Sunday night was the big Listen To Your Mother show and it was magic and empowering and has changed everything for me in so many ways. But I can’t even begin to process it because something else happened Sunday night that has me kind of reeling. And emotional. And giddily happy. And then scared silly. And then weeping with joy.
My youngest sister Dee flew in to watch me perform. She didn’t tell me, we hadn’t even talked on the phone in ages, and she wasn’t even sure if she was going to surprise me at all or just leave after the show – she was that unsure of what to expect from me. That last time I saw this woman she was ten years old. She got married nearly a year ago and I wasn’t there. I wanted to be. Desperately. But I knew that fractured family relationships would bring disaster on a day that she deserved to have for herself. So I put my dreams for her back in the spot in my heart where they’ve been locked for all these years. Hoping that a day would come when we could be together without the web of family dynamics.
She called my name as I was walking across the theater lobby and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. She was crying, I was crying, my friend Sarah was snapping pictures while crying. I immediately made her and her husband Chris come back to my house where we stayed up until 4 am talking and crying and eating and then after a little more time on Monday they were back on a plane and I’ve been walking around in a stupor ever since.
When I ended my relationship with my parents, it was the wisest and hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it carried heartbreaking consequences for my relationships with my siblings. I have two sisters I don’t talk to, both for different variations of the same problem – repeating destructive patterns in our relationships that were set up for us by our parents. I wish nothing but every life’s happiness for them, but I am unconvinced that that includes each other. We all see our upbringings very differently and after years of sad experience I don’t think it’s possible for me to have a relationship with a sibling that denies my truth. I am rarely upfront about the pain I feel, I usually mask it under black humor and defiance, but this discovery was made at a cost so dear I didn’t think I could bear it. Some days I still don’t. I have to be careful what movies I watch or music I listen to because anything that reminds me of my siblings will send me into the dark place for weeks. This also means that I have kept the two siblings I do talk to at a distance. I am the only one who doesn’t have a relationship with my parents and after years of heartbreak so intense there are no words for it, I am wary and scared that all the hard work of healing I’ve done will be undone by getting too close to people who don’t see what I see. Not that I expect everyone to accept my way or no way, it’s just that for the sake of my emotional health I at least need people to let me have my own experience and not rewrite it into what they need.
Dee called me out on some of the ways I haven’t tried enough with her. And she was right. Because it is so so much harder to have hope than to just close the door and lock it. And she wasn’t quite right, because for most of her life she was too young to deal with this stuff. She was dependent on my parents and siblings and my own stuff would have been completely inappropriate to dump on her. Plus, I desperately wanted to believe she would never need to. That somehow it would have all magically gone over her head and I could pay the sacrifice of giving her up to keep her from ever feeling it. But I see now that I wasn’t giving her enough credit. She’s 24 now, not the 10 year old still living in my heart.
I think the thing that was the most surprising to me in all of this was her reaction to me. She was so happy and so emotional and something as simple as me inviting her back to my house meant so much to her, it all made me realize I had no comprehension of what I meant to her. I’ve seen myself from afar, loving that little girl I helped raise like she was my own, tortured by the loss of her in my life, and I never once considered that she felt that way about me. I was going off of the experiences I’d had with my other siblings and I never suspected that she would miss me like I have missed her. And I don’t think she had any comprehension of how much I did. By climbing on that airplane she was taking a big vulnerable leap into the unknown and hoping that she wouldn’t be rejected. At first I was shocked she would feel that way, and then I thought, of course she did. Why don’t I pick up the phone to call her? For the same reason. Only I let it stop me.
When you see these feel good stories of friends and families reunited, they always stop at the hug. And there’s a reason for that. What comes next is pretty terrifying. We both have a lot of work ahead of us to forge a relationship that is free from the reins of family dynamics and is one that serves us both. We have a lot of time to make up for and a lot of assumptions to unlearn. But I feel so hopeful this time around. Any of the other times I’ve been here I haven’t felt matched. It always felt great, but dangerously one-sided, and sure enough, it was only a matter of time before the patched plaster cracked and the fractures returned. This time, I think it might actually stick.