The Twenty Year-Old (and the Sixty-Five Year-Old)
The Twenty Year Old (and The Sixty Four Year Old)
My sister finally made an appearance at my dad’s house “for Christmas” after being absent for my entire ten day visit, including Christmas dinner. I was flabbergasted that she is not fed words by my father that would induce a guilt trip – each morning during my visit, when he had to drive me to pick up my methadone from Shopper’s Drug Mart, Markham Place, one of two for the city’s 24-hour locations, he took the opportunity to spend the entire car ride hollering at me and, not surprisingly, feeding me guilt trip after guilt trip. If I were not a stronger woman, if I were still the woman I was before I moved to Vancouver who lacked confidence, if I were the woman I am now in a depressive phase of my so-called “bipolar disorder” over the holidays this year as I was last, these endless shouting sprees (not matches, as I rarely raised my voice, I would have reopened the six year-old scars on my arms, that is, I would have committed suicide out of guilt. Guilt for what? For being bad with money and men. What young woman whose mother showered her with endless extravagant gifts until age thirteen and then died after two brutal years of a fight with cancer, and whose father was absent during her entire adolescence (she’s getting good grades, she must be doing just fine…as I snorted another line of crystal meth, stuff that gives me the shivers just to think about now – the smell, the taste, the burn, Oh! The burn… ) is not bad with money and men throughout her twenties? I’m certainly no statistician, but I would be willing to bet next month’s rent money that my counterparts are just as bad with money and men. Yet, each day a guilt trip, even after I was brutally raped in Osborne Village. I have never received any sympathy for what my “ex-boyfriends” did to my body, leading me to doubt that I’ll ever enjoy sex, to doubt that I’ll ever associate it with pleasure again, from my father. My sister, even less so. I mention this because the question “WHY ON EARTH DID YOU STAY WITH THESE GUYS!?!?!” was one posed to me during these car rides. Um, because I was young and stupid and so desperate to be loved that I would have fallen for a robot if it had promised to hold me and tell me it would all be okay? Money, of course, is far more important to him than what any of these fellows – boyfriends and strangers alike – have done to my body, have done to my ability to enjoy my experience of life. Though I can count the number of times I raised my voice to him during these hellish journeys to the drugstore on three fingers, he claimed that he had made a pact with himself that he would no longer “pussyfoot around” whatever issues were making him anger, he raped me all the same: of dignity I have left after giving money away to impoverished students and friends, money that did not belong to me, unable to say no when I had access to cash and a good friend was losing weight as fast as I was: only I was intentionally not eating during the month of November, and my friend could not afford to buy food.
Writing about these daily encounters with my father is extremely difficult for me. After he lived in my bachelor apartment for two months after my hysterectomy last May, and after he and his wife drove me back home to Vancouver after my aunt drove me off a cliff, we became incredibly close, a closeness that I never thought was possible, as I rather disliked my dad during my late-adolescence and early twenties – in retrospect, I probably just wanted him to notice me, no matter whether the attention I got was positive, negative, or downright awful. After these visits, I truly believed that I would have a relationship – a good one – with my dad, for the rest of my life. We are interested in similar topics, we are both of above average intelligence, we have similar values. I enjoyed his company and conversation immensely, and realized how scared I was of losing him. So, despite the fact that I swore I was done with Winnipeg when I left last January, I accepted his invitation home for Christmas. Unfortunately, the man whose company I held so dear when I was not home for Christmas. The man that had replaced him last year, the jerk who thought there was nothing wrong with telling his eldest daughter that she was “not allowed to have emotions” and who told me I made no sense, spoke like a crazy person, needed to be institutionalized and disregarded all trauma I had been through in my life in favour of making me feel as repulsive as possible for the handful of times I said mean things to my sister when I was high on crystal meth (him none the wiser at the time – I am the one that admitted this drug use to him when I was twenty), was back with a vengeance. I no longer wish to speak of this man any more than I wish to speak to him.
So, in walked my sister after her ten-day absence that she did not have to explain to my dad. He could totally see where she was coming from. One of my primary reasons for accepting the invitation to Winnipeg for Christmas was to visit with the sister, the sister I taught how to write, the sister I taught about birds, bees, and the birds and the bees, the sister who I tutored high school bio when I should have been studying for my own highest level undergrad sociology classes, the sister who I made sure had the best professor for every class she took at the same University (U of Winnipeg) that I attended, the sister who I taught how to get around the bureaucratic “rules” at the University, the sister who, apparently, when I was seventeen and on crystal meth I said a few unkind words to. The sister who believes these unkind words beat watching your mother die for ten years, for being raped by two boyfriends and three strangers, for bleeding from my soul while I suffered through meth addiction and got clean and sober, all on my own. The sister who doesn’t believe this, among other things she thinks I lie about – you know it, I’m one of the most honest people you will ever meet. The sister who refused to visit me during the six months I spent in the hospital. The sister who I tried so hard to please when she came here, to Vancouver, to visit, but who, most of the time, stopped speaking and looking at me after being out for five minutes during the days I planned for us. The sister who, when I came home in 2010, told me that ever since I had gone off antipsychotics I got this “look on my face” that she just couldn’t “deal” with, this explaining her cold shoulders as I bought her dinners and took her to the beach. The sister that my mom had eight miscarriages in order to produce, and who she told me, just once, letting me know that it would be once and that she would deny it if asked, but made sure I had her full attention when she told me: she did not like the second one. I did, however, and I was her mom when she was six, seven, eight. Watching endless episodes of Barney the Dinosaur because it made her happy, calming her when she learned about death by accidentally ripped the wings off a moth, filling up her kiddie pool with hose water and then pot after pot of boiling water ‘til it was warm enough to enjoy every sunny summer day, playing spice girls dolls with her, buying her a gift every Christmas even though I have yet to get one in return, making several of these, pouring my heart and soul into the surprises for the little one. She remembers none of this. I am bewildered – I remember being six, seven, and eight as well as I remember being fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen. She remembers Aunt Karen and Aunt Ruth taking care of her: women who took us to the mall once or twice a summer, staying for about an hour.
So, in she came. First she walked into my room (she never knocks, but if anyone forgets to knock on her bedroom door, she will cut that person to shreds for days, again without punishment, at least none that I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot. I couldn’t care less, we’re sisters, and she hugged me (another limp-handshake version of the hug – why bother??? ). She asked how my Christmas had been and I said “good, and yours?”. “Good.” For two women with generous vocabularies, the mere use of the word “good”, and on both of our parts nonetheless, implied distance. She then stormed into her room, which she had blocked the door to, from the inside, with a piano bench (though she hates piano) and music stand. Why doesn’t she just get a keyed lock like Eve?
Now, when I was still under the false belief that we were close as sisters could be, she raided my bookshelves after I had moved out, asking for help interpreting a Sylvia Plath passage rather than belated forgiveness or prior permission. I was happier than a pig in poop that she was reading Plath and Kafka at age seventeen, and let her take all the books that I had held dear during the near-fatal struggle we call “High School”. Shift to the present day – as my ex-fiancé in Vancouver made off with every book I owned, I decided to take the books I had in Winnipeg to start fresh – begin building a brand new library, and one without a single book I do not love. I was a little different in my approach to (re) raiding her shelves: I sent her text messages asking her permission to reclaim my books before I broke through the obstacle course. She was hesitant – “can you wait until I’m there?” She was not planning on coming until fifteen minutes before I had to leave for the airport, so I had to give a resounding “no”. I had already packed the books that I had left over in my room and waiting until fifteen minutes before departure time would have been stupid. Still, because of the scene she made when she walked into her room and discovered which books I had taken, I was paged to my flight – “Last call for passenger scars, will you please go directly to your gate…” A lovely lady working for WestJet helped me with my things (after security had rooted through them, looking for a bomb in an eye shadow compact) and ran me to the plane just before the door was shut.
After little sister went from her room to mine, the yelling began, and the look washed over her face – the cruel smile, the smile saying, “I know you better than you know yourself.”:
“Okay, you took a BUNCH of books that were not yours, so where’s your fucking suitcase [before little sister began using the “f” and “s” words, they were off limits in our home. How people can change things permanently via simple, relentless repetition] all I asked was for no one to go in my room while I was gone! Was that SOOOOOO hard?”
“K., I needed to get my books. And I did not take a single one that did not belong to me. If I did, it was an accident. I can e-mail you a list of every book I have in my possession once I reach Vancouver, but I do not have time to unpack. We have to leave in five minutes.”
“Dad, where is the suitcase? She took a bunch of my books.” She was laughing at me by this point.
“K., we do NOT have time to unpack things. What are you accusing her of taking?”
“The books on my top shelf. None of them were her’s. What did you take from there, huh? And why is everything under my sink messed up? And why is one of my drawers scathed?”
“My cat, Penelope, here, was in the room with me when I collected the books. She opens cupboards and plays in them. Everyone that has spent time with her can attest to that.”
“So, what did you take off the top shelf?!?!?!”
“I will find out when I unpack!”
At this point we were trying rather hopelessly to close my other suitcase.
“The top shelf scars. What did you take?”
“Okay, give me some silence here.”
I have a somewhat photographic memory, and I pictured the shelf.
“Catcher in the Rye! I took a copy of Catcher in the Rye from high school. I will send it back to you Expresspost.”
“Nah, that’s fair.”
I guess once one becomes a phony for a period of their lives, reading negative things about such folks is not on their list of priorities.
“You took The Bell Jar, didn’t you??”
“Yes, I did. Was that not mine?”
“No, no it wasn’t, scars.” She is now looking at me like I am just plain stupid, though the books were identical.
“And I was looking for one of my Japanese crime novels in your drawers. I did not go through them, I just opened one. And, like I said, ask anyone, Penelope loves playing in drawers.”
“HAHAHAHAHAHA! You just caught yourself in your own lie, scars! Drawer, cupboard, uuuuugggghhhh!!!!”
“K., you have me so flustered here that I mixed up two words. Drawer and cupboard.”
My dad piped up again. “So what else is missing, K.?”
“Nothing, that’s it.”
Holy Persephone! To cause that much pain over one book that was handed out for free in high school? That my dad would replace for her in an instant? I had no time to reflect on the absurdity, I had to go.
And so my dad took all my luggage out to the car. Well, I took Penelope, now meowing every few seconds from the safety and confinement of her Sherpa bag, and my laptop bag. Even it weighed 25 pounds.
My stepmother, her brother who had come for Christmas from Vancouver as well, and K. all lined up for hugs and goodbyes. I hugged stepmom first, and told her that I loved her, thanked her again (she was the only person to get me a Christmas gift, and it was something special), and told her I would see her soon. I gave her brother a hug and told him we had to hook up for coffee of something in Vancouver. Though K. stood closest to me, I hugged her last, returning the limp meaninglessness, and said, “take care.” I also handed her a “Two of Swords” tarot card. ”It’s your Christmas gift. Look it up. It’s worth a lot!”
She was visibly taken aback. I always say, “I love you” first. This time I thought I’d throw her the keys. And she dropped them like a candy wrapper. “Take care.” The look on her face was photo-worthy, though. She was scared. Perhaps she was realizing that she was also trashing the sister who had helped her through her undergraduate degree. Who knows, really.
My dad yelled at me about things like not finishing the pop I ordered over the ten minutes we had to eat until the last minute. But before I went through security, I told him I loved him – always, always first – and told him I would see him soon, too.
Of course, I have no idea if this is true, but when I was a three year-old and left cookies out for “Santa”, he got up in the middle of the night and ate them, leaving crumbs for me to marvel at in the morning, didn’t he?