A few weeks ago, my sister sent me an email about my one year. She said she loved me and I said it, too. I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I left her a voicemail on her birthday over a month before. I said that I was dealing with a lot of anger toward our mom for not protecting me more when we were kids. I meant not protecting us, but I didn’t say it that way because I didn’t want to assume she saw it like me. Assumptions like that are dangerous because you could be disappointed. You probably will be.
A while ago my best friend said that I might want to acknowledge that I’m the first one in my family confronting the reality of our past. Acknowledge that’s a lonely place. I’m walking out there alone. And that’s ok. Someone has to go first.
The thing is, no one may follow. I may be first and last.
When my sister and I were young, we dreamed of emancipating ourselves from our dad when we reached 14. We had seen it on TV – kids divorcing their parents or deciding in whose custody they would want to live. On court dramas. They were always 14. My sister turned 14, then I did. We were too scared. We didn’t even ask if it was a real thing.
I have 1 year sober, but my sister has more than 10. She still goes to meetings and has a sponsor. I’ve gone to a few with her. She made amends to me and said it was the hardest one because she knew her using affected me the most. I didn’t know she knew that. I felt grateful.
My sister had often said that she wanted me to walk her down the aisle, because I had been there for her more than our dad had. Or she said it a couple of times, which is a lot, since I don’t see her much anymore. She said she was going to have a small ceremony. She wasn’t going to invite him.
When we were about 11 and 12, our dad got into bicycling. He liked to find trails in Southern California that were 20 or 30 miles. He thought it was something we could share with him. He thought he could help us get in shape. He wanted it to work and for us to love him. What actually happened was he left us early on each ride. He didn’t believe my sister had asthma. She would always have to stop. I stopped, too, so she wouldn’t be alone. He’d wait for us at the end of the road and scream at us for walking our bikes. I just pretended I didn’t want to ride.
The time came, last October, her wedding, and she was too scared. Or she changed her mind. Or she never really intended to do what she said, but thought I might like to hear it.
The week before her rehearsal dinner, which I had originally agreed to go to, where he wasn’t even going to be, I started shutting down. I started forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence and never remembering. I would forget appointments and meetings completely, not even aware that the time for them had passed. I would fall asleep in therapy. I felt terrified, like someone was out to kill me. I woke up screaming.
So I didn’t go. Not because I was mad, though I was, but because it wasn’t safe.
My sister has been sober for 10 years. I remember what she was like when she was using. I remember calling 911. I remember how she looked at 89 pounds. How she talked. That chemical smell.
I think of my dad walking her down the aisle. The photo I saw of them, smiling, at her wedding, that I didn’t intend to see. I remember, years before, listening, my ear to the ground as he yelled at her in the garage. I don’t know why I listened.
I remember the letter she sent me when I was in rehab. I don’t really remember what it said, but I remember her handwriting.
I think about us getting older at the same time. The years. I didn’t notice them until now. I left her a voicemail on her birthday and she sent me an email a month later. Time passes. I could see her next and she’d be thirty. I could know nothing about her.