Browsing Tag

siblings

Guest Posts, Siblings

Sisterless

August 29, 2016
sibling

By Erin Mantz

I wake up worrying what will happen if I ever need someone to give me bone marrow or give me a kidney. Someone like a sibling. If faced with a life or death situation, the angst and longing I feel as an only child could strike me even harder.  I am an only child.  But pieces of me, literally and figuratively, are strewn across the state of Illinois in the form of long-lost, lost and almost-never-found half and step brothers and sisters – nine to be exact.

On any given day, one or more are on my mind, though unfortunately, they’re not really in my life.

Growing up, I don’t recall being terribly unhappy because I was an only child with divorced parents. But I did feel like part of my identity may very well be missing. I was sure I should have a sibling, and convinced myself that if only I had a sister, every change I kept going through – parents’ divorces and remarriages, stepfamilies, moves, school changes – I could sail through much more smoothly. All my friends seemed to have busy houses with sisters and brothers flying through. (I was, after all, living in a Chicago neighborhood full of big Catholic and Irish families).  I felt different as I began my early years of elementary school. I was convinced my “only child” status was why.

The winter I turned eight, I got a new pair of lavender roller skates, won an essay contest at my school, and got “siblings.”  With a new stepfather came a package deal: I gained a stepsister four years older, and a stepbrother my age. They moved in with us (a rather unusual arrangement for kids to live with their dad almost full-time, instead of their mom, back the early Eighties), and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was part of a real family. I was never lonely or alone anymore. I couldn’t believe my luck. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships, Siblings

The Colors of California

January 8, 2016

By Erica Karnes

The winter light flooded through a worn bay window. Our mother’s sheer drapes, tucked behind an easy chair, allowed a white warmth to spill into the room. He was a fit of giggles. Bursts of high-pitched, gleeful shrieking. This was a new game. One that my sister and I, barely one and two years older than him, deemed best played without parents. An abandoned box, still somewhat intact, with stretches of tape across the bottom. Merely “moving assistance” to adults. But to us—to our tiny, bright eyes; our grabby hands and forever-scampering feet; our lower-class Midwest existences and finely tuned imaginations—to us this box was the world.

The coast was clear, and we began.

The baby of the group happily surrendered as we hoisted him in—a complicated task, given that it was as tall as myself. I worked to cut windows out of the sides, for ultimate visibility. Our sister scavenged the room for additional comforts. She swaddled him with pillows, sheets, and as final proof of her selflessness, donated her very own Blankie to the cause—curling it over his shoulders in a cape. I passed him a comic book or three, knowing that while he was too young to read, he’d surely enjoy the pictures.

Settled and comfortable, cozy and complete—when muffled giggles were all that could be heard spilling from our box-turned-car-turned-spaceship—we began our mission. Pulling full-speed along the hardwood floor, circling break-neck around the kitchen table, frantically bouncing through the tiled foyer. We paused at the top of the stairs for dramatic effect. And when he could barely breathe from his toddler belly laughs, we pulled faster. Passing at top speeds through pockets of that brilliant white light, our home’s sputtering heaters the only audible backdrop to our giddy adventures.

25 years later, our roles had reversed. I sat packed into his car, surrounded by his boxed belongings, clutching my own padding for comfort. This time, while there were still plenty of giggles, it was his game. This time, against all my controlling instincts, I was merely along for the 900-mile ride.

“Anal Adventurer!” he shrieked, fist pumping through his Subaru’s sunroof. “Best one yet!” he winked at me, nestled in the backseat, from his rear-view mirror. A smear of jelly lined his cheek, from the haphazard PB&J he slopped together at our last pit stop. “YEAAAAA!” With a couple of friendly shoulder punches, I celebrated his championship. There was only a single rule: for every passing RV, add the word “anal” at the start of its title. As we’d just dipped south of Portland, former contenders “Anal Wildcat” and “Anal Hideout” were delegated to forgotten place-getters. Still grinning, he pulled a cloth tie-die headband from the tower of rubble surrounding him, slicked back his greasy ginger curls, and slammed his foot on the accelerator. I amped up his obscure electro-hypnotic tunes as we gunned it for the mountains. Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Guest Posts, Truth

A Pocket Field Guide to Being Patriotic in a Newly Military Family

April 23, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Kathryn Roberts

When a sibling joins the military, adopt the flag. Accept it all blindly, a patriot at heart unwilling not to support the mission. Ignore your doubts.

Slap him on his back, the child you sang bedtime songs to, now a soldier fighting for your country. Do this even when you despise the politics that drove your country into war under false pretenses. Do this even when he demonstrates no understanding of the current conflict or the region whose language he intends to learn.

Wear the ribbon. Believe the rhetoric.

Because, if you cannot support your brother–who in the anonymity of the Army is now your country–who can you support?

****

When you go to his swearing-in ceremony, keep your mouth shut when the recruitment officer who signed away six years of your brother’s life informs him he must attend church every Sunday during boot camp to avoid punishment. Hold it tightly closed when he tells him that foregoing the service would mean his commanding officer would not receive the two hours off and would find chores punishing enough that he will be so eager to worship a god that he never misses a service again.

Stifle the part of you that asks if there is more than one service. If there are choices for the soldiers who’ve signed up — many of them video game addicts who associate war with pixels that regenerate in a different spot after each kill so they get another chance to come out on top.

Do not ask if they can choose between an evangelical Christian sermon (like the ones your parents drilled into you) or a Jewish Sabbath the night before or an Islamic service. Or even a non-punishment producing Atheist option.

Silence yourself in the name of duty because suggesting that coerced religion in the armed services is tantamount to forced religion in the country will call into question your brother’s honor. Your country may disown you. Your parents will disdain you, even as the sibling who traveled across country for the ceremony. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Binders, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

Consequence

April 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Chris J. Rice

 

Small bodies stared out a car window, helpless, listening to the drone of a voice, pitiless, and naïve, a horrible combination. Houses never furnished. Refrigerators full of liquor and doggie bags, steak slices, and baked Alaska, toddlers hidden behind beige drapes peeing on white carpet. Babies crying. Shit stains and Martini olives. Poodle yelps. Flash of ocean daylight. And remorse.

My Moody Sister died in a drug-induced coma. Dark hair matted with vomit. Fell asleep on a double bed in a Tulsa motel room beside her abusive boyfriend, and never woke up.

I jumped out of sleep to answer the phone.

“I’m calling to let you know,” my paternal aunt said. “Didn’t want you to hear it from none of them.”

Receiver to chest, I crouched down. Balanced on my heels, and rocked.

“Cancer,” my aunt said. “Had to have been. Just look at her obituary picture. Looks like it to me, like she died of cancer.”

I knew that wasn’t true. Got off the phone quick as I could and searched online for my sister’s obituary, head full of unanswerable questions. When did the drugs and drinking start? Was it because we had no real home? Why did she stay in Mama’s dark orbit so long past youth? Was it the only life she knew, or the only life she could imagine? Frantic and doubting, I searched until there she was in glowing bits, my Moody Sister.

Pixilated otherworldly eyes smiled above a brief paragraph.

She left behind three children, at least eight half siblings and survived by both her parents, was buried in an Ozark cemetery facing old Route 66. Her three children went to live with her last husband. Their names in her obituary were long jingly strings of karmic payback and wishful thinking: combinations of our Mama’s real first name alongside my sister’s absent father’s surname.

She didn’t meet her biological father until she was a grown woman.

Come from a childhood with no fixed address.

Identity, a combination of what you’ve done, what’s been done to you, flawed mosaic of who you are, and who others think you are. Not who you are inherently, but also who and where you came from, and what you were able to make of yourself.

Outcomes.

Origins.

Consequence.

She was Mama’s favorite child and most constant companion, always riding beside her in the front seat of the car as we traveled from town to town. Disregarding its isolation, she accepted the position of best loved, her dark head barely visible to the other kids crammed together in the backseat. When left behind with the rest of us she became inconsolable, running after the car, plopping herself on the sidewalk as Mama sped off. Sat there, cross-legged, head thrown back, mouth wide open and skyward, wailing with all her need, outdoors and out loud, for her Mama to come back home. My peaceful respite, lolling alone on the motel carpet unobserved with a new Nancy Drew, was her full-bodied pain.

The daughter in the front seat never learned to be alone; disconnection terrified her.

I ran away from all my family, especially my Moody Sister, putting real distance between us, and seldom looking back. Her unhappiness was of another order altogether from mine: unquenchable, indulgent, and seductively unhealthy, like too much syrup on an already too sweet dessert.

The last time I saw her, I drew her portrait. Pencils sharpened, I layered colored lines on a flat green page, porous and textured. Watched her bow her head slightly to the left, as she had done so often in our earliest days together, and recorded what I saw and what I knew to be true. Made art of our brutal detachment.

Long black bangs curled across a forehead into downcast blue eyes.

A heart-shaped face held sharp lips painted red.

Absence charged by a presence, deceptive and confounding. Continue Reading…

cancer, death, Guest Posts

Foxholy

April 9, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Janet Reich Elsbach.

“Smile, would you please?” said my sister as I came through the door to see if she needed any help. “Jesus loves you.”

There were a number of surprising elements to this interaction, beyond the fact that the room we now both occupied was the bathroom. For one, she might more reasonably have requested that I do a tap dance. My sister was dying of cancer, her beautiful athlete’s body wrecked and wracked, and we were just home from another two days in the hospital, where as usual she had questioned and refused 98% of what was on offer, where as usual the doctors and nurses had glared at me reproachfully behind her back, and where as usual I had done a non-stop theater-in-the-round cabaret of advocacy and placation for 48 hours. Maybe I had slept for two of those hours, and not in a row. So of all facial expressions, a smile seemed farthest from my reach.

For another thing, we’re Jews.

“He does, you know,” D. continued as I attended to her. “Don’t you know that?”

Once I became old enough to really put some muscle into talking back to her, some time in my teens or twenties, I pointed out that a large percentage of what she said to me (and to others, to be fair) ended with an audible or implied, “you don’t, do you?” As in, “do you know you’re supposed to put X on Y in that order, rotate your whatsits seasonally, never accept domestic yah-yah and ONLY buy organic hmm?” Here she would pause for a second to see if there was a flicker of agreement, then sigh or even snort a little when it failed to appear. “You don’t, do you?” Eventually the sniff or sigh could stand in for the four-word codicil. Sometimes I would say it for her.

Cancer had intensified her dissatisfaction with rubes and imbeciles in ways I mostly understood, as well as raised the stakes. As her prospects grew darker and her misery increased, so did the percentage of the population around her who could get nothing right. Since I frequently numbered among them, staying present and supportive was not easy, and with this new Jesus angle, she had managed, yet again, to sling a curve ball that could completely undo me. Having a front-row seat at an epic struggle with mortality, even if it is not your own, can inspire a person to feel around in their toolbox for some connection to a higher power. Over the 18 months of her illness, I hadn’t come up with much.

We aren’t especially Jewish, even though we are Jews. I majored in anthropology, so it’s easy for me to put it that I am culturally Jewish, just not spiritually. Meaning the cuisine, the mannerisms, the sensibility: yes. I like the food well enough and the rest I couldn’t shake if I tried. Bred in the bone. But whatever spirituality I possess, I don’t tune into it on that channel.

When I was little, we were high-holy-day Jews. We had a seder at Passover, and some excellent little hamentaschen from William Greenberg’s on Third Avenue at Purim. A menorah was lit at Chanukah, but the house saw a little Christmas action, too. Barring a funeral, wedding or someone else’s mitzvah (bar or bat), the only time we went to temple was on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur; on all these occasions everyone around me knew the prayers in Hebrew and I did not.

Our house was generally a mood tinder-box at the holidays, our parents reverential one moment and irritated the next, apparently with us for not taking it seriously enough. I liked to please them, but I didn’t have much to invest since my sisters and I had never gone to religious school. So I would feel guilty and anxious, as well as excluded and confused, and all in all it was not a pleasant base from which to grow a faith. For a long time I connected my not feeling Jewish to this history, and I bet my parents did, too.

Finally I asked my mother why they never sent us to Hebrew school, if their faith was strong enough to twist and bind them with what had seemed like anger when I was smaller than they were, but I now recognized as guilt. By then I was in college, and they had become more obviously and contentedly Jewish: studying, actively identifying as Jewish philanthropists, lighting Sabbath candles, and I had become more confused about where the faith I felt was rooted. I could tell I had some but I also knew it wasn’t found, or fueled, in a building or book that I had yet encountered.

“We didn’t want to force it on you,” she said. “We had taken a big leap getting a place in the country, and at the time I felt more sure that getting out of the city would be good for you three than I did about Hebrew school. And we couldn’t do both.” I scoffed a little when she told me this, but now that I am a parent I can see completely how a person could arrive at that kind of inconclusive conclusion as the rush of life came at them. Punt! I can’t say that I’ve done much better myself, for my own three.

Around this time I was in the habit of spending a weekend in New Orleans every spring, at Jazz Fest, with D. One of the notable features of that densely packed weekend is the stream of little parades, the congregation of here or there decked out in team colors, waving flags and belting out gospel songs at the top of their impressive and collective lungs. “You kind of need Jesus for that,” I remember saying to her. Judaism, Buddhism, anything else I could think of—none of these other belief systems really loaned themselves to this kind of ecstatic, toe-tapping spectacle of testament. It was enviable, to me—that pure devotion and utter certainty and frank enjoyment that characterized their faith. Jesus had a plan, and come what may, that was the raft they set sail on and clung to in a tempest. It seemed as comforting and appealing as it was out of reach.

I was amazed that my sister had found that raft. Both my sisters had certainly gravitated more resolutely towards Judaism over the years than I had, and I’d had many occasions to wonder how it had all skipped me as they both spoke knowledgeably and comfortably about things that felt utterly foreign, even alienating to me. D.’s son even had his bar mitzvah, a first (and only) in our family for generations. And I also knew that D. was pretty open, as a seeker. Around her house you could find a little altar to Ganesh and a portrait of Lakshmi as well as a mezuzah, some Buddhist prayer beads, giant crystals from Arizona and an Islamic knot. But Jesus, now. That was new. Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Do you want to be well? Lessons from Grief.

March 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Vanessa Mártir.

When my brother Carlos died in June of 2013, I did two things: I threw myself into my writing and I started devouring stories and essays, anecdotes, blog postings, anything and everything related to grief. I was looking to make sense of this senseless loss; how my querido hermano finally succumbed to his fifteen year heroin addiction at the far too young age of 41.

(Cheryl Strayed’s “Heroin/e” quickly became a favorite I revisited many times. Then there was her essay “The Love of my Life” and David Sedaris’s “Now We Are Five” and so many more that I can’t even begin to list.)

I wanted proof that I wasn’t going crazy. Something to explain the knot in my throat that I couldn’t seem to swallow or cry out or scream through.

I needed someone to tell me that this grief would pass because it seemed impossible that it could. That the vise grip it had on my throat would loosen.

I needed to know that I would survive this feeling of dying. The tiny little deaths I endured daily when people who did not know how to handle my grief said things that felt more like knives than comfort (“you’re strong, you’ll be okay” “he’s in a better place now” “everything happens for a reason”); when I heard Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car or smelled his cologne on a passing stranger; or that time I swore I saw him in a crowd and I freaked, ran toward him, only to have this stranger look at me like I was a lunatic. The thing is, in that moment I was. I was losing my shit.

I was terrified that I would forget him, his voice, that mischievous twinkle in his eye when he came up with a scheme that would make mom scream and chase us.

I was desperate for people to know who he was. Not just the heroin and how he lost himself in it and stole and manipulated. I wanted them to know him when he was my Superman, how he loved and believed in me, what he taught me about love and life and survival, and how so much of who I am, my fierce, my “fuck that, I got this,” I owe to him.

During the holidays of that year, I went into a really dark place. If I had to pick a day when it started, I’d say it was Thanksgiving. I shot out of bed, completely unable to breathe. It was like my breath was caught in my trachea. I was choking on my grief. All I kept thinking was: He should be here. He should be here. Carajo, he should be here. I called my aunt who is very much a surrogate mother to me. I couldn’t even talk. All I could do was sob into the phone. “Come over,” she said. “Come over right now.” I woke up my daughter who stared at me with those huge, expressive eyes of hers that tell you exactly how she’s feeling—she was scared for her mama. We ran the three blocks to aunt’s house in our pajamas. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. Later that day, one of her boys (I don’t remember which one) came with me to pick up clothes. My aunt made sure we weren’t alone. I didn’t get home until late into the night.

It was after that that I picked up a chair and sat in my grief. I went willingly into an abyss I was scared I would stay in or wouldn’t know how to claw out of. (I’m picturing that scene from Silence of the Lambs when Buffalo Bill lowers a bucket into that torture pit chamber of his and you get a glimpse of the blood and fingernails and scratch marks on the wall.) That’s when I started reading everything I could get my hands on about depression, how grief can trigger it, the dangers, the menace.

Despite this, I didn’t acknowledge my depression until sometime in February, when the blackness started to ebb and I could see light on the edges. It was blue and shadowy, almost grey, like powder. What mattered most was that it wasn’t all black. It symbolized hope.

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

I’m A Misfit.

December 28, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Treva Draper-Imler.

I am not pretty. I am damn funny, silly and a bit quirky. Those things make me too cute, as my friends would say. I tried being pretty, but the cost was my soul. I’m fine, really fine, where I am.

My Dad, Paul Draper, is handsome. He is a classic “Steve McQueen” type. He has a sculpted chin, dark hair and green eyes. My brother David is handsome. He was a model in college. The fact that my brother was a model probably added 5 years onto the time I will spend in therapy. My mom is pretty, She has red hair and sky blue eyes. Her skin is so china bisque fair, dotted with a freckle or two. misfit

My earliest memory of my father is him beating me till I urinated on myself. I was four, and he caught me chewing on a doll’s foot. I was in my Pj’s. He struck me until the floor was soaked in urine. He then made me mop my urine up. Continue Reading…