So, after I sent my second letter to my family, my sister responded. (text posted below)
There are a lot of familiar things in her response. There is the refusal to listen, the refusal to hear my side of things. That is nothing new. There is the continual defense of Mom, and the denigration of Dad, for EXACTLY the same behavior (#7). Actually, reading that, it should come as no surprise at all that they can hold me accountable for what happened at both our parents’ deaths. She, and they, have had a shitload of practice at that kind of cognitive dissonance. It is just second nature.
In the course of a couple of years now of writing about this giant ball of shit — draft emails, real emails, and now blogging — I can’t help but notice that I often refer to the rest of my family as a sort of monolithic “THEY”. I started thinking about whether this was fair to them, and whether I should try to separate out each person’s behavior instead.
I’ve decided that isn’t really appropriate, and here’s why. I’ve noticed that all four of “them” have, on separate occasions, felt entirely free to speak for the others in this conflict. My youngest brother, with his memorable lecture that included “No one holds it against you how you acted” when Dad died. Joe insisting that “no one else has a problem” with Susan (when I know differently for a fact) — so of course the problem must be me. My oldest brother emailing that The Triumvirate was brought up to be obedient, and they hold absolutely no resentment over what happened to the family around the circumstances of my birth – a sentiment echoed by my sister below, and one on which I call bullshit. I don’t know a teenager in the world who would not be resentful about what happened. Either they are lying, or they are saints. And they are no saints, although they probably imagine themselves to be.
Information flows freely among the rest of the family: I know for a fact that my sister has forwarded around emails that were written between me and her, as if to show everyone how hard she is trying, and how crazy and unreasonable I am. This is classic character assassination and a common ploy of narcissists.
Last summer, after the email below, I received a package in the mail. Apparently she “couldn’t help herself” to respond to my lack of response to her baiting in the email. The package contained:
- a slip of paper with three bible verse references on it – not the actual verses, mind you, just the references, presumably to make me look them up myself;
- a bunch of pictures of me, my dad, and me and my dad — I am guessing this was some kind of purge, as she has always been fanatical about being The Keeper Of The Family Photos;
- two printouts of emails that I sent OVER TEN FUCKING YEARS AGO, which mentioned (1) how much I had enjoyed some family get-together and (2) some indication of a belief in a hereafter — I imagine these were meant to show how wrong I am about not wanting to come to the reunions any more, and how wrong I am to be an atheist now;
- Five notes that were written to me by my father, around the age of kindergarten, which refer to “cuddling” and so forth.
I admit these had me mystified — and angry. Why did she have these? And why had she kept them until now? The answer to the first question is that she also made herself the Keeper Of All Mom’s Things. These notes had to be in with Mom’s stuff. So why these five notes? I already have other, similar notes, that were in Dad’s stuff when he died. The answer to that is, my mother tried to vilify the love between my father and me by suspecting there was something sexual about it. These notes, the ones that mention physical affection, were her “proof” that there was something “dirty” going on.
- Not one fucking word written by my own fucking sister.
I wish I could remember just exactly what it was that one of her daughters said a couple of years ago that made me realize that her daughters are perfectly aware that their mother does not like me.
A couple of years ago, her husband offered to meet with us, to talk and try to get to grips with all this family bullshit — only it would have to be in another town, he said, which made me realize that he was not allowed to fly to where we live. And a few months ago, I called him to ask some financial advice, only to find out that my sister has forbidden him to to call us.
And let’s not forget the part where she is systematically leaving us out of family events. First it was my nephew’s graduation, which she then stupidly described in her Xmas newsletter — or was it deliberate? Who knows? I found out from that phone call to my BIL that I had a grand-nephew on the way, and two nephews getting married next year. I’m not holding my breath about being invited to either of those, either.
Yes, my sister does in fact treat me like this. She forwards my emails. She forbids people to have contact with me. She does shit to me that you would not do to, say, a neighbor or a member of a social group that you happen to belong to.
Yes, this is considered abusive behavior.
Some sister, huh?
And, there is my sister’s email response to my Declaration of Independence.
What I notice most about this email now is that there is a very strong “Us versus You” framework here. And I now know it has always been there.
This is what I referred to when I said in my earliest writings that I felt like some kind of odd cousin at the reunions, rather than a sibling. And when I later wrote that I had spent the early decades of my life trying to establish ties, to write more letters, to have relationships. And when I wrote that I had hoped the reunions would finally be my chance to be a real part of this family.
This is what my husband referred to when he said that “They don’t know how to interact with you.”
This is what I referred to when I said that “[My sister] acts as though the family ends with [brother #4] and treats him as the baby of the family.”
And what my husband referred to when he wrote, “In 15 years that she & I have been married I have always been surprised by the awkwardness of interactions between her and her older siblings… what was startling to me was that I never saw her being treated as the baby of the family. I saw everyone acting and interacting like [brother #4] was the youngest child. It is like the group is [my sister, brother #1, brother #2, brother #4], oh and then her …. And the unspoken distance between [my sister] and her in particular seemed very large.”
Yeah. Tell me again, sis, that I’m imagining it.
And I’ll look at the family photo album you put together, where everyone else’s birth gets at least one full page, if not two, and mine gets second place on a page with as many pictures of [brother #4] playing in the snow as of me. And where for every new addition to the family, there is a line of pictures with all 3, all 4, all 5 siblings in a row, on an equal footing — but not one with all 6.
Since she has no issues sharing what I write, I’ll return the favor. This is her email in its entirety:
Some thoughts and observations, in no particular order:
(1) We know and understand that you had a different relationship with Dad than any of the rest of us. We accept it and we’ve made our peace with it. We don’t resent the fact (or you, personally), and we are not jealous. That’s just the way things were. (Although if anyone WERE to resent it, it would have to be [brother #4].) We understand your deep feelings, although we don’t share them to the same degree. I know you won’t believe this, but We ALL love Dad. However, you seem unable to come to grips with the fact that our relationships, however different from yours, were what they were — and our feelings are just as valid as yours.
(2) You really don’t know me, and you certainly don’t “get” me. Therefore, I find it disturbing to have you ascribe motives, feelings, and reactions to me that are simply untrue. (And I find it even more disturbing when [your husband] does it, considering that he knows even less than you.) We are poles apart, in years, lifestyle, and philosophy. One huge difference, of course, is that you never had (or wanted) a family. We’ve always been in different “places” in life and thus have had different perspectives. For example, in 1988, when you were starting your second year of college, I was 36, running a household and caring for a newborn and three other kids ages 2, 5 and 7.
(3) You have said at various times that you do not enjoy coming to the reunions, and that you have little or nothing in common with the rest of us. Yet you seem to resent the fact that we enjoy each other’s company and are able to have a good time without you. What’s up with that?
(4) When you “friended” me on FB the day before the reunion, I thought it odd, and my first instinct was to “unfriend” you immediately (considering the nasty things both you and [your husband] had to say about me after the last reunion; see #2.) However, in the interest of keeping the lines of communication open, I did not. Considering the comments you made on FB and #3, I have to wonder if it was morbid curiosity on your part?
[I have to point out that I did not “friend” her as she thinks — what I did was to accept HER friend request that had been hanging out there for a year or more. She thinks I somehow “friended” her against her will.]
(5) You have mentioned being ignored at the last reunion. I know that I specifically asked you about your knitting classes, and whether you were doing anything with the house. In contrast, you did not ask me about ANYTHING — how difficult would it have been for you to say, When does school start for you? or, What are you teaching this year? or, How do you feel about being a grandmother? It was interesting that the universal post-reunion comment last year was that [you] did not ask anybody anything about what they were doing — with the possible exception of [my nephew].
(6) What is the purpose of your email? Is it meant to restore sibling relationships? Do you WANT a cordial relationship with any of your siblings? What DO you want from us, if anything? What is your vision of the ideal response to your email?
(7) If you had a bad relationship with Mom, please think about the fact that Dad certainly colored your opinion — and as a 6-,7-, or 8- year old, you would not have even been aware of it.
(8) One of my favorite t-shirt quotes: I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.
(9) In the email exchange this last summer (which began, if you recall, with your questioning my veracity — before I had even a chance to reply!), I told you that there was no psychotic episode, and you told me that there HAD to be one, even though you did not have a shred of evidence for it! If there were, don’t you think it would have at least come out in the custody hearing?
You have obviously been going through a bad time the last few years, and I do hope that you can find some peace.
PS — I did not read your last email. I got the “highlights” from others. Please do not respond to this, (although you probably won’t be able to help yourself) because I won’t read it, either. Your emails dealing with family issues are disturbing, not to mention, rife with “inaccuracies.” My intention is to give you some food for thought, or fodder for the next session with your therapist.