Monday, October 05, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

I often feel like the character in Heinlein's novel (he was a human raised by Martians on Mars, who came to live on earth---I've read the book, but can't remember much about it except for his rather lost feeling); a stranger in an even stranger land.  As I recall the book, he seemed more confused than rejected, but the title alone tells many stories.  For many people.

I relate to that feeling of not belonging.  I never felt like I belonged in my father's family; because I didn't meet most of them until I was 16.  My mother's status as black sheep in her own family created a feeling of other-ness from my aunt and uncles and grandparents, although still, they were family. 

Luckily, I had three little sisters and we formed a rather cohesive group---to this day.  We went hungry and cold together, but we always had each other.  For better or for worse, that is, because we bicker amongst ourselves with the best of them.  That sister-hood, though, has been a source of strength and family to us and to our children to this day. 

There was a fifth sister.  Born third of us (actually the fourth of our mother's children, she'd been raped and impregnanted with a child when she was 18---the child, our brother, Larry, died 3 days after he was born from the pneumonia my mother developed during the pregnancy), our sister was born with the same birth defect that our mother had---a cleft palate sans the harelip.  My mother had a sister who'd died as an infant from the same problem.  My research leads me to believe this was the product of malnutrition in our mother and grandmother. 

My mother had me in September 1952; another sister in May 1954; our middle child born July 1955; another sister was born August 1956 and the baby was born September 1958.  Two later babies died.  My father, as I have written, was a beast, and I can't imagine what my mother went through with three babies in three years, one with a birth defect necessitating hospital stays and time away from her other children.  We were shuffled around quite a bit during that time. 

This third sister lived with an older couple who had older children, the in-laws of our uncle, during a hospital stay and they fell in love with her.  They begged my mother to give my sister to them and she did.  Not without misgivings.  I was adamantly opposed, but since I was 5, my vote didn't count for much.

It would seem like a Cinderella tale.  Comfortable, stable, mature couple adopts child from poverty-stricken home of ignorance.  It certainly seemed like that to me when we visited her.  She had a bike!  and her own room with Barbies!   I wished they would adopt me, too. 

But at the time, only she and the people adopting her were happy.  This picture tells the tale, I think.  Her new parents brought us pencil boxes.  They were lovely, kind, generous people, decent to my mother till their deaths.  But you know, I felt like I was being bought off with that pencil box.  I was not a happy camper.  Look hard at my face.

Ultimately, there was no happier ever after for this little sister of mine.  Ultimately, she didn't belong anywhere.  I know she loved and was loved by the people who adopted her.  But it seemed like she was alone.   I think she was alone at school.  Kids are mean to those who are different. 

Had she stayed with us, certainly she would have suffered hunger and cold and that awful white trash stamp put on us wherever we happened to land.  She would have never had a bike.  She would have never had that cute little room at the top of the stairs----she would have had a spot in the double bed where we all slept in home after home after dumpy home---often with outdoor toilets and no electricity.  The kids would have still been mean.  They were mean to us just because we existed.  She would have had it worse.

But----she would have had us.  I held on to my sisters tighter than any mother held her children.  We would have fought for---and with her.  She would have had best friends.  No doubt Chris probably would have beat her up a time or two and I would have bossed her unbearably and drug her sorry little butt to whatever church was around.  We would have curled up together in the closet when we were afraid and told each other stories and played with each other at recess. 

Now, there is no relationship.  She is bitter and angry.  Through the years, I tried to make a relationship with her, but my other sisters weren't very interested.  Mistakes were made on both sides.  She has chosen to distance herself from her adoptive family, to a large extent and there are frequent temper tantrums and constant blaming and re-hashing of old wounds. 

She posted some ugly comments here last week.   Her hatred and vitriole are coming from a place of deep pain and that feeling of not belonging.  She has chosen to turn her children against me as well.  Truly, I feel this is unwarranted.  My sin?  I forgot to call her immediately when my niece died.  Had there been a relationship between her and my other sister, of course, there would have been no oversight.  But she hadn't seen this niece since she was a baby---25 years at least.  She'd never made an attempt to have a relationship with this girl.  I would bet before she got the call that she'd died, she didn't even remember her name, nor can she name any of my sisters' children now.  Her last interaction with Annie was when she called Annie out of the blue 8 years ago to yell at her for not taking care of our mother.  Our mother, who she despised and never wanted anything to do with.  She never forgave our mother for giving her up for adoption.

I did forget to call her.  Totally.  I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of that kind of oversight.  It happens all the time with my father's family.  It stings, but I don't lash out.  I never have.  I send flowers when I hear of a death and celebrate and we will talk every few years, long, loud "catch-ups" with cousins I didn't know existed until my father died.  It's okay really.  It's life.

On the other hand, I've called her other times.  When Dessie died, I called.  She called me, too, a couple of times, but Dessie's death meant nothing to her.  Our mother, the same.  Why would I think she would mourn---grieve the death of a girl she never knew?

Which is rhetorical, because she's not mourning.  She's been yet again left alone, forgotten and reminded that she doesn't feel like she belongs anywhere.  And she's lashing out at the person, perhaps, she feels safest doing so with---is that a dangling participle? 

I have Chris, and Dessie, and Annie.  My other sister, she doesn't have them.  And I will mourn that till the day I die.  I couldn't make them care about her and I couldn't make her care about them.  I could never get past the walls to establish a real relationship with her kids.  So they won't know that their other aunts are dames---broads--in the truest sense of the words.  They will knock you down and then pick you up and give your kids a bath and feed them all the while telling the funniest jokes. 

She won't be allowed to post here again.   It's funny how people drop you and won't leave you alone.  I've gotten a vicious note on Facebook from her daughter.   I haven't responded till now .  I don't think anyone else in the family has received this treatment, but then again, who knows? 

Just a heads up if you see anybody bashing me elsewhere.  It will be poorly written and spelled, and filled with hatred.  That's how you'll know. 

I  was thinking the other day that it's not the people with high self esteem---even hubris, or conceit----who do the most damage.  It's those who are convinced somewhere inside themselves that they're worthless.  Because they think what they do doesn't matter.  Doesn't have an effect.   I know I do myself and others the most harm when I'm feeling the worst about myself.  Really sad situation.