Last week my little sister asked me to take a look at an essay she wrote for a scholarship. I love my sister, and out of all of my siblings (I have three brothers and her) she is the most like me. She sent me her scholarship application materials, which made me proud (ranked #12 out of more than 600 students! And she is on the student council, pom squad and in a lot of other extracurriculars, both at school and in the community). A lot of this I already knew (though not necessarily her exact class ranking) and I thought she was a shoe-in for any scholarship she was applying for. Then I opened her essay, and the trouble began…
I’m not going to talk about the essay, from an essay standpoint though. I’m going to talk about it from the standpoint that I couldn’t bring myself to read it anymore. From the standpoint that it put me in a terrible mood, and the thought on repeat in my head was, “WTF.”
My sister wrote about my Aunt Linda, someone I have memorialized and talked about on this blog in the past (here and here). I was really close to my Aunt Linda, even though she died when I was thirteen. We had a few of the same medical problems, but whether it was luck, modern medicine or something else – I came out much more unscathed than she did. She had cognitive and behavioral limitations, or as most of my family called her, “retarded.” (I hate that word with such a passion, probably because when people say that word they were talking about people just like my Aunt Linda. And she was really something else – pretty amazing, but most people never took the time to get to know her.)
Anyway, my Aunt Linda died from a seizure, three weeks before my sister was born. Linda would have loved my sister, and my sister would have loved Linda but they never got to meet. With a 14-year age difference, I didn’t get to see my sister grow up much past the age of three. So I’ve never shared stories with her about Linda, but I always assumed my mother, grandmother and others would. Well my mother did… but it was such crap, I found myself shaking. I rarely give my mother much thought, but I told my husband in an angry voice, “I didn’t think she could surprise me anymore, but my mother has sunk to a new low.”
My mother has told my sister so many stories about how much Linda, her sister, meant to her. “Linda was the light of my mother’s world,” – except she wasn’t. I’m not going to pretend to know how my mother felt about Linda, then or now; it is completely unfair to state that I can ever know such a thing. But I know how my mother treated Linda. She was insensitive, dismissive and condescending at best. Like so many people, my mother treated Linda like she was an idiot. She never took her seriously, called her “handicapped” and “retarded” – it wasn’t right. Sometimes she was downright cruel.
When my mother would say something horrible to Linda, who did not like confrontations while my mother is a master at them, Linda would go outside, and I would go out and talk to her. I wouldn’t talk her down, because I didn’t think she was wrong. I would just keep her company. I called her a few times a week to talk about the things she loved; mostly animals or daytime soap operas that I didn’t watch but was happy to listen to Linda tell me about them. When she died I got all of her notebooks and journals. She thought about things people never gave her credit for. She saw the world for what it was, and yet still found its beauty whenever even I would have struggled to find such a thing. She had the biggest heart, and was more independent than anyone ever thought she would be. For someone who was supposed to be a permanent 2-year-old she graduated high school (without any of the special help available today) and held a job. At the time that she died she even had her own house.
My Aunt Linda affected me, when she was here and after she was gone. Because of our closeness, I was asked to write her eulogy – I was thirteen. Ironically, the same day she died my shunt broke (for a medical condition we both had) and I wrote her eulogy and read it at her funeral, refusing to have surgery until after (and immediately going to the ER after her burial) because I couldn’t miss my chance to say goodbye. I cried a lot, and I was strong for my younger brother and my grandmother, but only for them. The hell with everyone else who had treated her so horribly.
I don’t go around angry, and when I think of my Aunt Linda, I think of how awesome she was and how she mattered to me. I don’t think about how others put her down, and I don’t get angry… but I also don’t usually have to read an essay about how much one of her tormentors loved and cherished her. And how much her tormentor was affected by knowing her. My mother was built up as this saint – a martyr who “dealt with” her sister, and happened to love her while dealing.
I have no doubt my mother loved Linda – she was her sister. But I know more than anyone that my mother is toxic (when profanity-fueled violent rages that include knives, strangulation or hitting and kicking is an everyday thing, and the psychological stuff is worse – yeah, I can call her that) and she may love someone as best she can, but when it’s hurtful and unhealthy, what does it matter?
I would never say anything to my sister about what a crock of shit my mother’s version of events is – her stories of Linda. I wouldn’t put it past the woman to be telling my stories, but simply have us switch roles. I don’t care. It’s not a competition. I know who I am, and who I was to Linda. My mother has to grapple with that same knowledge for herself. But I am so angry that she has the nerve to act like a martyr sister whose light was snuffed out when Linda died. I would rather choke on my own vomit than hear everything she has undoubtedly put into my sister’s head.
I feel like my mother has used Linda’s memory as a way to make herself look like the biggest victim in the world once again (that’s her thing, she is a professional victim, the more sympathy she can garner the happier she is – it’s the only time she is quasi-happy). And Linda was so much more than making someone into a victim. Linda had every reason to give up or go along with whatever people thought of her. It would have been easier for her to just accept victimhood for herself. But she didn’t, it’s not who she was. So this… I just feel like my mother is taking a giant crap on everything Linda stood for.
I want to cry or scream or punch the wall. Instead, I’m going to dig out one of her notebooks (I still have them all, they’re among my most prized possessions) and read them. Not because I understand them (I usually don’t) but because it’s the one connection I still have to her. She was always doing math in them – I think she was trying to plan for her future. It makes me smile, and I do that too. Budget for every possible event – likely or not. Every wish, dream and catastrophe.
So, I’m trying to let go of the anger that my mother has stirred within me, with her lies. I feel like if she treated Linda halfway decently, I wouldn’t take this so hard. But that probably isn’t true, because the picture she has painted for my sister goes against the very person Linda was.
Linda taught me how to see beauty when the world wants you to see nothing but darkness. How to be compassionate when everyone else is hateful or dismissive. She taught me that no matter what your circumstances are, or your physical limitations, they do not bind you or define you. My thirst for independence… how much it is a need… I think I get a lot of that from her. She was the anti-victim and she gave me so much by just being herself. I remember.
I will always remember. Linda was my hero before I knew what the word meant. She did not know how to be anything less than miraculous and she did not know the meaning of being a victim. Linda was incredible. That’s what I remember. And I loved her. And she loved me, and so many others who didn’t deserve her grace or forgiveness, her compassion. She taught me how to be resilient, and if I didn’t know how to be that I wouldn’t be here today.
If I could tell my sister anything, I wouldn’t argue with my mother’s stories, because I have to let that go – Linda would want me to let that go. This is what I would tell her:
Loving, compassionate, too-good-for-this-world
Incredible, independent, in-her-own-world-but-it-was-beautiful
Not a victim, brave, resilient, faced so much but did not allow anything to change who she was or her beliefs
Dogs – oh how she loved them! She loved all animals and had a gift with them.
Amazing, accepted the world for what it was and saw it truthfully, yet could pick out beauty in even the harshest ugliness
Nothing else needs to be said. I’m done.