Sunday, August 27, 2006


My sister died 23 years ago today, at the age of 23, which means that she's been dead for about as long as she was alive. I find that so hard to believe, in some ways. One of the hardest things is that she has become less real, in a way. How she actually was, not to mention the pain of losing her, neither of those things has really faded much at all. But if she hadn't died, she'd be 46 years old, and I can't imagine what she would have done with those 23 years. I can make up stories, based on what I know of her first 23 years, but that's all they are: stories. Would she have married? Had children? Run a company? Worked for the World Bank? There's no way to know. If you had told me 23 years ago that I would, in the next two-plus decades, get a doctorate, go to pastry school, be a stepmother (however briefly) but not a mother, be working in a bakery making croissants for $9/hour as I approached my 50th birthday, earn part of my living as a writer and editor . . . some of those things might have surprised me, others not so much. But I couldn't even predict what I was going to do, so predicting what someone else would have done is an even more difficult task.

What that means is that she steadily fades into the mists, frozen in the pictures I have of her--as a blond, smiling kid, in our old house (from which we moved when I was 11), eating cinnamon toast cut into scribbles; standing in the snow at that house, with me; standing with my mother, brother, and me, at the back of one of our station wagons, while on vacation; as a high school gymnast; as a sorority girl; as she was in the country she was in in the months before she died. Sometimes I can hear the sound of her laughter--making her laugh was one of my talents, and I still miss the stupid private jokes we had. I miss the fact that, if she were alive, I could call her today and mention one or another of them and get a laugh out of her, especially if I invented some wacko story around it. I wonder what it would have been like to have been able to discuss my life with her these past 23 years, to hear what she had to say.

Obviously, a death like this changes the whole dynamics of the family in which it occurs. In my family, it ultimately helped heal the breach between my brother and me over my nephews' non-attendance at my wedding. I was hurt and upset, but you know what? My brother and I have been there for each other through a whole lot of bullshit, and he continues to be there for me. It also made my mother and me somewhat more tolerant of each other; I forgave her a lot more, and worked very hard to build and maintain a relationship with her, especially as it seems that everything I do is incomprehensible to her and mostly warrants her disapproval and annoyance, unless it's something about which she can brag. (Yes, I know, at heart she's worried about me and wants me to be happy, but she wants me to be happy in ways that she approves, rather in the ways that actually make me happy.) It saddens me that she's still got a bug up her ass about our recent interactions--when I called last weekend, she talked to me for a minute or so, asked if I wanted to talk to my dad, he was nearly asleep, so that didn't last long, and the whole conversation, from the time I dialed the phone until we hung up, lasted four minutes and fourteen seconds. I suspect a breach like this one would have occurred much sooner if my sister hadn't died, because I run out of patience, eventually, with this kind of behavior.

For a number of years, I had dreams about my sister, and, while I liked them in the beginning--it was like she was visiting me--I've come to dread them, because they're all the same. That is, I dream that she's not really dead, that she's been alive all these years. Over the years, my brain has begun to realize, even in the dream, that it IS a dream, which pretty much turns it into a nightmare; in the early years, the waking up was the nightmare. I haven't had one in a very long time, and that's fine with me; I recognize that I likely have them because I never saw her dead, so there's always been a certain unreality about it for me. It would be nice if I could figure out a way to dream about her that was less painful, because that would be more like the visits--but the fact that I can't imagine what her life would have been like these past 23 years makes that even more fanciful on my part.

So here's to my sister, and whatever life she would have lived.


Blogger landismom said...

That sounds like a very difficult situation, and I can't imagine how you must be feeling. I hope that you're freed of the dream.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Yes; I don't remember the last time I had one.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Badger said...

much love to you, emma.

11:13 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Here's to your sister. If you're any indication, she would be way cool during her missed years.

11:05 AM  

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