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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost." ~Marion C. Garretty

Therapist believes my problems have innumerable roots, but I told him of one experience he believes is pivotal. I've not been able to record it until now. I don't know why I'm finally able to write it, and I don't really want to delve into the why. I can--so I will.

I've spoken of my "foster" sister before. She was never officially my foster sister. I brought her home from school. I knew she was sad. I thought I could make her happy. I was eleven. Eleven-year-olds believe things like that.

Because of her home situation, S was allowed to stay with us. Her home situation: Her parents were alcoholics. S refers to them today as "pickled". Both are now deceased. S was often left alone as a toddler and preschooler while her parents went on drinking binges. A neighbor sometimes noticed she was alone and took care of her until her parents returned. When she was eleven the situation was finally reported to DFS and S came to live with her grandmother who lived in my hometown. At that point in her life, S had suffered abandonment, neglect, and numerous forms of abuse from various people. She has never shared the details of this with me. S doesn't talk about her life before she met me.

Grandma was an invalid. She could barely walk and was hardly able to care for herself, let alone an eleven-year-old granddaughter. S became the caretaker. She learned to cook and clean (to Grandma's standards), buy groceries, plan menus, care for plants, grow a garden, and care for an invalid. The life had far too much responsibility for a child, but it was immensely better and more stable than what she had previously experienced.

When S was invited to be with my family, Grandma agreed. She had been concerned that S didn't interact with other children and was consumed with caring for her grandmother. S needed a family--siblings--parents--and so she came to live with me. The two of us visited her Grandmother daily to make sure she had all she needed. Grandma was a retired school teacher. She loved my thirst for reading and sent me home with classics and poetry in which most 6th graders would have no interest. I was intrigued by the language, rhythm and stories. Always Grandma would discuss them with me--talk about literary devices and unusual words--and make certain I was comprehending what I was reading. Her home was filled with books and she was delighted to loan them to me, provided I would report back to her what I was learning. It was like having my own personal library. Heavenly.

Having S in my home changed the dynamic of our family. She was sweet and funny and helpful. My mother became calm when S was around. The screaming fits and physical abuse became nonexistent. It was as if she realized S was someone who needed nurturing and healing and any abuse would devastate an already wounded person. I watched my mother cuddle my friend and as I wondered why S was allowed the hugs I craved, I did not begrudge the fact that she received them and I did not. S desperately needed to be held by a mom and a dad.

I watched her smiles become more frequent. S was my constant companion in whatever harebrained scheme I concocted--but she was sensitive enough to let me have alone time for reading and practicing and any other activity requiring solitude. S was the perfect daughter. She allowed my mom to teach her to sew and bake and preserve food. She was immaculately clean. There was a long space in the upper level of our home which had been divided into two bedrooms. I shared one with my older sister and my two younger sisters shared the other. S moved in with my sister and I. There were three twin beds along the east-facing wall. S's bed was in the middle. The space around her "area" was flanked by the mess created by my sister and I. S never complained. She simply made her bed and straightened the part of the room that was hers every night and morning. We were often compared to her unfavorably. For some reason this never troubled me. S was a clean freak. That was just fine with me.

When my cousin raped me the first time, I cleaned myself up, cried a little bit, and wondered what to do. Not coming up with any answers and not wishing to return to the bed where I had been painfully violated, I pulled my blankets and pillows to the floor near the bed where S was sleeping. I slept there the rest of the night, rose as soon as light began, made my bed and pretended to be sleeping in it when my family awoke. I repeated this pattern each time my cousin visited me. I don't know why S was my chosen "safe place". Today though, I believe if I had ever told her what was happening, she would have stopped my cousin. She knew about abuse. She hated bullies. She loved me.

During that summer, my mother made contact with the proper agencies to try to have S placed officially in our home. She was told our home did not meet the necessary regulations to have S placed there, and we were financially unable to make the required changes to our house. The agency people told my mom S would be well cared for in the foster system and advised her to encourage S's family to place her there. My mother said no.

While S and I continued to have summer adventures and build a solid friendship and sisterhood, my mother, S's grandmother, and her parents, arranged for her to go live with an aunt who would legally adopt her and finish raising her. I was not told nor prepared for this. In August my cousin left my home. In September, my best friend left me. The two events happened within weeks of each other. The emotions raised by them in combination with the emotions experienced by me as I was raped throughout the summer, were too much for me to process. Shortly after S left, my mother returned to her abuse cycle. I wanted to die.

S wrote me letters every week--sometimes several times a week. I didn't respond once. Part of me was angry at her. I knew she had no say in the plans made for her departure, but I was still angry and I was deeply sad. I felt I had lost my soul and my cousin and S had taken it from me. Part of me wanted to write to her, but I had nothing to say to anyone. I didn't talk for a very long time.

Therapist believes conflict of this type would destroy any normal eleven-year-old's ability to understand relationships and trust and boundaries and friendship and love and families...

Years later I reconnected with S. As an adult, she is an integral part of my family. Her children consider me their aunt, my children are their cousins, my parents are their grandparents. She is my sister. Time helps heal the hurts of the past, but sometimes S will ask me why I stopped communicating with her. She tells me how hurtful that was, how lonely she was, how she felt she had lost everything she loved and her best friend in all the world would not talk to her. I feel guilt and shame in those moments, and sometimes I still feel a bit angry.

I don't tell her the ways my own world was destroyed. I don't talk about how, for a little while, before my cousin arrived, I felt happy. I don't tell her how much I adored her. I don't tell her the ways she saved my life...because later, without even meaning to, she took my life away when she left.

Therapist says one day I'll learn to sort through it all. He says I'll figure out how to feel the emotions and understand with empathy the things those adults went through as they tried to find the best life solution for an incredibly special, beautiful little girl. He says I've already begun the process as I speak of S as my sister and keep her in my life.

She'll be visiting me tomorrow. I still feel sorrow and pain when I'm with her. Therapist says one day that will pass and I will only feel joy.

I hope he's right.


  1. He is. :) That kind of thing is never permanent especially with the attitude you have.

  2. And I hope you're right, too. :-)