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separation

Guest Posts, Siblings, sisters

The Things I’d Tell Her

December 12, 2020
sisters

By Christine Meade

My sister is moving with her husband and my twin toddler nephews to North Carolina in two weeks. That’s 811 miles away from her family of origin. They’re moving during a pandemic and only four months after I gave birth to my first son and I want it to be about me and tell them not to leave, but I know that’s not how this works. I’m dreading the day–the one when we’ll have to say goodbye–and the ugly tears I’ll cry. I wanted her to have the chance to fall in love with my son as much as I did with hers.

When my grandmother and her sister–Rita and Ruth–bought their first homes in Somerville, MA, with their WWII vet husbands in the fifties, they found two-family, white houses that mirrored each other on the same street. They each had a slew of kids who grew up as close as siblings. They would spend hours chatting on the phone to one another just across the road, giggling with the coiled phone cord wrapped around a finger when they couldn’t be together in person. They only wore heels when out walking, pushing their prams and chatting. One time, a drunk man dangled out a second floor window and shot at them as they brought their kids for a walk. When I imagine this, I picture their heels first–stilettos in a bright green color–panty-hosed knees bent ducking behind a car with their children huddled like ducklings around them. No one was hurt, and they made the newspaper.

The grandmother I knew had toes that were curled and feet curved with bunions. She always wore stockings with slippers in the house. It’s from wearing those heels, she’d say, without a hint of regret. She lived across from her sister until she passed away in 2007.

When my sister was little, I had her drink out of the dog bowl on the floor when we played “dog.” I had her squirmy body sit through rigorous school lessons that she was far too young to understand when we played “school” and I, as teacher, would get frustrated when she’d get bored and drop out. She could only read my books if she used the check-out system and library card I had created for her. I bribed her to do things by offering to “be her best buddy” when she was little, which she couldn’t refuse. She followed me around and copied what I said and wore and wanted to be until she was too old to get away with it. In a home video we found recently of the two of us as little kids in matching Minnie Mouse shirts before our brother came along, I told her “I loved you even when you were ugly.”

And then we got to high school and discovered the joys of having a close sister friend. We were three grades apart and we’d steal each other’s clothes and walk the hallways together, looking nothing alike, but liking the way “The Meade Sisters” sounded on other people’s tongues. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re part of a team–a team that you can never opt not to play for. We were the funniest people we knew. Our family started referring to us as Rita and Ruth.

I went to college and moved to San Diego and then San Francisco and spent the better part of my twenties in California and I wonder now if this is how she felt to be the sister that stayed behind. If it’s what I’ll feel when she’s gone, except maybe worse, because the missing extends beyond her to the two little boys she created who have big eyes and big foreheads and call me Nini.

While in California, we’d talk on the phone and call each other by our nicknames and she’d visit and I’d take her to the best beach bars and Alcatraz and the Muir Woods. We handmade matching Halloween costumes and danced until we were sweat-slicked and tired. On bad nights, with ex-boyfriends, I’d lie awake in bed until 3 a.m. so it would be 6 a.m. her time and I’d call her for consolation.

When I moved back to Boston we made our own new set of traditions. We’d go to Salem every October for my birthday and get our fortunes read. When we were hungover, we’d order egg sandwiches and watch Blue Crush for the 100th time, a movie we loved because maybe it was a life we imagined for ourselves one day–simple beachside living, surfing, and sisterhood. I read online recently that 2020 is the eighteenth anniversary of Blue Crush, which made me feel old. To celebrate the 2002 film, the movie’s stars met on Zoom, which made me feel sad because maybe that’s what all ocean-loving, free-wheeling sisters have to settle for now–a quick video chat to connect.

As an adult, my sister became a nurse and a wife and then a distance settled between us. She wouldn’t answer my calls, and text responses came through a day too late. She was wrapped up in love’s arms and couldn’t be bothered with the trivialities of others’ day-to-day. I resented her or maybe more so him, but maybe that is love, I thought, since I was single at the time and couldn’t quite remember the flavor of that word in my own mouth. Maybe I’d do the same, I thought. Maybe I’d leave my sister for love. But I didn’t think so.

Then she had the twin boys and her role shifted. She became a mom, this place I knew nothing about. In motherhood, however, she needed me again, if only for the companionship, for a salve to the loneliness, the exhaustion. It’s a circumstance I only now understand, baby in my arms, calling her or my mother multiple times a day just to fill the blank space between feedings and diaper changes. The companionship needed in motherhood goes far beyond a spouse or a partner, I’ve found, but rests in other mothers whose bodies have been torn by the ones they love most. It rests in those who’ve been so stripped of sleep, they need to talk to someone who understands when they don’t have anything at all to say. When I became pregnant, our roles shifted again, and I needed my sister because why did my nipples hurt so much? And was crying this much normal? And would I ever–would he ever–sleep again?

A few months after the birth of her twins, my sister’s husband was deployed for a year and I had her back, all to myself. I got daily video calls and we saw each other a few times a week. I had visions of our boys growing up like brothers, only a year and a half apart, maybe going to the same school. We’d wheel them to the park together in strollers, carrying our iced coffees, and gossiping about the rest of our family. We’d take turns babysitting for the other and share big meals over loud dining room tables, our kids wrestling in the other room like Rita and Ruth’s boys.

Now her husband is back and they are leaving just to try something new. It will be her first time living in a different part of the country and there’s so much that I want to tell her. That it will be harder living that far away from a family as close as ours than she realizes. I remember my first night away after moving, crying quietly on my blow-up mattress, missing my family, the only home I had known for so long. That missing all the birthdays and barbecues and holidays feels isolating in a way you wouldn’t expect. That no matter how nice the place you moved to is–sunshine, beaches, all the promise of happiness–nothing replaces those random Tuesday night dinners around our parents’ kitchen island, drinking good red wine and laughing and eating with your siblings, and feeling, if nothing else, grateful.

And I would tell her, most importantly, that I love her and will miss her.

Christine Meade is a Boston-area writer and editor and first-time parent. She is the author of the award-winning novel “The Way You Burn.” Christine has published articles and essays for Dow Jones Media, The Boston Globe, Writer’s Digest, HuffPost, and GirlTalkHQ. She can be found online here: www.christine-meade.com.

 

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Divorce, Guest Posts, Self Image

A False Sense of Security

August 1, 2019
self-worth

By  Jamie Carmichael

It’s 6:50pm when I pull in to the condo complex in the minivan. My 12-year old daughter is next to me and her toddler sister is in the back.  The timing is deliberate.  I don’t want to be home too early and I don’t want to be back so late that we have to stress through the nighttime routine. The large white van is parked in front and I sigh. He’s home.  Not surprisingly since he usually gets home between 330 and 5 but still.  Once in a while he’ll work late and I’ll be giddy with the quiet space that will welcome us. I can unload the bags. The girls will shake off their coats and let out some energy. We’ll eat whatever we picked up from McDonald’s or the pizza place or I’ll make something and then put the dishes in the dishwasher, fold the laundry and just be in peace.

But those days are few and far between.

Usually what happens is that we’ll come back from the library or the grocery store and my husband will be upstairs in the bathroom where he spends an inordinate amount of time doing whatever it is that he does.  I’ll be in the kitchen or helping with homework with our older daughter and then at some point he’ll come down instantly ramping up the tension.

Will he acknowledge me or go straight to asking the girls how they are as if I’m not there?  Will I greet him in a measured way so I’m not being superficially upbeat but also not ignoring him? The thing is that I’m not ever entirely sure where we stand that day.

Partial disclosure:  We have been married for 16 years. We haven’t slept in the same bed for 12.

Full disclosure:  I had an affair 6 years ago and filed for divorce.  After confessing both to my husband said he eventually said he wanted to stay together.  I didn’t think it would work out but the fact that he wanted to stay together automatically made me want to too. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Untethered. By Yolanda Olavarria-DeMarco.

April 30, 2014

Untethered. By Yolanda Olavarria-DeMarco.

A few weeks before Christmas my husband and I separated. He left. I had the opportunity to say, “No, don’t leave, please stay.” But I didn’t.

Against the floating debris that had amounted during our years together, we decided to go out on a date that night. The waters had finally receded. We went to our favorite Sushi restaurant. One by one the drifting floaters surfaced that evening. The question longed to be asked.

The inevitable emerged.

I just sat on a chair silent, staring at a Frosty the Snowman gift bag that stood on a table across from me. My husband sat in front of me; he was waiting for an answer. His questioned echoed in my head. “Do you want me to leave?” he had asked.

Time stood still.

Frosty was flashing a jolly smile without the pipe. When did he stop smoking? I really would like to know what makes Frosty a jolly happy soul. What’s his secret? What exactly had he been smoking? A sushi roll now drenched in soy sauce waited in a small rectangular dish. I hold on to my chopsticks with a firm grip.

Realizing what I was holding on to, I let go.

I excused myself and made my way to the restroom. The restaurant was packed. It was a Saturday night in Gainesville, Florida. Students still lingered; some with parents, perhaps celebrating.  A silent version of Akira Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai flashed on a big screen. I locked myself in one of the bathroom stalls, techno music playing in the background. Facing the toilet as if prepared to hurl my rage.

Lost in the silent, black and white version of my life flickering inside my head, I cried.

I felt cradled in the dim-lit, Asian-inspired stall. Something within me became untethered, allowing a gush of stored memories slip through me. Stagnant tears, finally released, made their way down my face feeling them settle on my clenched collarbones.

I unlock and open the stall door. A mirror stood right before me. As I look at my reflection, I see a vaguely familiar face. I walk towards myself wondering if this was all a dream. With a look of despair on my face, a much younger woman places her left hand on my right shoulder and asks if I was OK. I look at her, but can’t say anything. As she walks to leave she says, “It’s always half as bad as it seems.” A laughing crowd is heard as she opens the door and then just muffled sounds as the door shuts. As I open the door, I hear a multitude of clear voices in undistinguishable languages.

The vociferous crowd swallows my pain.

I walk back to the table. He was waiting for an answer. The check and leftovers stood in front of him. The Frosty the Snowman gift bag, still there, as if it, too, were waiting for an answer. We walk back to the car, this time he didn’t hold my hand or open the door for me. As we drove back home, I thought about Akira Kurasawa’s other film, Rashomon, and wonder what versions, surely contradictory, of what happened tonight, would be remembered?

The night before, I dreamt that my husband had died. In my dream, I discovered his body lying by the edge of a lake. His body stood with its chest wide opened and hollow, looked like an empty pupa case. The sky was grey, the air was moist, and the grass was unusually green. His body, still wearing his brown leather jacket, had exploded was what I was told. I cried in my dream. I wailed in my dream; it was painfully vivid.

My loss was real.

My reactions to losses are always delayed. I slowly absorb them, thinking that it may ease the pain. It’s a habit that I can’t seem to break. I flutter my wings to stay afloat. I immediately begin to focus on the bright side, without embracing my pain. I put up a levee, then the pain hits me like an exasperated wave. Unexpectedly. With no impunity, my losses slam against me. This also happened when my father passed away.

As I saw my father’s lifeless body on the hospital bed, I didn’t know what to do. To no avail, I searched for a blink in his fixed, dark, and dilated pupils. I just stared at his body. His death had been expected. The process was lengthy, as he too had fluttered his wings to stay afloat. During his final hours, his silence seemed to ask, should I let go or should I hold on.

Later that day, I helped my mother purchase a coffin. My mother chose a royal blue one. She insisted in selecting him a nicer coffin then the one included in his funeral package. Initially I had objected, the corpse I had seen, was no longer my father, therefore the extra expense would be meaningless. However, I gave in.

The following day after my father died, parts of me could not be found. I needed a black dress. So I went shopping. I found a sleeveless black linen dress. It was June in central Florida. The sound, the music, the people seemed distant. Did I have my earplugs on?

My body felt warm, detached, and dazed. The heat followed me everywhere I went, even inside the dreadful mall. I was numb. I saw a gold bag that would look so well with my black linen dress. I thought I needed to look good. My father’s body and his friends would be there. As I made my purchase, I saw my dad. Our eyes met. He seemed to be patiently waiting for me to finish shopping, with a look as if he was trying to say, “Let’s go, I am hungry and your mother is waiting!” My knees gave way. The stagnant tears made their way down. Uninterrupted.

The drive back home from the sushi restaurant is immersed in a in utero-like silence. My husband left that same night. He didn’t say much. He was sad and perhaps a bit relieved. I was left with the feeling that every single thing in my life had amounted to that moment. I tried to breathe. I was unable to catch up with my breath. The pain was unbearable. I pretended not to acknowledge the pain, and come up with what I call an emergency-gratitude list. I was grateful for: the divine, my family, my friends, my dog, my cat, my health and my life. Fluttering my wings, once again, to stay afloat, while my bowels ignited.

The Christmas trees blinked while the scent of the pine wreath permeated throughout. As the night moved on, I went to the guest bedroom and lied down on a Yoga block for a chest opener. I needed to breath. I allowed the magnitude of that night to sink in: sushi, Frosty, Akira, techno music, younger woman, loss, deception, silence, uncertainty and sadness. Or was it anger?

Wholeheartedness took over. Like a contrast agent running through my veins, it highlighted everything I needed to feel. My mimicry disclosed. That night, and my body, exploded.

***

A seeker of stillness, beauty, and truth, Yolanda Olavarria-DeMarco is a native of Puerto Rico. She works for the Gainesville Latino Film Festival, is a Spanish interpreter, and is a student of Transcendental Meditation. She finds comfort in knowing that her father’s spirit is with her. Yolanda attended the Jennifer Pastiloff and Emily Rapp writing retreat in Vermont in October 2013. She is currently training to become a butterfly interpreter at the Butterfly Rainforest of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

She can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and very soon at bestillbetrue.com

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon,, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle in May and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)