We started a few days ago with this post. The introductory reveal of my three siblings, which could have gotten quickly out of control so the format moved to one-on-one discussion, and today we will start with N, who I feel is the most complicated. It’s a long post so grab your coffee now.
N was the mother figure in my life for many years. After she married she tried as much as possible to continue to make life bearable for me with alcoholic parents. I was six when she got married so the years confined to worsening emotionally abusive drinking went on until my own move at eighteen.
N and her husband, the one and only guy she dated during high school, tried for years to have a child of their own. I think I was eleven or twelve when they finally were able to conceive, so a long time. The little boy was sweet and spoiled. I think N knew that she would never have another child. At some point, I was perhaps fifteen, N discovered an affair, divorce ensued and she was left to raise her son as well as look for a job. She had never worked and I can imagine how terrified she must have been.
Selfishly I rather enjoyed the fact that she was no longer married. I was able to have time with her during the days that her son was with his father. She taught me how to drive, I think I attended my very first rock concert with her; Peter Frampton or the Eagles or maybe both. Even when I began dating, and she found herself attached to an old family friend, I don’t remember a sense of detachment or moving away from each other.
Some of this next bit I can only speculate about because I have never been given direct answers to how the downward spiral journey of our relationship really began.
Dad stopped drinking and he and I gradually grew closer, although that took a long time. I think she began to be jealous of this fact. She had never had a relationship with her own father (I don’t know why at all) and seeing me turn to him and even farther away from the only relative we had in common (mom) actually drove her to begin to ignore, or at least downplay, mothers alcoholism.
A second marriage didn’t last for her and ironically she moved into an apartment in the same complex as me with her son. This was after my own long-time relationship break-up. I met someone else and eventually we planned to marry. Our wedding was planned for the following April; it was then early summer. N and I slowly drifted farther apart: I was attached, she wasn’t. I was getting married, she was reminded of divorce. I had my dad, she didn’t. I was attempting to distance myself from our mother, she was moving closer.
I received a birthday card from her. I remember none of what it said except for the hand written words: “Deb, I’m sorry but I want to give you enough time to find someone else. I cannot take part in your wedding or be your matron of honor.”
The one person above all else that I wanted to share that day with and she had just jumped ship, bowed out, taken a hike, dumped me. No explanation. Not even the guts to look me in the face, because she knew that I would ask why. Honestly, I still have never had a clear answer to that why and I did ask her after a long time apart. I married without her, had my first child two years later, and from somewhere she tentatively reappeared, slowly, wanting to reestablish sisterhood. I can’t begin to explain here the reasons she gave me when I asked her to tell me about her decision to remove herself from me in such an abrupt way. I remember them as vague, as inconsequential, as maneuvering to cover her ass. Again, only speculation, but I think our mother played on her jealousy and somehow managed to convince N to stay away. That behavior sounds very much like the mind games mother used to play.
So we moved on. Although unanswered questions always hung over my head, I chose to let them go so that N could get to know her niece and then shortly thereafter, her nephew. Her son was an adult, moving in and out of relationships so she was living alone by then in a large three bedroom home, furnished, landscaped and completely paid for in full from a very large inheritance associated with a family member of her fathers. Again, wishing I could share more for my own sanity on this, but no info.
Greater tension and friction ensued between N and my own father after this. It was not until years later, after my father’s death that the full scope of this financial windfall became clear. His assets were divided equally…between his three children only. N got nothing. I knew of his resentment over this inheritance, but again not why or just how damn much.
She and I moved in and out of amicable sisterhood for many years, although hints always lurked of the jealousy still focused on her unhappiness at being alone versus my somewhat stable marriage, my growing family versus her only child, the accomplishments of my kids versus the rather shady goings-on of her son. By this time I had removed myself entirely from my mother. After years of verbal and emotional abuse that had followed me for a time into my marriage I cut off all ties with her. N however did not, nor did I expect her to. They had a bond, something I could have never had simply because I was my father’s daughter and that made me less in my mothers eyes.
I look at that time now and wonder why I wasn’t the one feeling jealous. N had a mother and memories of life prior to alcohol. I had someone who gave birth to me but who chose to spew her hatred for my father onto me and what I represented. Perhaps N wanted to let go as well but simply couldn’t. Perhaps, had she turned from our mother as well, then in her mind I would have truly won, truly come out on top with all the prizes she believed she never had.
Somewhere in time before daughter Alison came along the break in my relationship with N began to grow again. I don’t remember what instigated the separation at that time. The time spent away from each other simply got longer and longer. What used to be weekly visits lengthened to months. Phone conversations became less and less. She did remarry again and seemed happy, although financially her life was not as rosy as it had initially been. The times that we did talk about life were always punctuated with her sorrow, her sadness at her circumstances, her general unhappiness. I often wondered if I should have done or said something more…voiced the problems in my own marriage, complained of my kids even though they were doing well. I can only describe my focus at this time as someone who is witnessing a quasi martyr (I know that’s not a ‘thing’ but I have no better description). I felt as if N was helped to define herself in terms of just how much suffering she had/was currently living through. She wanted to succeed in some area of living and suffering was what she had chosen.
In one of our reconnect phases N shared with me that she had attempted suicide, although she couldn’t speak of it in that blunt term. She shared a rather vague story of issues with her son, mental health issues, a decision late in life to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, and her desire one night to simply stop being. At the time I was beyond stunned. That was long before I realized just how difficult emotionally her life had been. I also realized that there was much more that I didn’t know, and true to form in our family, much would continue to be hidden out of shame, control, or perhaps even a piteous need to be a victim crying out for attention.
When the realization came that N had moved on to playing favorites with my own children, clearly attempting to draw closer to one, I had a moment of clarity. Our mother and my dad had passed on by that time. N had little in the way of relationship with her own son, who had a child by this time. She tried to dote on the grandchild, but that was difficult given the circumstances between father and mother of the child. I saw her turning to my children to fill a void, but one child was always singled out, favored, idolized, while the others were an afterthought. I saw the potential for N to use many of the same games on my children as were used on us. Surprising…no, because this was what N had learned from life…how to work effectively to get the love and attention you desire or feel you are owed.
After that time the kids were simply ‘busy’ with life, I only visited on occasion and then the conversations were brief. We simply just parted rather quietly and honestly, it wasn’t hard to just let things go. She was always invited to take part in major life events, and for a while I even continued to try to encourage her to take part in holidays, especially as my children grew up, because I knew her hold had been lessened.
As was normal with N, there was always an excuse, a reason that she just couldn’t attend whatever the occasion, but this had been how she had always lived life: wanting to be included, desperate to be a part of something more, yet unable to join in. My amateur psychology degree has constructed and reconstructed the why behind this behavior, but of course there’s no easy answer save for the fact that she lived with her own brand of unseen and unrecognized emotional trauma whereas mine was on display 24/7 in shiny bottles of bourbon.
I used to wonder how or if I was supposed to help her. What could I have done, and the answer is most likely nothing. I remember she once said to me, in an off-hand sort of comment, that she always struggled with my ability to step back, to be strong, to take control over my life as the child of alcoholics. I think she even used the word jealous. She didn’t have the ability, the capability, to do any of that and I have learned that I couldn’t do it for her.
There was an incident, just a few years ago, with the favored child. It turned into a ranting, unkind, thoroughly unhealthy dictate with demands from N, to that child, on expectations surrounding their relationship. It came out of nowhere and I was livid. In the fashion that so encompasses our family, I fired off a letter which clearly detailed MY expectations. Then, in a completely unexpected turn of events, months later, N showed up at Jeff and Mere’s wedding. She came with some other family members. It was awkward, civil, and simply odd. Apologies floated around, words of sorrow and the inherent loneliness of separation were expressed. Goodbyes were said and that is the end. I believe that none of us have had any contact with N since.
So now a deep breath and sigh.
That readers is a much condensed version of my sibling N and our familial relations over the years. And of course it is only my perspective, which hardly seems just or fair to N or the upcoming siblings who will be in the spotlight with their own posts soon. I hope that you can take away some small image from these words, rather good or bad, at least some insight into the loss of a person who was once so important in my life.
*A long, long post, yet I have to add this: I have re-read this page a few times and, as with much of the writing I do regarding family, this post comes across even to me as rather emotionless and distant. I think we can presume that my moniker can be any combination of words defined along those traits. It is self-preservation at its best. Always state the facts and nothing more. Never let them know you feel or hurt. Someday perhaps, but I give myself permission to accept the struggle and anxiety that ‘feeling’ entails.
**Next up: M