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.