mom. This is not to say I don’t look at all like Grandma, but I am hardly her spitting image. That was just a little fiction I told myself so that I could pretend that what I saw in the mirror was just a trick of angles and lighting.
See? Crazy! Toys in the attic, I am Craz-eeee!
Of course… you did go along with my fiction. It was part of the deal, wasn’t it? You go along with mine, and I’ll go along with yours, and together we can rewrite history! Except, we can’t, and I never wanted to rewrite as much as you.
When I was… what? Nine? I told you about the one memory I had of Dad. The Blue Night of 1973. (I suppose it could have been ’72, but that seems too early to me). When I got to the part where he called me “Princess”, you exploded:
“He didn’t call you that! He never called you that! He called me that!”
Even at nine I was taken aback by this. I knew then that you were crazy, and I never mentioned it again. You should know though: He called both of his daughters “Princess”. The bastard.
I think I’m going to save myself a whole slew of pixels and make you a quick, less-than-all-inclusive list. You can print it out, clip it out, and carry it with you if it helps:
You and your college friends never had a special bonding over Edgar Allan Poe, and no one called you “Raven”. You made that shit up. The reality is that you went to college for one semester, and, like the rest of us, were sabotaged by your mother and step-father until you had to give it up. As a result, there really weren’t all that many “college friends” with whom to bond. There was, in their place, an escape from the family via a marriage that eventually went sour.
You are not Native American. Dude. HOLE LEE SHITE. You made that little genetic leap after I came back from meeting Dad, and I told you that our Uncle was into genealogy and that there was, like, one lonely Lakota ancestor hanging on our tree. You grew up in a white section of town and went to almost exclusively white schools. You are SO white.
You know, I’m sorry, but I have to break here. Sorry to fuck up the print and clip, but this part of the story is so ludicrous that I feel like I have to explain. Also, maybe you are pretending that this little chapter never happened.
Oh, man, did it ever.
I came to visit you when Henry was about 18 months old. You had decorated the place in what I can only describe as white people’s “Indian” art. (I’ve never seen so many portraits of “Indian princesses” with European features in one place.) You had grown your hair long (no one can grow hair like we can, eh?) and tried straightening it. It was *so* fried. You knew it didn’t look good. You said, “I can’t find a stylist who knows how to work with Native hair.”
Dude. I… did I manage to keep a straight face? I know I tried like hell.
You were throwing around some excitingly new and racist phrases. My favorite?
“They can all just kiss my Injun ass!”
Oh. My. FlyingSpaghettiMonster. REALLY???
And your screen name… and the online portrayal of yourself as some kind of Native American shaman-ess with especial knowledge of Herbs and their Many and Varied uses for everyday Health and Happiness…
I gotta ask: did you smudge your apartment before you brought in the portraits and the southwestern throw covers?
Ok: that was just snarky, but… Well, for the longest time I referred to you as my “ethnically-challenged” sister.
I don’t know what happened. I imagine someone must have called you out and given you one hell of a lashing with reality. All I know is that you announced to the online world that you were dropping your screen name “forever” and taking up a variation of the one you use to this day.
Quick! Erase all that! IT NEVER HAPPENED. Shhhhh.
Ok. Back to the list.
No. Never mind. I think the point is abundantly clear. I’ll just state, for clarity’s sake, that you also tried very hard to liken yourself to me. You tried convincing people we looked alike (we really don’t) and that we had similar talents (we really don’t). You followed me around online. If someone gave me a compliment you tried to make it apply to you, too. You embarrassed the shit out of me with god-awful “poetry” about me and my romantic interest.
Do you remember what happened when I went to the foster home? (I know I’m jumping around through time a lot and that I made it seem like I was done listing all kinds of fun stuff out when I’m clearly not. I apologize.) You were the only family member with whom I still had contact. It was the one time in my life when you really were a rock for me. (I know how much you enjoy portraying yourself as the strong one, the rock, the substitute mother lioness to whom we youngsters could turn. What a load of malarkey!)
See, what happened was this: Mom kicked me out. I mean, she well and truly kicked me out. I tried going back once to get some clothes and things and she harangued me the whole time and basically chased me back out. For a week or so I bounced from one friend’s house to another, trying to figure out what I, a 16-year-old girl, was going to do. I was thinking I’d have to drop out of high school (I don’t know how I planned to do so without parental permission?), lie about my age, get a real job, find a place to live. I was so fucking terrified. (Funny, now that I think about it: it never occurred to me to try turning to you.)
One of my friends worked up the courage to go behind my back and tell one of my teachers what was going on. DYFS got called back in. My friend and my teacher– they were worried I wouldn’t understand, but I was just relieved that there were adults in charge.
DYFS charged Mom with abandonment and neglect. They wanted her to emancipate me. This was, IIRC, to clear the way for me to legally remain in the foster home. Mom refused to sign the papers, though. Do you know why? It’s a doozy. You’re gonna love this:
She said she would not sign the papers because she didn’t want to give me any reason to come back and say that she signed me away.
My social worker came to the foster home and told me that I would have to go to court against my mother. Oh, and the court date just happened to land on the day of my junior prom.
I tried really hard to go on and be as normal of a teenaged girl as it was possible to be under the circumstances. It was hard, especially when every day I would pass my brother in the hallway, and he would keep his eyes on the horizon, never acknowledging my existence–and it was a small school.
I saved my money and bought myself a $100 prom dress. It was tea length, strapless, and yellow. It looked like sunshine, glowing and beautiful in my closet so that every time I opened the door it was like the break of dawn. I called you to tell you about it. You remained silent.
Nervously, I asked what was wrong.
“I don’t think I can talk to you anymore.”
“Because of the pain you are putting my mother through.”
Oh. Ok. Bye then.
Eventually you welcomed me back into your good graces. I don’t remember why. Probably because you were on the outs with Mom for some reason. All of a sudden you believed me, had never doubted me, had always been my rock.
Remember Dad’s funeral? That was a hell of a performance you gave. I was with Dad when he drew his final breath. I stayed with his body until they took him away. I tried to get you to come see him when he was still alive, but you wouldn’t come. You came for the funeral instead. When the time came for them to close the coffin, you grabbed me and pulled me into your shoulder. You said you didn’t want me to see them close the lid on him.
Really? You were being strong for me, huh?
You are such an asshole.
I’m not going to get into the whole thing about how Y asked you to tell me that Dad had become so ill, etc., etc. and the lame-ass excuse you gave for not doing so. I will just say this: Did you wonder why I dropped all contact with you? Did the timing escape you?
I stopped bothering with you when I learned of my grandmother’s death through a journal you posted.
You were the last one I walked away from. I was just tired of it all. I had enough problems to deal with at that point. I didn’t want to hear the “reason” why you didn’t tell me. I didn’t want to feed you anymore.
I got the message about your husband’s untimely death, and I was truly saddened to hear of it. He was a good man. I considered calling you and offering my heartfelt sympathies, but… it seemed to me that you were going through enough without having to deal with me popping back into existence again. I never really know if I made the right choice. Right or wrong, I have to live with it.
Since then, I’ve peeked in on you from time to time, just to see how you’re doing. And now I’m going to say the most awful thing of all. Maybe I’m still just angry. Maybe I am a vindictive bitch. Whatever else I am, I am honest, and it ain’t pretty:
Your new identity as a widow is the most authentic I have ever seen you. You play the part with gusto. I hope–truly hope– that there will be peace for you, too.