I think this post will be somewhat easier than both the writing and reading of my post on N, at least throughout the majority of its content so let’s move on shall we.
M is the oldest of my siblings. She is a full thirteen years older than me and the first child born to my father and his first wife.
Early memories of M are few. Her marriage is truly the first memory I have of any connection between us as family; as sisters. In fact, as I was very young, I am willing to bet that I really lacked any significant idea that the event I was attending had anything to do with a girl people kept telling me was my sister. I think that when you’re young, younger than say ten, and when you have never had the opportunity to actually live on a daily basis in a familial way with someone, trying to explain to a small child that their ‘sister’ is getting married, has little to no meaning. It’s just confusing.
As an aside here, looking back I find it interesting that neither M or N had a wedding in the traditional sense. They were both married in a church, and both were very young, but the ceremonies were far from a stylized event. Simplicity is almost too much to ascribe to these weddings. They both, rather ironically, wore suits and perhaps little pill-box hats with tiny veils. This was the 60’s for sure and I will leave it to you to Google the fashions of the day if you need guidance in visualizing the attire. My nature tells me that these weddings occurred the way they did because of the fact that my father had less than happy feelings for either choice of spouse in each respective relationship. I lean toward the idea that money was not forthcoming for anything more than the simplest of ceremonies.
Anyway, over the years after that, the only time I would have any contact with M was during the infrequent visitation trips my dad would take south. He went to visit his mother and since M and her family lived just miles from my grandma, the visits always included M as well. I didn’t always go along so it is easy to imagine that months went by. I do remember her home vividly though. It is a rambler and sits on about 1/4 acre of land with a long driveway. The living room has a large stone fireplace. They also have a family room. I think that room impressed me the most because I had never been in a home with an entirely separate room for watching TV or just hanging out. The reality of course is that there was nothing truly special about the house, except that it housed a relative that I was supposed to feel a connection with, but didn’t.
M had two children, and being the older aunt, my visits turned into a play date of sorts with these kids. I actually enjoyed this, because visiting M and her husband was awkward at best. I described, in my introductory post, that both M and her brother R took on more of an aunt/uncle persona for me. I had no way to relate to them being twelve to thirteen years my senior, along with having such limited contact with them. M and her husband were always polite, but they were grown-ups, ready to visit with my dad, but lacking in any real ability to identify with me and vice versa. We had a father in common, but the father M knew was very different from the father I was growing up and living with.
We were always guaranteed a summer visit. M and her family would travel to our lake cabin for the celebration of our fathers birthday in July. My dad was a twin and the celebration of this birthday belonging to two family members always turned into a family reunion. The other visits waned though. I was growing up, dad was not yet sober and my choices did not run to accompanying him on his visits for long.
I want to say that M and her husband came to my wedding, but to be absolutely honest, without looking back at pictures, I can’t say for sure. Our family aren’t big phone conversationalists, and the internet wasn’t really a thing in the 1980’s, so we kept in touch with the annual Christmas card, or dad, who was years sober by then, would fill me in on what M was doing. Of course by then, as an adult, I could understand a lot more of the nuances behind marriage, divorce, remarriage, stepchildren, half-siblings, etc. I could honestly appreciate M as my sister. Even though our time together was limited, I felt a connection finally with M simply because she had experienced many of the same issues with her mother that I had. In that way we could relate, and we were finally able to approach an adult relationship based on those mutual childhood issues.
I can’t say that I felt a sisterly love. My memory doesn’t hold the same types of feelings that I remember having for N as I grew up, but what was awkward as a child between each of us was finally coming to make sense. Although we didn’t have holidays together, and as mentioned conversations were few, M showed up on my doorstep after my cancer surgery with food, as well as a visit after daughter Alison was born.
I’m not sure how to explain a relationship of mutual respect with someone who was so not a part of my daily life, but it worked. I think we each understood that, if any need arose, we would be there for each other. The day-to-day stuff had never been something we shared, and it didn’t really need to be.
Sadly, a real test of that relationship came during the time my father passed. He went into cardiac arrest from which, after a few days of lingering, his life ended. We shared grief and anger and disbelief over the fact that he was gone. M was assigned to handle dad’s estate, and because of this role our immediate connection continued for some time. Then, as one might expect from a relationship that grew out of crisis, we gradually moved back into our roles of sisters from a distance. The annual Christmas cards continued, the kids always received monetary gifts at significant life events like graduations, and perhaps we even exchanged a very infrequent email, but M had her life and I had mine. Our intimate connection in dad had been lost.
Inexplicably, around the time that daughter Cara was getting married M reached out. I think she contacted me through Facebook and we began communicating on a regular basis. For some time it was just catch up on life, but then she began sharing with me her dissatisfaction in marriage, issues with her children, and in time, her online relationship with someone living across the country.
I listened, I commented-both about her situation and about my own struggles in marriage. The picture she portrayed of years of marriage with someone who, for all intent and purpose sounded to me like an abusive control freak, was devastating, and I began a campaign to both educate and attempt to get her out. Misogynist seemed too nice a word for M’s husband, and the pieces seemed to fit. Even as a child/teen I had an apprehension around the husband, B. I clearly sensed that the snarky, degrading remarks directed toward M were wrong, I just didn’t know why at the time. I also reasoned that perhaps the true nature of B was evident to my dad, and one of the reasons he had never seemed happy that M married.
I found myself up against a brick wall. M always denying that she was controlled, always assuring me that ‘she had the upper hand.’ In the next sentence she would go off on line after line centered on this growing online relationship. Of course, this other person was married, had his own spousal issues as well, and I was told time and again that neither of them, M or the ‘friend’ as she called him, could ever leave their current situations. There is two years worth of details about this relationship that I can’t possibly share in this space, but suffice to say that my suspicions were raised to critical level many times surrounding the ‘sincere love’ these two supposedly had for each other. I found myself at least two, maybe three times, in the midst of attempts to plot and plan secret meetings between the two. My role seemed to provide the excuse, the odd reason that M might use to get away for an even odder and erratically planned rendezvous.
In the midst of the back and forth attempts to get me to acquiesce and help in her plans I learned, only after a short pause in our communications, that M had suffered a stroke. It happened in her sleep, she claims no one noticed, and therefore it went untreated. There were cognitive issues after. I could see it in her writing, but slowly things improved, although I always noticed that she repeated much of the conversations we would have. We always only communicated on Facebook, (her choice) and I was always asked to delete our messages ‘just in case.’
Ahhh, that old ‘tip of the iceberg’ thing…so much more detail that seems pertinent to this story, but I am not writing a book. I hope, just like my writing in the last post on N, that you can begin to formulate an image of M from these few words. As for myself in all this I had moved through a range of emotions and responses:
1. A need to help my sister who I believed was living with a controlling, verbally abusive dickhead misogynist.
2. A desire for her to be happy with someone she loved.
3. A rational belief that the ‘someone she loved’ was as much of a dickhead as B, her husband, but in a lying, cheating, stalkerish, online predator sort of way.
4. The need to balance helping with staying out of what was clearly many bad choices on the part of M.
I have to mention also that randomly M would mention issues with her kids, issues that I believed were fairly normal familial issues. She did make it clear that, if at any time she needed an ally, her son would be there for her, but her daughter would side with the husband. There was never any elaboration, actually looking back there was avoidance, regarding the why behind her reasoning that sides would be drawn. Actually, looking back now I see many more signs that indicated problems of a nature I think I should have been familiar with and I wonder if I simply chose not to see them.
The culmination came a few months ago. Big plans had been brewed and M had taken herself across the country to meet with ‘the friend.’ Having told her I would not take part, M managed to include me somehow in a minor role to her family, allowing for an excuse. M and her friend immediately began to plan another visit and I preemptively attempted to remove myself as a patsy in this plan. At the same time, out of the blue, M announced to me that she had finally decided to divorce her husband, that it was imperative and had announced to him her plans. Not, mind you, that she was having a long distance affair, but that she could not live with him anymore.
The proverbial shit hit the fan and within just a few hours I was in the midst of a running Facebook message war between M and her daughter. Ironically this didn’t surprise me. I knew without a doubt that M would be found out at some point because so much of what she had been writing to me, and enacting in real life, was irrational at best.
I learned through the daughter that M was drinking. By her daughter’s estimation very heavily and for many, many years. Yes, of course initially shocking, but then the realization that I was never physically present to see the obvious, that I only had written clues in cryptic messages, that I had only ever heard one side of the story. I also learned of abuse, physical abuse directed at my niece from M going on for years.
I was gut-punched. Every memory that I had managed to stuff down inside of me was literally, in a matter of hours, slapping me in the face. If all this was true, and so many signs suddenly became clear that it was, I had been used in more ways than one. I felt like I was a child again. I felt raw and exposed and stupid and blind because I fell into the trap of alcoholism all over again. I confronted M. She denied. She apologized. She removed me from her Facebook friends. Her last message had the hint of an alcoholic who knows that they have been found out. I have not heard from her since.
My niece, A, and I have had a few conversations since that time. I heard in her voice, her words, the same questions, the same pain that used to come from inside me. All the hows, and whys, and what ifs. The anger and pain and disbelief. The embarrassment. The worry and the desire to simply run as far away as possible and not look back. I heard a grown woman speaking with a child’s voice trying to comprehend that this time, she had truly lost what little of her mother remained. I offered to meet with her because, in this case, I do understand completely. That offer has remained open, among our phone conversations and text messages. It stands if and when she is ready. I also know that, even with my words and advice, coming to terms often is best done alone, taking time to rethink and rework all the business of life with an alcoholic. She has a partner who I hope is helping her. She has a college freshman, who I hope is getting help as well, who grew up knowing that her grandmother M was not well.
I’ve questioned myself many times since this relationship ended. Two sisters down–what is it about me, what could I have done differently…in both situations, with either N or M, to change things. Nothing. I hope that my niece can come to understand this in time as well.
Christmas update: after a few months without hearing from my niece A, and trying to allow her some time to process all this, I received a ‘Merry Christmas’ text message from her. Briefly, when I asked about M, she simply told me that the divorce had been abruptly called off and that M and her husband were living as if nothing happened. My niece is choosing to stay away and attempt to live life.
I left it at that, because it is clear that she has too much to deal with and even if I ask, my remaining questions will most likely never have a clear answer because only M could really give the answers I desire. M no longer has a Facebook page. I checked.
So I must move on because right now I have no other choice. And as to my opening comment, ‘easier’ is a word I plan not to use when writing these posts about my siblings.