This weeks assignment was to write about something unresolved in my life. It had to have urgency and tension.
Tom suggested I post something “light” this week as my last two posts have been “heavy”. I didn’t know if I agreed with him or not, but in the end decided to share my “dark” assignment because I worked so fucking hard on it. And I’m all worn out…
So here it is…the saga continues…
I recoil at the question that invades my day. I close my eyes willing it away, but it inevitably returns, like a puppy undeterred by my avoidance to get the attention it needs. I have wrestled all my life with my need to belong to my family. The reality is that no matter what role I play to please, I just don’t fit. So if I don’t make the trek home when mom dies, I will be cast as the deserter. But going could be emotional suicide.
The last time I made the journey east across the Delaware was for the dual purposes of following my brother Rob’s edict to sell the family home and to visit mom in the assisted living facility he unilaterally decided to move her into. My plan was to meet with the realtor, visit mom, take her to lunch, drive her around the neighborhood she grew up in, then head west-putting a safe distance between me and my only sibling. I intended to slip in and out of NJ, under my brother’s radar, like a CIA Ninja.
The realtor was referred to me by Andy, my hairdresser and recently licensed real estate agent. He said he had asked for someone that would sell for a long distant client and wasn’t afraid of family ghosts. Debbie Leigh, about my age, with a slight NJ accent and a warm smile, took the job.
Debbie liked the house and was excited she was to sell it. She seemed unfazed as I filled in some of the family dynamics. As we sat in the living room, still full with the furniture of my childhood, Rob, unsuspectedly, blew in through the front door. His puffed up chest, reddened face and clipped speech stopped us in mid sentence. The air was sucked out of my lungs-like a baby in a wind storm. I smelled danger. I wondered how he knew we were there, at that specific time, on that particular weekend. What tracking devise did he have? My paranoia rose in direct proportions to his hostility.
He announced to the room that he had rented the house beginning next month…so selling it would not be an option. I was absolutely silent and my body was still. I learned at an early age that if he doesn’t see me, he will leave me alone. Debbie spoke through the tension, like an experienced family therapist, offering a dual plan of renting while showing the house.
Later, when Rob found me alone, searching for my misplaced sunglasses and car keys, he insisted I knew he had rented the house and went on to conclude I was trying to undermine his plans. I told him I didn’t know. This only infuriated him more. The poison in his voice turned my legs to jello and the saliva left my mouth.
I headed toward my car begging my legs to carry me. As I crossed the lawn I got a whiff of freshly cut grass despite the snow covered ground, an olfactory reminder of a childhood memory. Adolescent Rob shoving grass clippings into my elementary school shirt and pants. I remembered how he would wrestle me to the ground, pin my arms with his legs and sit heavily on my rib cage. I couldn’t breathe or move, then. I was determined to save myself now.
I reached the car. As I opened the car door I felt my right shoulder spasm. My body reminded me of the many times my arm was pulled back behind my back, yanking my hand to the opposite shoulder blade, until I fell to my knees. He wanted to hear me say, Uncle. I always did. I hated him for hurting me so badly. I hated myself for surrendering to the pain.
He didn’t start out mean, at least I don’t think he did. He just didn’t want a sibling. When mom was still in the hospital, after my birth, she called Rob. He was staying with her mother, our grandmother. Rob tearfully asked mom if she had had a baby. My new mom told her almost 4 year old, No. That response sealed my fate and secured her lack of protection of me. He hated me and distrusted her, and I never felt wanted by, or safe with, either of them. I was a kid on a hot tin roof.
I have little defense against his life long bullying, despite the years of therapy I have spent on it. I inevitably end up bloodied and self recriminating for putting myself in harms way, again. So I ask myself, what if I didn’t go to mom’s funeral? What if I stayed where I am safe, finally refusing to cross the state line? Mom and Rob have not been an integral part of my life for well over 30 years. I designed it that way and they didn’t seem to notice. So in an ‘everyday way’ I will not miss mom after she passes. I will not hear myself say, “Oh I should call and tell mom this,” or “ I’ll talk to mom, she’ll understand.”
But deep inside, behind my belly button where we were once joined, there is a little girl who will still be looking for her mom. When mom dies so does my hope of finding her.