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.
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