Today my husband and I took our kids to my mom’s new house to go swimming in her newly repaired pool. Her ‘new’ house is actually not new at all. It is my grandmother’s house and is the house I grew up in with my mom, dad, and sisters. It’s old, needs lots of repairs, and has aged over the years, but it holds the good memories I choose to keep. Being there makes me the happiest. Seeing my children run their fingers over my name carved into the wood of what use to be my window sill thrills me through and through.
Taking a trip to my mom’s house is one we all look forward to – on most days. There is a pool for us to swim which is the same pool I learned to swim many years ago. I love swimming with them and soaking in the togetherness of my little family. Today is not that day for me. Today my sisters are there. With their friends. This makes me nervous and anxious. Though my sisters and I were raised in the same house with the same parents, our lives have grown so far apart that it’s difficult to see one another.
I’ve always been different than the rest of my family which is weird to say because I am also very much like them in many ways. My mom, dad, grandmother, and two sisters – one older and one younger – have always been familiar strangers to me. I wouldn’t say I’m the black sheep or the outcast, but – unintentionally on their parts – I’ve felt as though I’m outside of their circle.
The admirable, hard-working traits displayed throughout the years by my grandmother and mom were graciously, and thankfully, passed on to me. My dad’s willful ways and need to speak to others, strangers or not, were instilled in me from the time I could learn to speak. And my sisters? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.
My older sister – which I will refer to as Big Sis – has always had a wild streak. She is a social, people-pleasing follower always seeking the next party and place to have fun. These traits are shared by my younger sister – Little Sis. Even though they are alike, they did not share a circle of friends or even play together until they were adults. This was largely due to the ten years that separated them.
Growing up, Little Sis and I were inseparable. While Big Sis was busy skipping school and partying with her friends, Little Sis and I had each other to stir trouble. Because we were close in age – three years actually – we had the same circle of friends and were always playing together. She trusted me wholeheartedly and never doubted my opinion. Her trust in me ran deep enough to believe that the ‘mud pies’ I made in our backyard were real enough to eat after I told her just that.
We rode bikes together, swam in the flooded parts of the neighborhood including the ditch outside of the Piggly Wiggly (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are going to have a lot more questions than ‘what?!’ by the time you reach the end of this paragraph, so hold your astonishment to the end.), went joyriding on multiple occasions in my mom’s van after discovering the hidden keys one day while she was at work, and a few times we snuck into the fridge to have ‘samples’ of the boxed wine leftover from my parents’ party which left us drunk and giggling on the kitchen floor. No one was allowed to talk to Little Sis crossly or be mean to her otherwise I would fiercely pedal my ten speed bike to the culprit’s house and hurl insults and swear words at them.
Though we had a joyful childhood, there was a dark cloud looming on the horizon. It came in the form of alcohol, a divorce, and a new wife for my dad when I was about eleven. Big Sis moved out, but where she went I didn’t know and I still don’t know to this day. All I knew was she was no longer living at home and that made my parents sad a lot of the time. Times were rough and I tried my hardest to protect Little Sis from the dark cloud’s shadow, and she relied on me for that protection as well. We were each other’s safety through the hard times of our parents’ divorce, reassured one another that mom would come for us the times daddy and his new, much younger, wife would leave us at home while they went drinking at the bar, and would cry on each other’s shoulder when we were too afraid of how our family dynamic was rapidly crumbling. It was as though the darkness would consume us if we were to be separated, and I was too determined to allow such a thing to happen to her.