Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Lost Sister

I have a younger sister. I had a younger sister. Most days? I feel like I have lost her.

About a billion years ago, when I was in middle school, our parents told us they were getting divorced. I remember it clearly. It was the weekend. I was supposed to go to a sleepover at my friend Chelsea's house, but at the lat minute, my parents told me I couldn't go. They said they had something to tell us. I remember my friends asking me whether I thought it was anything serious. And I remember saying, "I think they're going to tell us they're getting a divorce."

And I was right. That's what they told us. Dad seemed mad. Mom was upset. Our older sister, Amanda, was mad. My younger sister Rachel was upset. And I? I had already accepted it. I said to them, "I'm okay because I saw this coming a year ago." Can you imagine saying something like that? But that's what I said, and it was true. I had gone to see the school counselor one year earlier and said, "I think my parents are getting a divorce." The counselor reassured me I was worrying about nothing, All parents fight, she said. But she was wrong. And I was right.

Parents getting divorced was not new for any of us except Rachel. This was her father that Mom was divorcing. He had been our dad since I was four. I remember being confused as to why everyone was so upset. Didn't they know this was the way it was? That parents always divorced? Didn't they see it coming, like I had? Hadn't they heard the screaming fights, and known what they were leading up to?

Amanda told me to get my stuff, that I was going to my sleepover. And she drove me there. And she told me how mad she was. The blame seemed to be aimed at Mom - even Dad had said that he wanted to try to work it out, but Mom didn't. I remember thinking that was unfair, to put all the blame on her. As I've grown up and married someone myself? I know that's completely unfair. But back then? I was just barely a teenager. I didn't know what to do.

After they told us they were divorcing, our family imploded. Dad was gone. Mom was gone, too - she couldn't deal with everyone upset at home, so she went out. Rachel was inconsolable. She wanted Mom, and Mom wasn't there. I didn't know what to do or say.

I remember going back to the school counselor, and telling her my parents did, indeed, divorce. There was a counselor trainee there. They said I should role-play, pretending the counselor-trainee was my mom and telling her everything I wanted to say to her. I don't remember what I said, but I know it was about Rachel being upset and Mom not being there. When I finished? I felt a lot better. But the counselor-trainee? She was dabbing at tears as I went back to class. I've always wondered if I was part of some breakthrough moment for her. She invited me to be a part of her counseling group (all the trainees had to form one, and choose students to invite to participate) but I didn't go.

I thought the divorce would be the worst of it. That everyone would accept what happened. But then Dad wanted Rachel to go live with him. And Rachel? She wanted to go, too.

I sat outside the courtrom with Rachel while Mom, Amanda, and Dad were inside, fighting the custody fight. We weren't allowed inside, but Rachel got to speak privately with the judge about whom she wanted to live with. I asked her who she was going to choose, and she said Dad.

"Why?" I said. I had never actually considered that she would want to leave.

"Because I'm mad at Mom," she said.

I sat there like an idiot, speechless, like I so often find myself. I should have argued with her. I should have explained that it was not all Mom's fault. I should have begged her not to go. But I didn't. So Dad won, and Rachel left. Dad got stationed in Germany soon after that, and then she was really gone.

Sometimes I thought that if I had been a better big sister, she wouldn't have left. If I hadn't done all those mean, older-sistery things to her. If I had been better at making her happy after the divorce. If I had told her, outside the courtroom, that I didn't want her to go.

I don't know if that would have made a difference.

I have seen Rachel a handful of times since then. And it always feels strange. I keep expecting her to still be eleven, and she is not. I hope that she will feel like my sister instead of more like a distant cousin. But she doesn't. It seems like she feels awkward with me too.

Our older sister, Amanda? She sees Rachel a lot. She can afford to go and visit, and she does not have the obligations of small children. They seem to talk to each other a lot, and act like normal sisters. Close.

Why can't I talk to her? I have a phone, and so does she. We are Facebook friends. I just discovered this morning that she has a blog, too. So why don't I reach out?

Maybe I am afraid of what we will say. What we will not say. Maybe I'm pathetic and jealous and hurt that Rachel and Amanda can still be close, but not me. Maybe the lost sister is me.


  1. Damn it. I was just checking your blog before doing my inventory at work, and now I'm all watery-eyed. I know you and Rachel will be whomever you and Rachel are meant to be....but you aren't lost. If anything, you are more clear about who you are now than many people want to be. The best thing we can do is make sure we work that much harder to nurture the relationship between Sosie, Scarlett, and Skylar. And, of course, you and I can never get divorced...no matter how much you fatten me up and make me unattractive to the world, you are stuck with me forever. Now, I need to work. I love you.

  2. I'm surprised that you see me that way... but then I'm always surprised by how you feel about me. I'm so lucky you love me. And no, we can never get divorced. Love you.

  3. Quite the story. Nothing about your relationship with your sister is black and white. There are many nuances to consider. The question is do you want to connect with her in a sisterly way. If you do then put your fears and guilt aside and go for it, if not, then let it go. Either way you will need to get off the fence. There is no wrong decision. Either decision will be right for you, however sitting on the fence is like drinking a slow poison.

  4. Mark is right. Sometimes you gotta just throw it out there and see where it sticks. If you don't improve your relationship, then you have lost nothing. If you don't give it a try, you lose everything.

    As for the way the situation was created...your Mom handled everything right, Mike handled the custody thing right, and Rachel made the choice that was right for her. There are no good or bad guys in a divorce...just people. The best you can do is put the differences aside and find a way to make the extended family work for everyone. Look at me and Steph...because of our divorce, Skylar doesn't have just one parent who loves her, she has me, you, Stephanie, and soon she will have Chris. A divorce will only tear you apart as much as you allow it to.

  5. @Mark - Letting go is super-hard for me. I tend to hold things in and let them fester for years. But, you are right - I need to get off that fence.

    @Michael - It's not really the divorce that upsets me, but you know that. I think Rachel did make the right choice for her. It just sucks that that choice altered our course as sisters.