From relatives you don’t know

December 22, 2013


I am looking up through a window in my sister’s house. She is my family, and she is not.  Since I haven’t met her before yesterday, I can’t really say. She is 58 or 59 years old, and her husband, a quiet man around the same age, are welcoming and friendly.  She has the same grey streak in the front of her hair that I have, if mine weren’t covered by drugstore brunette and auburn.  She dislikes tradition for obligatory reasons, as do I.  She has no children, so who does what at what age is a mystery to her.  She and my youngest have a shared interest in photography and have already compared photos.  I tower a good five or six inches over her, feeling tall for one of the first times in my life.


Fortunately I am easy about talking to strangers, and have a façade that communicates to others “accept me- I am polite and self-confident”. We chat about the things strangers talk about:  favorite TV shows, careers, friends.  It’s not too bad, and it’s not emotional, either.


Three years ago I was in my own home with my children and husband, trying to celebrate what was to be the first of several tense holiday seasons. My mind was on a man far away, in fact, I spoke to that man on the phone, Christmas Day that year, and we argued.  I felt lonely and confused.  My horse had a cold and I was driving out to give her antibiotics twice a day. It was freezing and dark, typical for the Northwest in December.  I had a different family, one that was disintegrating.


My children are here with me now. They already call my sister “aunt” even though they had not met her either. Both of them have some idea about the thickness of blood and are prepared to accept these strangers.  Their own mother is more of a stranger to them now, I fear.  I created chaos in their world, and there’s still resentment buried in their interactions with me, their acceptance of each other as fellow victims of “the war zone” as my youngest called it yesterday, their subtle exclusion of me in their interactions. I am confused by my oldest daughter’s desire to stay far away from home- is it the divorce, is it the nature of her age and her willingness to wander the world?  I found out from my youngest that her sister had asked her grandparents for a place to stay this summer..she would rather live in a retirement community than near me?Image


That is painful.  My youngest blames it on the fact that I repainted and redecorated her sister’s room, making it impossible for her to return.  I didn’t stay still, I moved on, and the home of their childhood is not one she can return to. I alternate between guilt and dare they expect me not to grow and change? But they are too young not to blame me.


Everyone is asleep now, our planes arrived quite late last night, and the getting to know you has pulled everyone but me into unconsciousness. I am tired as well.  It’s nice to have a sister, if that’s what I have, but I still feel unanchored, adrift, and mostly alone. Of course, I didn’t expect this visit to cure my loneliness, and  I will try to accept those restrained and polite gifts from the strangers who are my family.



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