I have a very complicated relationship with my sister. All right, that is misleading or an understatement or just doesn’t seem 100% true. For the past three plus years I have not had a relationship with my sister. And for the decade before that, the relationship we did have was very minimal and strained. And the years before that, I was her mother. She wanted me over our mother. I fed her, read to her, I was there for her milestones, I was her safe person – not my mother.
I have written about my family before many times, including about how much I miss my sister. Nutshell version: My mother is toxic to me, so I have cut her out of my life. This was not an easy decision, but after years of extreme abuse (we’re talking knives, strangulations, daily beatings and that was the tame stuff) I had to do what was right for me. I chose me. My sister is seventeen, a minor, and my mother who is beyond controlling knows that the only way to hurt me as an adult is to use my sister as leverage. Until three years ago, I let her. It was her only leverage, but since cutting her off – I don’t even let that work anymore. Which means I haven’t seen my sister, or talked to her since June 2012. And it sucks.
For the past few months my sister has reached out to me to help her with her college admissions essays. I didn’t get my hopes up that this meant anything had changed. She needed help, and I happen to make a living helping people with college admissions essays. It’s one of my fortes. The first essay she sent me was rough because I had to actually step back and vent, blow up, rage, rant and then tackle the essay as an objective professional. Why was I so upset? Because my sister wrote about my Aunt Linda who I have written about on this blog a few times. My Aunt Linda was very special to me, and she was also the only other person in my family who was disabled. Her disabilities were physical as well as cognitive, and my family treated her terribly. Calling her retard or ignoring her when they weren’t screaming at her – and my mother was one of the worst to her.
But the essay told a story about how much my mother cared for my aunt. How she took care of her, stood by her and how special Linda was to her. And it made me want to scream. I was thirteen when my Aunt Linda died. I wrote and gave her eulogy. I talked to her a few times every week. I hung around her at family gatherings. I went outside to be with her when she left upset because someone had put her down or screamed at her. I didn’t try to convince her to come back in, because I didn’t think she was wrong. I just stayed there, listening.
It wasn’t that my mother claimed to have a relationship she didn’t with my aunt, but she claimed to be her champion when she was in fact one of her worst tormentors. And that made me so incredibly angry. I was able to work on the essay, and I told my sister to take my aunt out of it. Because my sister never met my aunt (she died before my sister was born), and her personal experiences and advocacy (which she has done) was more relevant and powerful. It was objective, but part of me wondered if my mother had decided what essay my sister should to send me. I had no doubt she was reading all of our correspondences. I still have no doubt about that.
Since that time I have spent roughly thirty hours working on different essays for my sister. They allowed me to get a glimpse of the young woman she is becoming – the young woman I would do almost anything to know, the young woman I don’t think I will ever know. Not really.
And then I recently visited my hometown, and somehow I thought it might actually be all right to reach out to my sister, to try to see if I could see her – just to say hello. But I had to wait until the last day to let her know I was in town at all. Or my mother would park herself in my grandmother’s assisted living home, because every time I’m in town I make sure to see her more than once. It would be the easiest way for her to try to force contact. I didn’t have actual hope I would be able to see my sister, but I had the thing, right before the thing before hope. It wasn’t nothing, but it wasn’t something either. She texted back faster than she has ever replied to a message before. She told me that she was at home if I wanted to stop by.
And I was stuck. There was no way in hell I was going to my mother’s if she was there. Remember I said almost anything, and my mother was the reason it wasn’t just straight-up anything. I tried to figure out a way to not sound creepy, weird, or put my sister in the middle. I thought asking her if she was alone would fit into all three of those categories. So instead I asked her if she wanted to meet at a coffee place nearby. This time it took awhile, and the reply said she was busy, but my mother was not. Then she pleaded with me to put the past in the past and bury the hatchet, or as my mother preferred to use, a steak knife. And she played up the guilt, talking about “for her sake” and how much she wants to be able to see me, my husband, Roy, and our animals again. “I want us all to be a family again.” What she can’t remember because she was four is that we were never a family.
“I’m sorry *K. Maybe I can see you when I’m in town next year.”
That was my response. It was better than telling her that what she wanted was never going to happen. And to be clear, it isn’t.
A week later, it was business as usual with my sister sending me essays to work on. I didn’t complain. In some sick way I think I was relieved. At least I still got this small window into her world. But then she sent me an essay last week that made the “Aunt Linda” essay seem like child’s play.
My sister had a near death experience. She was hit by an SUV that blew past a light. I don’t know specifics because all I know is what she tried to write about, which was light on the details. No one contacted me to tell me that this had happened. Not my brother who is also her brother – and we are in touch. My mother didn’t text my husband as she does if something happens to my grandmother or to wish him a happy birthday. Not cousins, aunts, anyone. No one thought to let me know. My own sister didn’t think to let me know, or at least make sure that I was told.
I know the accident was serious enough because recovery took awhile (burns, concussion and other potential head/back/neck trauma thanks to the airbag that saved her life). I was so hurt. And this time not just at the situation itself, this terrible choice I have had to make. And not just at my mother. Why didn’t my sister tell me?
I had to take a day to edit and give feedback on her essay, because I needed that time. Because while not being told about such a significant event that in her own words “changed my life”… the essay went on, and I felt like it was a taunt. It talked about the importance of family. How she learned the value of life and didn’t want to waste time. How she wanted to keep the people she loved close. And family, those she cared about – they didn’t include me. She never reached out to me unless she needed my help. She had never tried to have a relationship with me, something I have told her that is on her. Since she is a minor I am respectful of any boundaries, and I take my cues from her.
I still gave her objective feedback and did the essay. Even if the entire time I thought the universe (or my mother) was intentionally trying to fuck with me. I was operating at the rate of several WTF’s per second the entire time. But I did it. And then at the bottom of my feedback, I wrote my sister this:
I want to let you know that this has nothing to do with my feedback on your essay. And I think/hope that after reading it you’ll be able to know that. I had to say that I was hurt and disappointed at having learned about your accident this way. In the essay you talk about the importance of family, but I was never contacted or told about it. If something life-changing, for better or worse happened to me, I would tell you.
While I am happy to help you with these essays, no strings attached, you also state how important family is and how you don’t want to waste time, etc. So it makes me sad that after you had recovered somewhat, there was never any reach out. I try to take my cues from you. I contact you on birthdays and holidays, as you do me, because that is the extent I believe you are comfortable or capable at this time. And that’s fine. I hope that one day that can change, but again I’m taking my cues from you. I hope you understand something important. My relationship with you is separate and not contingent on my relationship or lack thereof with anyone else, parents included. When you are a legal adult you can make the decisions on your own, but I hope you remember that.
I love you and you will always be my sister.
She didn’t respond to that. She just texted me to read another essay.
I don’t know where to go from here. From the start I have wondered if it’s really my mother posing as my sister. Yes, my sister is writing the essays and taking my feedback, but the emails and texts aren’t really her at all. Maybe my mother deleted my note before showing my sister my feedback. Or maybe I don’t want to believe what I have always suspected.
I never told my sister about the abuse. I don’t feel that’s right, not even when she becomes a legal adult. I have always done my best to do right by her, and protect her. If she knew the truth about my mother, and believed it, it would shatter her world. How can I say I love her and be responsible for that? And let’s face it; my mother has had more than a decade to control the narrative. I can only imagine the crap she makes up to vilify me. My sister probably thinks I’m a terrible person. The person my mother is. And it kills me. It makes me feel helpless. And then I realize, I will probably never have a relationship with my sister. Truth or no truth, I feel like it’s too late, and not going to change. And then I’m angry with myself.
My mother is the ultimate puppet master, with one exception: ME. The student surpassed the teacher, and I am my mother’s son. When I left her house for good I blackmailed her with photos my dad took of my battered body, including the finger marks on my neck. I did it to keep my siblings physically safe and out of foster care. That was my only demand: them. I know how to push every button my mother has. I know how to make her self-destruct. I know how to make her feel hopeless and question whether life is worth living. I know how to rip out her core, in a single verbal strike, leaving her empty and nothing. But I don’t. Because I’m not her. I choose to be better.
I helped my sister with another essay today. She still has not said anything, and I feel more than used. Though I also feel that it was never her idea to get in touch with me. It was my mother’s. They pay hundreds of dollars on my sister’s college prep. But why pay someone to essentially guide her through school and scholarship apps and take care of her essays, when they can use me for free? Just in the past two months, I’ve worked on over a dozen essays for her. If she was a client, she would have been billed around $1050. But I don’t charge her, because she is my sister. And my help does not come with strings, such as having me in her life, because she’s my sister. Because I’m the better person.
But I’m just not sure how much more I can do this. Most essays are fine, but essays liker her car accident essay or the essay about my aunt throws me off so much and brings up all this badness I purged when I cut my mother off. Because I’m not angry – I forgave my mother years ago. Not for her, but for me. And I don’t need this new crap. I feel like I’m in an abusive relationship of my own making. I don’t know how to draw lines in this, and I don’t know what the lines should be. But I know I’ll keep helping, because I want the best for my sister.
But being the better person sometimes feels the same as being a martyr. And who wants to be that? Being the better person cost me so much. But the thing it cost me that hurts the most, is my sister.