At the age of 9 my family went from 6 members to 3. My Dad, brother, and sister, moved out all within a year. My mom’s mother died of suicide in that same year and she lost her best friend as well as her community of friends – her best friend and my dad moved in together, and their other friends stayed with my dad’s circle. Mom was going through a great amount of grief. I waited for Dad to show he cared about me and communicate with me, but it just wasn’t happening. That was a bit expected. He had proven himself unreliable, inconsistent and even as a child, I knew there was nothing I could do about it. For me, I gained a more loving, stable home. Not only was it more peaceful, but I felt safer and acknowledged with this configuration. We were more of a family unit – the losses brought us all closer together, and instead of feeling like a shadow, I felt like part of the family.
Besides the impact of my dad showing little interest in me, I felt a deep loss for my sister. Even though she was acting out in a mean way and exhibiting her “superior” attitude the last year she lived with us, I could still see the child in her – the one that played with me when we were little. When she was younger she was funny, creative, kind and loving. I also missed her because she made me feel safe in bed at night. (We always shared a room together.) I felt her slipping away into boys and cigarettes and bad choices. I really wanted my “real” sister back.
After our first Christmas apart, Leslie wrote me a few times even though she only lived about 2 miles away. I loved getting her letters. She made secret codes and gave me the key to decode them. I wrote her back each time, even though my writing skills were limited. I was reconnecting with the sister I loved through the letters, but they didn’t last long.
My sister moved in with my dad when she was 13, and by her 2nd year of high school, she dropped out. She told me that the high school was dangerous, and kids were getting threatened by other kids – one was actually murdered. Dad gave her uppers and downers to sell at the high school, so I’m sure she wasn’t running with a very safe crowd. She told me he used to have two huge jars filled with pills on his closet shelf. (He could get whatever he wanted – he was a doctor.) Maybe she just stole them – I don’t really know.
By the age of 16, she ran away with a boy she met at a music festival. The police were called, and she was missing for 3 days. That was the only time I saw my parents in the same room again, even though it was brief. My mom took my brother and I over to Dad’s apartment and was yelling – “What do you mean she’s been missing for 3 days?!!!”
Dad said she went off with a boy, and to me, that seemed very typical for Leslie. I figured she was doing whatever she wanted to do, which was also very typical for Leslie. And in my 9-year-old evaluation, Dad had acted consistently too, so I wasn’t sure why there was so much panic over the situation. I could tell Mom was very upset, (and if I understood the implications better, I would have been too) so I asked God to please take care of her and bring her home safely. There was nothing else I could do.
The police found her and she was slapped with a warning and continued to party. (Mom couldn’t convince her to live with us again because the law stated Leslie had the choice as to where she lived, and she wouldn’t agree to come back.)
By the age of 19, she met an older man that she ‘fell in love with’. I remember meeting him when they came over for their annual Christmas Eve visit. He had long wavy brown hair and a mustache. He looked a little bit like George Harrison of the Beatles, except with lighter hair. I knew how much Leslie loved the Beatles, so I could see why she was attracted to him. There was something odd about the relationship to me though. She would hang on his arm and he would act like it was her privilege to be hanging on him. I didn’t see any reciprocation. I remember Mom commenting how disgusting it was that she wasn’t wearing a bra. I remember feeling uncomfortable with the conversation and that she shouldn’t be talking about that in front of her boyfriend. Leslie just responded, “He likes it when I don’t wear a bra,” smiled, and clung to him a little tighter. He smiled and remained silent.
It turned out that Leslie’s new boyfriend was a drug dealer, and he set her up when the police were closing in. She was driving his car without him when she got pulled over. There were guns and drugs in the trunk. As far as I know, he never got caught. What really sealed her 2-year prison sentence were the items in her purse when she showed up for court. She had all the equipment for heroin use.
No one actually sat down and told me what was going on when these things were happening. Whenever I asked ‘what’s going on?’ to any situation, I would usually get one of three answers.
1. Nothing, everything’s fine.
2. You’re too young to understand.
3. And this one seemed to be used the most - You’re too sensitive.
When I heard “You’re too sensitive,” I would feel a separation between my family and me. How can someone who cares be too sensitive? How can someone who cries when they feel abandoned be too sensitive? Why would I be shut out for my concern? I was expressing my feelings – something’s wrong, if not with you, then with me. Clearly I’m not feeling safe. And when I would ask, this answer would let me know that I was right – something was going on – and they weren’t telling me, which escalated my thoughts of not feeling safe. Instead, they just stuck a label on me and basically dismissed me. There was no concern for my wellbeing. Why didn’t I ever get an answer like, “Leslie’s making some really bad choices right now. But we still love her and we’re keeping in touch with her (which Mom was and I didn’t know it). God has her. Don’t worry. I’m here and everything is alright.” I usually had to acquire my information by overhearing conversations. Then I would know that my intuition was right. So even though no one would tell me what was going on, I usually knew something was up, and then I’d do my own personal research. With that kind of environment, my intuition became stronger and incredibly accurate. This also continued to affirm the message that the only one I could rely on was me. Me and God. There was no one else.
I continued to strive to be part of this family. Was it human survival in need of a tribe? Conditioning? Was it because of pure loneliness or searching for acceptance? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reasons, I’ll tell you more about what happened with my sister and how I tried to continue to be part of her life in next week’s blog.