Yesterday, my sister turned seventeen years old. I wonder about the young woman she is today, and I have a good idea about some things, but I feel blurry on a lot of it. I haven’t seen her in three years, and I doubt I will see her for at least another two years. And that makes me incredibly sad.
To say that it’s all “complicated” would be an understatement, but here is the basics – my mother is toxic to me, abused me for all of my childhood – authorities even got involved a couple of times – and so she is no longer in my life. And my sister is her daughter. And she is a minor. And while I know my sister is safe, and my mother would never turn on her (you’ll just have to take my word for it, safeguards are in place – I know), my mother is very controlling and she controls and inserts herself into every aspect of my sister’s life, meaning I am not a part of it.
I’m fourteen years older than my sister, and when she was young we weren’t just siblings – we were closer. I read Kelly her first book. (For privacy purposes I did not use either of my siblings’ real names.) I fed her. When I left home after my mother tried to kill me (I was strangled to the point of unconsciousness, and given quite the beating before being dumped at my father’s house) my sister went through horrible separation anxiety – even refusing to eat unless I came over and fed her. But she wasn’t even two years old at the time, and I doubt she remembers any of this. What makes it worse is that I refuse to play my mother’s game, so for the last decade my sister has been kept from me and my mother has told her all kinds of things about how I mistreat my mother, and how horrible I am, and it makes me sick. I hate thinking that my sister has no idea who I really am, and it hurts to think that most of the things she has to go on are these lies she is told.
Sometimes I think about the day we’ll be reunited, and what that will be like. I wonder if she’ll give me a chance or if we’ll start over, or if we’ll discuss the past. I wonder what I’ll tell her about it – if I’ll tell her anything. I feel this powerful instinct to protect her and not tell her my side of things, about all of the things my mother did to me, most of them well-documented. It used to be about not wanting her in the middle, even though I realize my mother has already put her there; my participation is not necessary for this to occur. But now I realize it’s about something else – my mother was a monster to me. She did her best to break me, felt pleasure when she caused me pain. She would threaten me with knives, threaten to kill herself just to get away from me, threaten my sister and say it would be my fault… and this was my normal. So when I call my mother a monster it’s more than fair, and I’m not even saying she is a monster – period; I am saying she was a monster to me. But I don’t want my sister to know that is who she comes from. It’s insane, and I would never defend my mother, but the omission seems so tempting – wrapped up in an “it’s-the-right-thing-to-do” package.
The truth is I have always looked out for her, even after I was gone. The hours after being strangled, I thought quickly because I was scared of what would happen to her or my brother if they stayed and I was no longer there. My father was my mother’s punching bag and then he took off and the role fell onto me. I didn’t want that for either of them – it was my job to protect them, so I did. I had my father take pictures of the finger marks on my neck and the bruises up and down my sides, and on my arms and my chest, and my back. And I blackmailed my mother, because everyone should know how to blackmail at the age of fourteen. I said: “If I ever suspect *David or Kelly are being mistreated in any way, I’m going to the police. I’m not going to confront you; I am not going to ask – I’m just going to do it. So if I were you, I would make sure they’re very happy and well taken care of. And don’t think I won’t know. I lived this for the last seven years. I know what to look for – they’ll never have to tell me anything.”
It wasn’t an idle threat, and it was one I reminded her of whenever she tried to keep me from seeing them. I would have to assume there was a reason she didn’t want me to see them, and knowing her was all it took for me to connect the dots. A few years later she called me to boast about the statute of limitations being up, and I pointed out that both of my siblings were still minors in her care. It didn’t matter – the pictures were enough to begin an inquiry, and the conclusion could mean she would lose them both. That was enough.
Maybe it was ruthless or cold or evil – but I don’t think any of these things. It was necessary. I did it to protect them, and they never even knew. And I don’t want them to. My brother who is older than my sister – things are strained between us, because he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know. He’s stuck in the cycle of denial and not talking about things. He was also never a target, because I made sure he wasn’t. So he can believe what my mom says about me, and focus on the fact that I haven’t had contact with her in years. So, it must be my fault. We’re finally starting to see progress, like he has let go of whatever he was holding onto, no longer blaming me for shutting her out, and trying to accept it, but he is also twenty-six. Is that how long it will take my sister? It breaks my heart.
I ended up turning out okay. I was safer on the streets and was a nomad from the age of fifteen until I was in college. I put myself through high school while working fulltime, and working on my emancipation, which is a ridiculously long process. Then I got into college, on a couple of scholarships. It wasn’t a free ride, but they helped and again I worked fulltime my entire four years, multiple jobs at one time – earning three degrees. Then I put myself through graduate school, and then I built a business for myself that I am proud of today. And I met a man I love, and I married him. And we hope to start a family someday soon.
My life is mostly light now, but I realize I’ll always have that darkness inside me. Not one that is violent or monstrous like my mother, but I hardly think anyone can think that blackmailing someone is an innocent or pure thing to do. I will always do what’s necessary to protect the ones I love. And with the exception of violence or illegal activity, I can justify nearly any other means by its end – especially if that end means others are safe and happy and none-the-wiser. That’s the darkness I am talking about, because I see the world differently than my husband. I process things differently. I react differently. And all of these things are rooted in my abusive experiences. But it’s not all bad. I tend to put others before myself, so much so that it’s almost a complex. And I think that’s okay. I became a momma bear before I had children. Seeing people that I love happy – that’s all I need. And I am kind and compassionate and “light” until you hurt someone I love. Then get out of the way!
Sometimes I think about seeing my sister, especially on her birthday. But I can’t think of it for too long, or I get a little weepy, because I’m not sure if it will ever happen, or when it will if it does. Instead, I like to think about the woman she has become. Three years ago, she was so much like me it was scary. She had a financial plan for her future, was already thinking about what she wanted to be and the appropriate colleges, she was in almost every AP class there was, tons of school activities including student government, tons of community activities and tons of volunteer work. Out of all of my siblings she was the most like me: The overachiever, over-extender, the person who dreams but has a plan at the same time, the person who wants to make a difference but not for credit, but because doing good feels good. I hope she is still that person. I hope life has been kind to her the last three years. And I hope that she knows I love her – I hope that is one lie my mother isn’t cruel enough to use. She can say whatever she wants about the kind of person I am, but I hope she never says that.
My sister texts me twice a year, and I text her, but because of my mother’s monitoring that’s all that we do. My brother and I are pretty much the same, but for different reasons I’ve already mentioned. Even though we’re not close, it doesn’t change how I feel about either of them – I still feel close to them in spite of everything. Sometimes I wonder if they think of me; I’ve stopped torturing myself with what they might think. But I think of them every day. And every day it hurts a little, but it doesn’t change how much I love them.
Happy Birthday, Kelly – I hope it was everything you deserve and more.