Monday, April 25, 2011
The last time I spoke to my little sister, Jennifer, my 20-year-old daughter, Amelia, wasn’t old enough to drive yet.
It was Christmas 2006 and we were visiting our parents in Atlanta. Jenny, who’s two years younger than I am, brought her 12-year-old son, Joseph. I brought Amelia and the woman to whom I was married, Alessandra, who would leave me three months later. (I’m pretty sure her sudden, unexpected departure had nothing to do with meeting my family.)
My nephew was a sweet boy. His mother was not.
I loved Jenny but I didn’t like her much anymore. She was hard-assed and argumentative and egotistical and confrontational. At one point, when we were all sitting around the dining room table after dinner playing Scattergories, it occurred to me that the moment would have made a good ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit – a boorish, self-absorbed, masculine woman was pontificating about anything and everything and not letting anyone else at the table get a word in edgewise and not even stopping to take a breath, it seemed, until the rest of us felt like inflicting severe bodily harm with a butter knife, a pen, even a car key just to make her stop.
I tried to tell myself that this was the behavior of an insecure woman who had felt overlooked as a child, who had perhaps been overshadowed by her witty older brother, and who was now utterly determined to grab as much attention as possible whether her unwilling audience liked it or not. I clenched my fists and my jaw and bit my tongue and tried to persevere but I just couldn’t take it anymore and I finally blurted out, “Jesus, will you just shut up for a frikkin’ minute?!”
The visit went downhill from there.
Jenny stopped speaking to me completely, and our mom informed me the next morning that my sister and nephew would be leaving that very afternoon to return to California. Jenny had told her that she didn’t feel comfortable around me and didn’t need to take this sh*t from anybody and would spend her holidays among people she loved and that didn’t include me anymore. Or words to that effect. I haven’t seen her or Joe since.
I received a nasty e-mail from her a few years later when she heard that Amelia and I were having a hard time (and were in fact estranged), and I receive occasional updates about her from our mom, although they’re infrequent because Jenny and Mom have their own issues. But for all intents and purposes I find myself without a sibling at the age of 49.
I wish I had just kept my mouth shut and let her use hers to excess. I wish we still connected like the childhood pals we were growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s. I wish she didn’t resent that I might have received more attention when we were kids. I wish she was aware of how cool she had turned out to be – she had moved out to Los Angeles alone after college to carve out a whole new life, had earned a master’s degree, was raising a son by herself, and displayed a strong personality that I secretly envied – and didn’t feel the need to go overboard trying to convince her family that she was lovable. I wish I saw us reconciling at some point, just burying the hatchet and starting over, but I don’t.
I wish relationships weren’t so complicated and difficult for me to maintain sometimes.
Although we’re not even Facebook friends, I visit her page sometimes just to see what my 47-year-old baby sister looks like now.