*The following is a work of fiction except for the true parts.
Says She’s Your Sister
I…knew better. This was foolishness. My brother doesn’t want me in his sight, hearing, head. But maybe this time will be different. Because this time is very bad. Very bad.
Can home live inside another person’s voice? The resonance of your father when he wasn’t angry? The tones of inborne utter kindheartedness taught by your mother from toddlerhood? The perfect words of strength chosen and given when you burned your leg on the engine block of the little green Honda motorbike when you were five? All that feeling in a person’s voice?
I knew better, tho. I mean, he couldn’t have been clearer that he wants me to disappear from the planet unless he’d actually ever talked to me.
He has never talked to me.
He blocked my number, both from me and from the snoop-website I once paid to locate it. His email goes to his wife and he has no other presence on the internet. He lives secluded on the last fading line of the “grid”. I went to his home once years ago, when I realized with shock I wasn’t supposed to. But he wouldn’t talk to me but texted a threat to call the police for trespassing.
All in shaky texts I sent from the cattle gate at the bottom of his land. I stopped because the texts were showing up 150 miles away, popping up on my little girl’s Minion Rush game she borrowed my ipad for.
I wrote letters. I looked for intercessors who could explain it, even broker peace. There were none, either all dead or unwilling to get involved. Or not nearly fond enough of me to try.
But I kept at it. I didn’t want to. But my life is full of unhealthy choices I continue to make, no matter how many resolutions get broken.
Everyone is weary and broken. You can’t reach out to a carefully and lovingly assembled support system if every member is just as overwhelmed and hurting as you are. When have fallen this far, there is only family. They don’t need to like you but they love you. They must. They must.
That’s what I believed. Because I was getting hour by hour more distant from true and real things, every day further toward the edge of the cliff, bitten by rocks and blinded by mists. So I forgot that I knew what would happen and I tried.
Because…see…see…there’s been a mistake.
I told her, after I signed the papers alone in that hospital room, after I told them to turn off the machines, I told her sweet aware eyes that she could go, we’d take care of each other. Go be with Dad in Heaven, she’d earned it. I held her and told her she’d done so well by us… we’d all be all right. We had each other.
And then the future unspooled and it turned out I lied to her. I lied to Mom.
I had…three random pieces of information. My brother’s name. His town. A rough idea of what his work was…but researching what is hidden and buried is what I do.
The first time no one answered the number I found I was relieved. It wasn’t meant to be.
Two weeks later…I was dangling by bloody fingernails and so it just happened. A squint at the digits on the laptop, doublechecking for transposition as I stabbed them one by one into my phone…I always get numbers transposed. Especially in dreams, and I have had this dream a lot.
A woman answered and I asked for him by the name everyone has called him since he left home at 18. Not his real name. Only a few people are left who know his real name.
“Who should I say is calling?” The lady sounded like all the ladies I knew in that town. Tough and always looking for the wool you might being hiding behind your back. Not over her eyes, Sunshine. Not today.
I don’t carry wool. It makes me itch.
A door opening…a machine grinding down while that name that’s not his real one was called sharply.
“For you. Says she’s your sister.”
Don’t think o his voice it’s him o big brother home home home big brother please dad mom sister laugh family you love me remember remember how you love me remember home?
“Big Brother. It’s Therese. Things are bad. Can I come to you?”
no no no no no no He spoke without pause, without a stumble, good natured. No, I don’t know where I left the remote. No, I don’t think you’ll need to put on the snow tires. He didn’t ask what could be so bad that I’d dare try to reach him. Didn’t ask if there were death or abuse or homelessness. No. Nothing bad enough can happen that I will take you in my arms, my home, my time.
What have I done?
People were listening, but I don’t think he was going to ask anyway.
“This is my work line,” he reminded me.
When I cry I choke, a throat closed and lungs straining. Every word is hyperventilated and stilted.
“I. Know. No. Other. Way. No other. Phone or way. To talk. To you.”
Cheerful but with a anger in the undertone, so I’d hear it, but the people around him wouldn’t.
“Did you try (his wife)?”
Strange question. He must know she protects him from me, and has steadfastly, loyally refused to open any gateway to him for near a decade now. So yes, I have. For years. In every way. I don’t try anymore. I’m not her problem. She never told my husband she’d kill him if he hurt me. She never prepared to build an addition onto her home to house me if I couldn’t find my way as a young woman. She never declared to love my children same as her own. He did.
“She’s. Not. My Brother. She’s not. My brother.” Forcing words over wet and slippery jags in my throat. My time is ticking down I only have seconds. Fingers are bloody and slipping slipping slipping. I have to…I have to…”I LOVE YOU.”
“I love you, too!” Cheerful and easy again. The words I think I need to hear so I can get put together again. But they tear me instead, with the kind of force that can rip flesh and leave it bloody and ragged. And perhaps, that is not a metaphor.
I love you doesn’t mean the same thing for us. For me it means, I will forgive as soon as the flash of anger fades. I understand why you’re being rotten. I will try and see where you are empty and offer to fill in what I can. I will forget that I love you, maybe a lot. But it will come back to me like lightening wakefulness, a phone ringing in the night, if you need me.”
I love you. It means “I will get dirty hands for you. Dirty to my neck. I will lean into your confrontation as if pulled by an umbilicus, if you need me. “
I don’t know what he thinks it means. It’s not something you do. It’s perhaps a biological statement? “I have your same blood. So I guess I love you. The sky is blue but what does it really matter?”
He hung up, because it was a work line.
I felt him drop away and I wailed because I’ll never see him again or hear that voice, beautiful voice. He will take what I did as an assault of sorts. An act of war, not a subjugated plea from a conquered heart. He demands to be left alone and I didn’t do it. He doesn’t want me and he will die without need to see me, talk to me.
But me, I will regret the thing I don’t know that I did every day left in my life. I’ve tried to get over it. That doesn’t happen. [Congratulations to anyone who can tuck away disappointment and heartache. I wish I were more like you, but don’t bother counseling me to be so. Take it as given that I’ve tried.]
I don’t know all what I did or said then. Except I fell.
If the one who threw and caught you when you were four cannot love you and catch you…won’t even reach out a hand to snag your shirt collar as you pass…who ever will?
If he finds me unbearable, who will ever bear me?
And so I went over the Event Horizon, alone in a corner of a big house.
You might as well live.
When my husband, whose love I don’t always understand, but was that day a thing of action, came up and saw and said “You have to go to the hospital” I said no…I’ve already been. The system is unsuited to me. They stabilize you medically, which I already am, and kick you out and it cost thousands and you feel humiliated and stigmatized and more lonesome than you can imagine.
I remember saying all this with toneless lucidity. Besides, if you force me they can only hold me three days and I’ll just act sane…I have had so much therapy and I’m very smart in that particular way, whereas they are harried and tired and narrowly focused.
I can remember flipping from grown to child, sharp and bright to suffocating in smog. Gus is a fine man for trying to help with that.
He said “Three days might be long enough to save you.” he started noticing with agitation the once harmless oddities in my office, the orange medications in my pretty blue chocolates tin, our great grandfather’s straight razor in my display case, the ancient and crumbling strychnine and digitalis tablets I found in an abandoned doctor’s kit, screwed into a display box on my desk.
He…I can’t remember? I couldn’t see him very well? I had a pillow. I held it and it was like holding me but tiny when they loved me. And I told her I loved her and it would be okay.
To put him at ease I recited my own dull version of Dorothy Parker’s famous poem.
“It would take at least four full bottles of these to be fatal. No jump from a building under five stories can guarantee fatality and there aren’t any that high here. Wrist cutting is for the movies or the brave; it would need to be done with near surgical precision to bleed out before I’d change my mind. And I’m scared of hanging and guns.”
You might as well live.
“I like the ocean tho,” I said, tears stopping. Like remembering the lost ingredient for your favorite food is in the freezer. “So cold and clean and it’s infinite and it roars like it loves you and you walk in when the tides right and no one would have to find you…you’d just go into the infinite. The suffocation would hurt but not so bad. If the ocean has you you’d be safe no matter what, you know?”
That shouldn’t comfort me, I thought. I do remember looking up from my pillow and saying, “I am experiencing thinking errors.”
I was forgetting how much I love my children, and that they wouldn’t be all right without me. But it didn’t really…matter? The furthest cliffs of your mind are buried in clouds. You can’t see clearly and your oxygen is thin.
But I could empirically prove with heavy precedent that I loved them more than my own self, thus this line of thinking, which would result in irrevocable damage to their lives shows that I’m thinking incorrectly. I should find a place to keep myself safe until I can think again.
That had been my plan, I guess, when I asked to go to my brother. I’d sleep in his garage. A tent in his yard if he didn’t want me in his house. Just I’d be safe and I could think and love would be there. He’d fight it but mom said…mom always said he was so gentle and loving and couldn’t bear to see anyone suffer so he’d remember if he couldn’t ignore me, and he’d hold me with his arms that are like mine by stronger, like Dad’s but tighter, like Mom’s but rougher.
Gus and I settled on a cheap but clean hotel forty minutes away. Far from the ocean. I had him drop me off so I’d have no car. I checked in for five days. Being forced to make do all on my own would redirect my thinking. And that would be enough to reset me, likely.
Before Gus let me go into the night I needed to find my way through, he bent near me ear in the shower where I sat listless, jerking out the words “But. He’s Home. He’s all that I. Have that’s still. Home. He said he’d. Take care of. I told mom. I told mom.”
“Home died with your mother,” Gus said, his own eyes red in fear and empathy. “That man is not your home.” I’m your home. We’re your home, he pleaded with me. You ARE home. But he was trying to talk to a grown woman who wasn’t there. The child on the floor of the ugly tiled shower knew better. The only words she understood, “Home. Died. With Mom.”
So that’s gone then. For real. I’m not sure I understand.
I stayed on the fourth floor of the hotel. In the hospital, that used to be the mental ward. Not high enough to guarantee fatality, even if the windows opened more than a crack.
And then I came down.
And I hurt so much because all the problems were waiting down here. But I can see them now. They’re small enough to see. Not infinite like the ocean or buried at the top of a cliff. So I will be okay. And I can see my son wants Christmas to come. And my daughter wants to talk about her teachers. And my husband needs me and he is a good man. I’m their home.
I’m my home.
This is what I have.