Saturday, 22 October 2016

whisps of vision: A Seed Planted

whisps of vision: A Seed Planted:                                                           Chapter One ~ The Seed Planted     It has taken so many years of unresolve...

A Seed Planted

                                                        Chapter One ~ The Seed Planted

    It has taken so many years of unresolved emotions, conflicts, behaviours and decisions to finally reach this moment of willingness to express what I have pressed/suppressed into every cell of my body. My jaw has been locked between layers of experience and feeling with my heart left in permanent and safe seclusion. And I am tired, very tired. I feel stuck in an amniotic sac that keeps me bound up, inactive...Still feeding myself out of instinct and growing ever larger each day running out of room. What to do with a healthy baby unable to be born?

    In reality and history, I was born just outside of Paris in the suburb of Boulogne Billancourt.
On every birthday, my mother used to become nostalgic and remember the gentle Spring sighing " when you were born, the forsythia of the Bois de Boulogne was in bloom". I was also born in an extremely posh clinic reserved for aristocracy, diplomats, celebrities and so on. And, historically, it was a royal hunting lodge. It has since been amalgamated into the French healthcare system, I believe. It was known as the Clinique du Belvedere and I came into the world in this location of choice and privilege. From what I gather, my birth was quite traumatic for both mother and child. Firstly, my mother ruptured her coccyx . I never found out if I was in a hurry, too big or simply clumsy, but there she was bleeding on the birthing table with me screaming my head off with no nurses coming to our mutual aid. Mother was justly traumatised by this and only the cellular history of my body knows the truth of this dramatic and cold arrival.

    Things improved enormously soon after. At the time, women who became new mothers were given a full two weeks to rest, regain strength, bond steadily with their babies and be roundly pampered. At least at this clinic. Family could visit. But this was a mother's time. And in appropriate French tradition, meals were delicious and served with wine. Wetting the baby's head. A few weeks after leaving Belvedere, Mother contracted German measles and, for my safety, I and my two older siblings were sent to a chicken farm somewhere in France. I believe it was an au pair's family and we remained there for a couple of weeks. According to Mother, among farm activities was the regular slaughter of chickens which fascinated my older sister. As a wry and unkind side note, this may have given her ideas as to how to treat her younger and unwanted siblings. I did physically survive this separation but cannot imagine its effects with the passage of time. I know that Mother was devastated to be separated from her new born child.

    I have little memory of the next two years-as expected. I believe that my parents lived in the 16e arrondissement and life had become chaotic and unhappy for both. Their 10 year marriage was coming to an uncomfortable and unfriendly end and, in 1959, my mother travelled back to the United States with the three of us in tow. Now, the US was known to all the others and English was familiar. To me, most of it was a blur and I must have registered the language, but never kept any memory of it wafting about my grandparents house or elsewhere. By then, I had become a very French child trying to keep my head above transatlantic waters.

   We stayed at Darrow School of which my grandfather was headmaster and my grandmother a resident dominatrix. It was beautiful there-the open country, the quiet and the routine. The one visual memory that I recall is sitting in the
dining room at a fairly long table with my grandparents at its head. And that is all. The rest was told to me by Mother years after. My father travelled and worked as a Canadian diplomat and his feelings about the States were respectful but not embracing. Consequently, he was determined that his three children obtain Canadian citizenship and, unfortunately, got so angry at my mother that he threatened her with kidnapping us and crossing the border. No protections were really in place where international marriages were concerned. So, after a series of secluded months and a bodyguard at our side, Mother took us all on a train ride from White Plains, N.Y. to Reno, Nevada. I believe that we stayed at a ranch which hosted people getting divorces as Reno was a separation city par excellence. By all accounts, Mother divorced my father then walked across the street and married that afternoon a long-time friend of the family when we were in Paris. As a matter of fact, my new step-father was present right after I was born. In a couple of weeks, we were headed back to France on the Queen Elizabeth. The only souvenir that I carried with me from the West of " The Misfits " fame was a left ear almost torn off by an ill-treated horse who did not like children. I wandered into its corral and soon was pursued into a dusty corner of its stall. I fell backwards and the only image is that of a great black hoof coming down on the left side of my face. So, I was taped up as I stepped onto the great ship that was to whisk me back to safety and to a life that was familiar and far less hostile. It was 1960 and I was just 3 years old burdened already by stacks of heavy emotion and very dramatic experiences.

Friday, 21 October 2016

whisps of vision: Preface To A Tale of Two Children

whisps of vision: Preface To A Tale of Two Children:      As I am about to embark on recollections accumulated since childhood, I wish to acknowledge      several things. The first bein...

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Sell By Date of My Endurance and My Conclusion

The Sell-By Date of My Endurance

posted August 22, 2015

It is a hard for me to know precisely how I will conclude this opus, but please stay with me. On the 18th of January, 2004 my mother's life abruptly ended on an icy mountain road on a particularly snowy and cold Sunday. She always hated Sundays and the coldest leg of winter's sojourn. As for me, it is still difficult to articulate the grand canyons of sorrow that formed so quickly in my heart. If you have read what I have written thus far, you will register the depths of loss experienced and understand why. My brother was also thrown into such stormy seas and we navigated the swirling waters right through Mother's funeral, the settling of her estate and letting go of our last hold on our history and Vermont soil. Of course, my sister was devastated, but this was very different. Because of old angers still raging against my step-father and his family, she decided not to attend Mother's funeral. Once again, my brother and I were relieved by her absence and we also found it easier to deal with the practical side of Mother's affairs. She did behave in a very dignified manner when the three of us had to choose what items we wished to keep and what needed to be sold and to whom. My mother's friend remained selfish and soon disappeared with a car Mother had purchased earlier, two paintings and a few other objects. Because Mother knew that he was still a serious alcoholic, she left him very little money . She was well aware of how it would be spent. My brother and I worked extremely well together and we were sensitive to each other's experience. We also knew how carefully we needed to handle our older sister.

In the Spring, after all was done, I simply had to return to England. To do what? Grieve, grieve grieve...I did this for over 3 1/2 years and spoke to my siblings fairly regularly throughout. In 2007, I had reached a place where I believed that it was time to re-connect with my brother and sister in person and to determine whether or not we three could somehow remain a family. I returned to New England shortly before my 50th birthday. I did not wish to stay in southern Vermont, so I chose Northampton where my brother lived and worked. I booked into a hotel and , though meetings with him were amicable and meaningful, I was never invited to visit his new home only 15 minutes away. I remained in the hotel for over a month until I found a flat nearby. Once settled, I saw very little of my brother and still hadn't seen my sister. For the following 4 months, I dealt with retrieving my belongings from storage and sorting them out at another unit just on the outskirts of Northampton. In July, after several appointments with doctors for check ups , it was discovered that I had a very large brain tumour. In a daze, I contacted my siblings, family members and my godmother. To go through such a massively complex and troubling event such as brain surgery without the warmth, love and support of my parents added to my fear, grief and feeling exceedingly vulnerable. I did receive tremendous support from everyone throughout the summer. I had a 12 hour surgery with 2 blood transfusions which my brother and a close friend sat through to the end. I will never forget such kindness and care. I remained in hospital for over 2 weeks with my brother and cousin visiting me regularly. My sister did wish to come, but she always required so much energy and attention and I simply didn't have the strength. I also lost all hearing in my right ear, developed some visual impairment and chronic vertigo, so I needed intensive rehabilitation. Walking, talking, eating-almost everything. Some actions I re-learned quickly, others demanded my constant attention and patience. For my first weeks out of hospital, my dear cousin, who was also a professional nurse, had me stay with her and her very warm and generous family. My brother, exhausted from worry and such efforts on my behalf, drove me to their house in Connecticut and, after a brief visit, returned to his work and life.

During my convalescence, my sister did call fairly regularly and I spoke to her a couple of times. However, I always felt more fatigued and depleted energetically due to the obsessive nature of her phone calls. Plus, in hindsight, I believe that she had tremendous difficulty NOT being the centre of everyone's attention. My brave cousins fielded many calls for me and often they too felt drained afterwards. Furthermore, she held on to certain notions about being able to buy back our old home that were painfully unrealistic and that were at such odds with my reality of the moment. And once my sister had an idea in her head, she would never ever let it go. I began to feel that she would pull away all my resources for recovery and rehabilitation thus becoming a subtle danger to my weakened health and somewhat vulnerable mental state. Those with whom I shared this concern were in agreement. So it was that when I finally returned to my flat in Northampton, I enveloped myself with my self-care working with three different rehab workers, taking much needed rest and solitude and keeping up with very necessary exercises twice, three times daily. After my cousin left me, I really didn't have any visits from my brother and I did not have the stamina that a visit from my sister would demand. Consequently, most communication was by phone. And it was at this time that I experienced the unexpected and the deeply unpleasant....

For reasons of her own, my sister maintained contact with mother's live-in. Whilst in England and at the outset in the US, I told her that I wished to have no contact with this man whatsoever and please to never share my phone number with him. To me, he was toxic and I felt nothing for him but coal heaps of black rage. At the end of September, just two months after brain surgery, I began to receive multiple phone calls from him. The first call he was almost unintelligible and I felt as if I could smell alcoholic fumes snaking through the phone wires. I was polite but short and, after hanging up, I went to lie down for more needed rest. That afternoon, he called over and over and eventually I simply unplugged the phone simmering in alchemical heat! Not only at this insensitive, uncaring man, but also at my sister's total disregard for my wishes and obvious physical needs. Again. With each successive phone ring, I repeated to myself that this was the end of any further contact with my sister. I had had enough.

She introduced such pain and confusion in my 50 year life that I decided that I had to cut all ties with her or, like Mother, be the wild black horse slammed to the dirt with no hope or strength. It was going to be her or me.

So, I did. Within 24 hours, I had disconnected my phone and signed up with a new number. I tried to inform as many kind souls as quickly as I could and this when I hadn't totally recovered my speech ablities. Symbolically enough, matters with my siblings came to a head on the weekend of my sister's birthday. It was a beautiful autumn morning and I had wrapped up my exercises. After breakfast, I resumed contacting people and leaving messages at doctor's offices with my updated phone number. Around 10h30/11, I heard a knock downstairs and, after opening the door, my brother charged in, very agitated. When I finally got upstairs, he began to speak to me in a very loud voice. He said that he was trying to have a peaceful morning, but that it had been disrupted by a relative who said that they had tried to reach me but the phone was disconnected. And that they wished to know how I was progressing. My brother said that he was overwhelmed with rage and by now, he was almost yelling. Furthermore, he did not let me utter a word in my defense. When I could, I showed him how far down I had gotten on my contact list, but he was on a very emotional role. No longer having quick speech reflexes, I just sat down and let him go at it. The endpoint for me was when he began to insult both myself and Mother. “You feel you're entitled just like Mother felt that she was entitled” and the rest just fell on my poor deaf right ear. I was shaking by now with fury mixed with sadness. But I stayed relatively quiet. We both calmed down long enough to have a sandwich together. I walked him down the stairs and , when he climbed into his car, I closed my porch door and locked it....So, within one week, my relationships with my siblings ended.

I never heard from my brother down the road again. I went through rehab totally on my own, got my groceries on my own and slowly started to shed the family skin on the very icy and cold rocks of what had become too familiar-grief. And my sister? I did receive one of her famous poison pen letters that many knew too well. I had received one years ago because I hadn't given her some photos she wanted when she wanted. She stripped me of the family name and cast me out with venom, fire and brimstone. Her last letter arrived shortly before Thanksgiving. I opened it and read the first line. “ So, you've had brain surgery. Get over it.” I didn't bother going through the rest of her curses, rejections, recriminations and veiled threats. I tore it up and began tearing her black presence out from my life. My godmother, though I never saw her, was a lifesaver and a heart-warmer over the phone. I would say that she got me through that winter, through all my doubts, tears and sheer disbelief. There was an aftershock from all this that lasted well into the following summer. Other family members couldn't truly comprehend what had transpired between the three of us and perhaps still don't. Once strong and able enough, I decided to leave for England again and I asked all those that I had remained in contact with to not disclose my whereabouts to siblings who had consciously and unconsciously contributed to the cutting of any family ties remaining. I had managed to get up from the dirt and jump the bars of the enclosed corral.

This time, I spent over 5 1/2 years in south-west England and, although I had made such profound changes in my life and within myself, there were still hidden ruts and worn grooves that I found myself still trapped in. I remained mostly isolated and crushed under my iron-clad routine. My honest efforts to invite variety continued to fall into repetition with a thick and heavy thud. This is not to say that wonderful things did not happen at all. They did and terrific people found their way into my life. But my cloak of invisibility would not be cast off and unseen I remained to the world and to myself. Like an old porter at a train station or airport, I continued to move suitcase upon suitcase from one point of departure to the next. But, unlike this porter, the bags dutifully clung to me and weighed me down to familiarity, uncomfortable discipline and walled-in isolation. And I truly did not find a way out of my old self. My artwork played a pivotal role in helping me to see me and in visually expressing so many of the events/feelings that I have described to you. I believe that I persisted in avoiding the word for several reasons. One, the deep rift between my French self and my American-speaking emigre. Second, English had become the language of separation, divorce, hostility and violence. Thirdly, frequently I felt that words were used to undermine me somehow. If I was to hang onto any source of strength, it was going to be through my eyes and my vision. This may be elaborated at some time in the near future.

Last September, I returned to the Berkshires because “it seemed like a good idea”. That autumn, I compiled all my artwork into 6 books in order to bring some order to what I had created over 10 years and possibly to make myself visible to myself through the incredible workings of an imagination that has been a gift and a refuge throughout my life. In Spring, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer and treatment continues as I click these keys. There continues to be no contact with my sister or brother and I trust that my recovery has been made all the richer and more certain by their absence.


posted September 6, 2015

I stand in a grey-cold forest with a blanket outstretched before me. It is largely red and quite worn. Piled on top of it is the rubble of memories and words that I have shared with you over these past six weeks. Some are exquisite, others are broken and dusty. Will I take any with me as I move forward ? Or will I tie the blanket like a laundry sack by its ends, place it on a bed of rosemary, heather and sticks and , with reverence tinged with a little ambivalence, set it ablaze ? The fumes and ashes to be swirled up into the light of transformation ? I do see this ritual taking place somewhere in Vermont perhaps near an old crossroads in a wood. I feel deeply strange about this act of release of what has become such a vast and embedded framework of my life, my experience. What will become of the me that managed to exist through such a barrage of events over 58 years ? What will become of my anger that refused to allow me to accept how things were and carried me to this point today? Thanks to the strength and depth of my outrage, I was navigated to the path of self-investigation, healing and profound awareness. How will my body feel after such a long history of bracing, clenching, carrying, trembling in night terrors and aggressive walking? How will it feel to no longer shoulder the weight of bags brimming with a formerly unshared history? What will I do with myself with no seismic reactions to drive me? How will my very cells regenerate themselves now that they have been cleansed of the black particles lodged in by deep-seated sibling jealousy, anger and violence? With infinite gratitude to my body's strength and wisdom, I have succeeded in living long enough to experience this completely new country-my real self.

Yes, this is the end to this particular story. However, there is still an epilogue of work to be done which I truly never had grasped until recently. A couple of weeks in fact. Through these many years, multiple phases and high and low experiences, an unconscious and potentially disruptive phenomenon has formed which I must use all my skill, compassion and understanding to face and to transform. And I must admit it openly. My lines of defence, my rows of seasoned warriors with their astonishing array of weapons and strategies are facing inward and frequently misfiring. Their unspoken target-perceived threat to their order and their learned understanding of my life up to now. I have been my own saboteur for more years than I realise and in so many ways. I don't blame myself, really nor do I blame my sister though flames of anger lick her face every now and then. I do not blame my parents either caught in the unexpected labyrinth of a severely disturbed child. In truth, I am quite amazed at how I have become the architect of a stone box to which I have thrown away key, chisel and hammer! How will I find a way out? That particular thread will need to be of my own creation, focus, willpower and love of myself and the many warriors surrounding my heart.

As for my siblings, there has been no communication for eight years. Will I pursue contact? Probably not. It is as a friend stated regarding her relationship with her siblings, “they bring no joy to my life”. I must admit that my brother often did and that is why his absence is felt every now and then. My sister did have her funny and highly creative moments, but they were so very rare. I wish them no harm. And that is all. As for me, I see cracks of light in this steel-clad eggshell and feel the light breezes of change filtering through. Thanks be.

# # #

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Ten Years of Farewell

                                              Ten Years of Farewell

    The following years billowed with the winds of change for my family. While living and working in London, my parents made the hardest decision of their rural life- to sell their farm which my step-father had purchased in 1969. Though this was equally painful for both, my step-father did not recover from the loss of his favourite horses, the woods he had lovingly cleared, the house which he decorated with his past. Shortly after their move back to the house we had originally moved to, he contracted ALS. My mother basically took over the running of things and quietly celebrated her return to the mountain top. This house was much smaller, more manageable and had a very special place in her heart.

    It was during this time that both she and my step-father thought that it would be nice for her to visit me in London. My step-father, though coping with the beginnings of ALS, felt that he could manage and my mother made sure that he was surrounded by helpers and friends at all times.  We did have a tremendous time in January, 1998, but by the autumn, my step-father's condition was both critical and without hope. Mother suggested I return home in late September and the three of us had two weeks together. My step-father died on the 9th of October, 1998, thus unleashing deep grief within myself and the seismic shifting of my familial underpinnings. Because of her personal issues and ever-present angers with my step-father and his family, my sister did not wish to attend his funeral. Of course, this made the event so much easier for all of us. From what I remember, she remained fairly quiet and was of precious little support to my mother. Mom was both lost and exhausted. She was also afraid of being left on her own. After a couple of weeks of private grieving and spinning in overwhelm, she picked up and travelled to Georgia to stay with a childhood friend. Numb and deeply confused, I returned to England where my life began to unravel in salient ways. I stayed in close touch with my mother throughout. I gathered that my siblings offered her precious little support and consideration in these intervening months. My sister was nursing herself and my brother, because he hadn't been included in my step-father's will and feeling such hurt and resentment from this, rarely corresponded with my mother. I felt somewhat hurt as well, but I understood. I would have loved a book, a small treasure-nothing big or financial. But my step-father had already invested so much time, energy and financial support throughout our lives that nothing more could have been expected. Added to this was the continual draining of his resources to pay for my sister's professional care from the day my parents got married. Of course, I am unable to speak for any of these souls because my step-father's passing brought up such complicated histories and exceedingly painful dynamics. From my point of view, being more forgiving was likely made easier by the fact that I was particularly cherished by my step-father. I was the daughter that he never had, we shared France and much more. He was also present when I was born in Boulogne. My brother and sister had more years and previous experience of living with my father which could not have been easy at all. What I witnessed after my step-father's death was a familiar chaos with nothing to heal each person's wounding .

  What also added salt to our wounds was the presence of Mother's childhood friend- a man whom she had gone out with in her private school days. And it was to this uncomfortable environment that I returned. My brother was slowly re-establishing contact ; my sister concentrating on her life and needs from my mother and myself at very loose and frayed ends. My mother was at a loss with the slow and unpredictable nature of dealing with my step-father's estate let alone her deep-seated sadness and conflict which arose out of her wish to start a less burdened life. I wished to support her as much as I could but her choices sometimes seemed unfathomable to me. Not only did my sister remain unhelpful in the background, but Mother's choice of companion seemed to make matters only more unstable and painful. Of course, there were happy moments between them that I most likely never knew about and this man offered my mother a presence, a point of focus outside herself that she desperately sought. But this friend was a total opposite of my step-father and, worse, resembled my sister in his behaviours, habits and demands on my mother's time and energy. He was a tough-talking eccentric with plenty of life education and experience but with none of the subtlety and intelligence of my step-father. He was also a serious alcoholic and his condition absorbed my mother's attention and concern. He had to have her attention at all times and, if he didn't get it, he would disappear and go on a binge. Very frequently, he verbally abused my mother and treated her badly. Does this sound familiar to you? The echo of experience was so loud for me and I almost despaired. I didn't understand what is was within my mother that caused her to live this way, why she chose a man who simply wound chains around her, why she continued to help my self-centred sister to the exclusion of her own health and happiness....I frequently had the image of my mother being that of a strong black horse being brought down with ropes into the sand of a corral and never being allowed to stand. And there she was to remain.

   In November, 1999, a routine mammogram caught a growth in my right breast and it was decided that I have a surgical biopsy at the local hospital. It was to be a day-long procedure and Mother and I tried to alleviate our mutual anxiety by taking long walks on narrow dirt roads or sitting by our small pond staring at the mountains. My mother's friend would either disappear to the guest cottage to sit and drink or numb himself in front of a loud, disruptive television. The peace of the environment that Mother and I had so become accustomed to was broken and the sensation of change sank ever deeper and heavier in our hearts though my mother insisted on being this man's carer and companion. The night before my biopsy, Mother's friend disappeared with our dog. Once again, my mother was caught between the unhealthy needs and behaviour of a loved one and the attention she wished to give to other family members. Around 8h30 pm, the phone rang and it was the local police. Mother's friend had been arrested after totalling his car in a drunken stupor. Within an hour, a local officer accompanied this man to our door stating that he would have to make an appearance at the police station on the day of my biopsy. Well, my body cells were drowned in floods of emotions, new and very old. This episode was also very reminiscent of an event with my sister when I was 8 or 9. My grandmother was visiting the family during the summer holidays. One night, my parents needed to attend a college event and asked if she could be with us. I don't remember what distracted her attention, but it wasn't for long. My sister had raided the liquor cabinet and disappeared to the guest cottage blitzed to the extreme. Not wishing to leave my brother and myself alone, my grandmother took us along the path to the guest house and we found my sister sprawled on the ground almost unconscious. What happened next remains a blur, but the emotions were indelible. The past was imposing itself upon my present in the heaviest manner possible.

   I got through the biopsy fine in the company of my overwhelmed mother and a very contrite man. While I waited for the results of this surgery, I moved to my step-father's library. An invisible, murky bubble had been formed around my mother and her friend and I didn't want to be a part of it...It was unreal, unhealthy to such a destructive degree...I always welcomed my mother whenever she stepped out of it , but she seemed hypnotically drawn back into it after brief spells. With my step-father's nephew, we did wrap up the remaining details of a huge and unwieldy estate and I prepared for another escape, this time to the south of France. Suffice it to say that , after 6 weeks, I boomeranged back to New England after a lower back injury and flu. I did not want to return to our home and stayed at a motel for a week, then for a month with my amazing godmother. Being my parent's closest friend, she was well aware of the in's and out's of my family and she too was experiencing a painful re-adjustment caused by the heavy and drunken presence of my mother's companion. Having spent her youth with an alcoholic father and dealt with the long-lasting effects of her upbringing, she had difficulty with the toxic atmosphere and my mother's trance-like isolation with him. Their close relationship was shifting....not ending, but certainly redefining itself. I met several times with my mother and I sought to become independent for both of us. Carrying the colossal weights of my sister and her friend, I felt the pressure and wish to lighten her load somehow...At the end of this soul-searching month, my brother sweetly drove me back to the Berkshires to pick up the healing I had begun almost 10 years before.

   From 2000 to 2003, my efforts to stand on my own were determined yet clumsy. Within the recesses of my psyche were still anvil-like bundles of resistance, anger, fear and guilt that impeded my forays into adulthood. Plus, I was about to make yet another change to my career-that of artist. I had taught language for over 10 years, worked as an arts and culture administrator for two and had launched myself into acting for the past 6 years...My bow was vastly outnumbered by strings! My life energy was changing and I did perceive light through my own cracks. Mother also started composing poetry again and joined a creative writing class. This class gave her new life and such pleasure. We frequently joined up in Lenox because she needed to get away so very badly. Her companion and my older sister often made life so unpleasant and they rarely lifted a finger let alone hatch a kind thought to help her. During this time, Mother was experiencing heart-related problems-who wouldn't have? She was diagnosed with a flu-like condition to her heart and she had to treat herself well and thoughtfully for quite awhile. I remember that, during a Christmas gathering, it was my brother and myself who worked to help my mother while my sister and Mother's live-in  simply sat and talked to each other encircled by the smoke of cigarettes. This almost pathological selfishness was a depth-charge to my heart and I shall never forget nor forgive the two monoliths in our family room for this.

  In the autumn of 2003, Mother had to make another monumental decision which saddened her to her very core. To move out of her beloved house on the mountain. I won't delve into the reasons for this, but move she did into another house that she decorated with her history.A couple of days before her move, she did call me and asked if I could come up to Vermont to help. I said yes right away, but when I got off the phone, I felt the onslaught of ambivalent and tired emotions course through me. I called a good friend to ask for her support of me and to accompany me on this very pregnant mission. She said yes without hesitation and I relayed this to Mother. The idea of additional people wore her down and she suggested that I stay where I was
and that she make the move with friends/helpers-of course, not with her companion's assistance nor with my sister's understanding and volunteering to lend a hand. I felt very, very badly about this, but I truly needed some support as well if I was going to contribute to dismantling our history. I still feel ambivalently about this to this day.

  And then in January, 2004, my farewell to all I had known truly began.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Weights and Imbalances

                                                               Weights and Imbalances- 1984-1995

         It is very difficult for me to confirm my older sister's diagnosis as mentally ill. That seems truly twisted on my part because being subjected to and observing her behaviour for so many years, how could I not perceive her as disturbed, ill ? My mother and blood father disagreed deeply about this with my Dad stating that my sister had become totally spoiled. Mother, for reasons of her own history, assumed all the guilt for my sister's condition yet felt there was a particular bond between them. My step-father first witnessed my sister as out of control and would often say that " she's well until she isn't ". From the outside of the misshapen family circle, everyone would say " your poor sister, she's ill", " she can't help it", " you must try to understand"... Up to a point, I do. But I also witnessed how manipulative, controlling and selfish she could be. How she obtained what she wanted when she wanted and how much she took us for granted. Again, later on, we were all told that this was also part of her illness. At one point, my mother and step-father wished to place her under supervised care because they could no longer deal with the incessant and extreme highs and lows, the sheer unpredictability and scale of her behaviour. However, my sister was totally capable of obtaining a public defender who kept her out of this safer and professional situation. And, I believe, that there was no talk of committing her to a " mental institution"-it was to be a retreat or halfway house that would allow her more freedom and safety. I do understand my sister's not wishing to go anywhere-I do. As a result, my parents and my sister were lost in the system and my parents had to find solutions practically on their own . But it was my sister who was able enough to manipulate the system in her favour with little regard for how it influenced family life and members.

    There were many other episodes that I observed throughout my years that revealed her conscious and unconscious control over all of us. I rarely spoke to her about trying new things, new attitudes and perspectives because I could tell that, though she would listen, she would not hear. Consequently, similar discussions occurred over and over again. What was important for her was to be the constant focus of attention and energy. Plus, she was an interesting person. The years went by when family member after family member would spend hours, days talking to her or very tolerant Vermont friends being generous with their time and means taking care of her, feeding her, listening to her. When someone ever gave up in exhaustion, attention, they would be expelled by phone or by a very threatening, rageful letter condemning them to the deepest depths of Hell. And so it is that I remain unconvinced of her inability to assume any responsibility for herself and her actions over the many years.

    In the years between 1984 and 1994, the drama disappeared and re-appeared. In 1984, she threw herself out of a hospital window and luckily she escaped with only a broken wrist. She moved from house to house which my parents provided her with and, very briefly, she became involved in sculpture at which she was truly brilliant. After being supplied with costly materials, casting, promotion and exhibitions, my sister told my parents that she no longer wished to do this one thing that would assist her in becoming more independent and perhaps even happier. She even gained outside recognition for her work and that was the operative word- work. There is no denying that the physical work was hard and precise, but she was good at both. Perhaps it was the demand for more sculptures or the expectation of my parents for her to try to extricate herself from the confines of her world and of theirs. My sister did not wish to work for her independence. Perhaps she never wanted to be independent.

  During this period, my own life was taking its own twists and turns. I found many teaching jobs in Paris, Boston and the School for International Training in Vermont. I even taught at my step-father's college in exchange for drama classes. Plus, I got engaged which I never thought would happen due to my transient life mixed with still unpacked bundles of  explosive material that was my past. I travelled across Canada and lived in Vancouver for over 2 years taken on as a cultural arts administrator for a French-Canadian organisation. Because my fiance wished to pursue a film career in LA and I still clung to my contact with Europe, we parted in San Francisco . It was during our three years together that I began to experience and notice the powerful after-shocks of my very early life. I began to have night-terrors and often could not sleep with my fiance. I wouldn't tolerate any form of pressure to do anything having experienced the emotional dictatorship of my sister. The effects of this also seeped into all forms of employment- my tendency to rebel, to not accept any form of authority and to undermine any framework that supported my perceived imprisonment and control. Looking back many years later, I must admit that I didn't make things any easier for my fiance. As for employers, unless they handled their authority compassionately and wisely, they frequently became targets of mistrust and their employment a torture that no one else could see.

  From 1991-1994, I was back in Vermont with one foray to France in 1991 where the memory of being burned with cigarette butts surfaced causing me to return for deeper, trickier self-investigation. My parents had kindly rented me a small schoolhouse nearby because, really, they needed to have a life of their own when they could and I just needed to be separate from the dramatic atmosphere. Which, as it turns out, I did not help as I plunged deeper into my black muck of pain, rage, guilt. I began to self-harm. This would occur most often when I couldn't get things to work-cars, windows, etc. My rage and sadness simply shot into my hands and I would claw my face, arms and chest. It was as if a tornado had cut a path through unvented emotion and I was left completely drained and startled by what had just happened. I did not do this for attention. I was just so angry and my emotions were like a small child chained up in a dark room that no one entered or at the bottom of a forgotten well. This behaviour would also happen if I felt deeply hurt in family conversations. Because so much had taken place when I was pre-verbal, words were not my vehicle for communication. Added to that my first language was French then had to be switched to English didn't help. So, when my heart saw a glimpse of being able to share what was experienced or felt, words just tumbled out like clumsy, heavy weights. Everyone else seemed so articulate to me and I simply fell into a searingly painful silence that I held onto until alone. What I was trying to say got mirrored by my sessions of self-scratching and everyone finally could see and understand with each mark on my body. Whenever I felt hurt, people had to see it.

  I feel very sorry that my parents had to see this which must have been so reminiscent of my sister. I moved to the Berkshires in order to follow intensive psychotherapy plus energy healing that would support both myself and my body. I was also under the supervision of psycho-pharmacologist at Austin Riggs. So, 1994-1995 were exceedingly painful. However, at the beginning of ' 95, I began a fairly strict regimen of walking almost 4 to 6 miles a day which would take the energy of emotion and discovery out for exercise and fresh air! And at the end of the summer, I embarked on a totally different route- that of theatre and in London. I had achieved a great deal in the Berkshires and I received such support from my parents. Of course, the situation with my sister continued to plague them and, once again, I felt very ambivalent about leaving them. I departed for England on my sister's birthday in early October. I liked that coincidence very much!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Third Instalment to Growing Up With Sibling Rivalry

Forays Into A World Beyond Family 

posted July 25, 2015

There are two things (perhaps more ) that I wish to convey. The first and probably most life and heart-changing for me is the reception of the archaeological dig that this recounting symbolises. To each and every one of you who has taken the time, care and sweet attention to even read these overweight instalments jammed to the hilt with painful perceptions, muffled emotions, I must thank you and let you know how profoundly this moves me and assists in lifting this iron-clad history from my heart, mind and body. You can't imagine what good your love, warmth and support give to me and to the child that has crouched in silence and obscurity for most of her life.

And to those members of my family whom I have held in my heart and favour and for whom this must be difficult to read, you mean so very much to me and my gratitude for your love and courage comes from my heart-core. Bless you all.

Secondly, the portrait of my sister is very dark indeed and the shadow she cast frequently overwhelming. I try to believe that she is not an evil soul and that, of course, she has her story to tell. We have been hearing it for most of our lives, but her perceptions are written down in what she has called her “ logs” in minute detail. She had moments of tolerating and enjoying her family and her sense of humour unique and sharp. And creative, my word! Such talent to be swept up and drowned in her rage and refusal to keep up with the work it required. She had her moments of kindness and I believe that she can't face the terror and cruelty she visited on her sister. I don't know my brother's history-perhaps he was spared being a male child. But his life was very anxious indeed. She almost confessed to me long ago, but that instinct vanished instantly. I will say one thing though.

A. became the troubled centre of her family's life and dominated most discussions, holidays, day to day life to the point that very few family members got to know my brother and especially myself. My sister's tale had its own town crier and I would disappear into my room silent stuffing layer upon layer of thought and feeling into my body and heart cells. Now, I am emptying myself of this tremendous weight and you are my precious witnesses.

From 1969 onwards, I went away to boarding school, then onto college. Although I received the best of academic education fostered by my parents to the best of their ability, the years at school reveal
the emotional imprinting already described. I was bullied cruelly by my two room-mates for my entire first year which made me wish for home psychological warts and all. I would be kept awake which exacerbated the night terrors already ingrained physically and mentally during infancy and so much more. The headmaster and the dean of the school took me under their wing while I tried to disappear even more. One can imagine the effect that this repeated treatment had on me and, because I had remained silent for so long mixed with my hostility to the English language, words never came easily. When I did speak, it was almost telegraphic interspersed with mountains of feeling. Again, I was sent to a school psychologist against whom I pitted myself. Any psychologist working with an authority such as a school was never to be trusted.....ever. So the allies I did have were all of the foreign students, the secretaries in the offices, the cooking staff, the night janitors and, lastly but so importantly, my studies.

By the 9th grade, I would rush through dinner in order to escape to the classroom building and shut myself in a quiet room away from the noise and pain of dorm life. I didn't have a good experience that year with a room-mate either. However, this period also had its lighter moments of evening parties, disobeying the poor house-mother, etc...For the second semester, I moved into another room with a girl who was so kind and good to me. Of course there were moments of misunderstanding and tension, but these were not the norm as before. This experience was unusual for me and so deeply good.

In the backdrop of this was home and the atmosphere volatile to say the least. My sister, aiming to complete her high school education, had moved in with my parents into a new and larger home. A farmhouse which was long and had more rooms than the schoolhouse we had originally moved into. Once again, my sister was at the end and promptly made the room fastidiously decorated by my step-father her own. Up went the rearing horses, the flames from their breath, the blanket to block out both light and sound and her machines which she tended with what love and great care. Luckily, and for the first time, I had a room of my own separated by my brother's room and closer to my parents. It took some adjusting to, but you can imagine that I did. When away at school, I would get abridged reports about my sister-suicide attempts, raiding the liquor cabinets, incessant smoking and squabbles and sometimes stays in local mental hospitals and retreats. Once, when I returned home, I sat on my sister's bed watching her carve her arms with push-pins. By the time I was 12/13, my poor mother, bravely confronting her own ghosts and coping with A, would sit with me and ask “What will we do with your sister?” Or, “what will we do if your sister kills herself?” In later years, she deeply regretted this and frequently apologised saying that no child should have to face this at my age. My stepfather tolerated A's behaviour up to a point though both parents were overwhelmed and constantly drained. I believe that the last straw was her constant smoking and also getting so drunk that she smashed bottles against a tree just outside the house. Also, besides horse chores, she dominated family gatherings by doing very little and barking back epithets if anyone asked her to do anything. The relationship between my step-father and my sister became hostile and my sister was eventually moved to a small house closer to the horses and more independent. Once again, all windows were immediately blocked and life as A wanted continued....

I feel such sympathy for my parents because they acted on what they could do-providing my sister with everything she needed, getting support from professionals for themselves and my sister. The sheer amount of life-energy that my sister consumed was staggering. And she remained unaware of this as long as she got what she needed... Already, I had decided to not resemble her in the slightest way. I feel now that trying to be good and dutiful lay the groundwork for frequent self-sabotaging behaviour in my life. Not that I had to be cruel or selfish to develop and I did have my moments! But perhaps a bit more positive rebellion and behaving as a teenager and less as a fatigued, world-weary adult could have been beneficial. Watching the ongoing convoluted dynamic between parents and sibling, I also made the early decision never to have children...And I have stuck to this decision. Now, I can't blame my sister for this life-choice. But the care and attention she took from us for so long all was a definite factor plus I observed from the first years how one child could dominate an entire family's life. I couldn't and wouldn't allow that in mine a second time.

So, where was I? Oh yes, still at private school...By my junior year, I had managed to become an A
student. My nights in the classroom building had been paying off over the past two years. My sophomore and junior years were sadly influenced by, guess what?!, another aggressive female presence! A girl who had developed a crush on my then best friend and she was hell-bent on separating us. She sadly succeeded and made my life a misery until my friend was expelled at the end of the year for taking drugs. Whenever she stayed over with my friend, they would throw things against my door in the night, isolate me in all activities and make fun of me for seeing a psychologist....There's such repetition in this story, isn't there ?

My final year at private school was fairly quiet and this black presence was silently smoldering in newly found solitude. I graduated with high honours and I never wished to return to this school again. By the by, years later, at college, this girl , now working at the college book-store, came up to me and apologised for her behaviour towards me which I felt took courage and I thanked her for this. To this day, I still remain grateful for such an acknowledgement.

My years at Queen's in Canada and at Mount Holyoke College seemed quiet and fairly smooth. My
friendship with my studies remained as close of ever and I kept social activity to a minimum until my last year. I experienced a couple of repetitions of early experience with room-mates and such and I don't feel that more elaboration is required. By now, what was social was threatening and isolation had become my order of my day. Like the hermit crab, I was going to decide when I would come out of my shell or exchange my old protective shell for a new one.