“Sisters help make the hard times easier and the easy times more fun.” – Unknown
My Nuclear Family
I am the youngest of the four children — a blended group of people related by state statues and half gene pools. I am the only child my mom and dad have together – my two brothers and I share our dad and my sister and I share our mom. Blended families are huge in the Deep South, and I would imagine other regions of the United States and world for that matter. Within my family, there is no need for Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me to prove any familial ties. Family is defined as we see fit – blood is thicker than water, accountability, damaging bad behavior, good credit, bad credit, and a whole host of other things. Of course, I see this definition differently.
Agreed, blood relatives should represent unshakable bonds we have with other human beings until said bonds cause more harm than joy. Sharing DNA with other people does not exonerate them from being decent and treating others with respect. My version of family is not an objection to through good times and bad; it also includes setting limits on the amount of mental anguish and even physical pain (no amount) one should endure from relatives. Through our own free will, we are able to set such limits to preserve our health and financial well-being. Without either, our ability to help ourselves and those around us – especially those who appreciate it the most – becomes that much less.
My sister and I lived with our parents in Bullock County Alabama; my brothers lived with their mothers in Harris County, Georgia. I did not learn of my older brother until 2002, twenty years after knowing the other two. This brother and I are nice too each other yet are hardly close. My sister and I had a pretty normal relationship. She is seven years my senior – someone I once admired a great deal and still respect in many aspects to this day.
Growing up with my Sister – A Snapshot
One memory readily comes to mind – my childhood habits of seeking refuge in my sister’s bed as a young boy. Her bed and embrace was the fortress I needed to protect me from the terrors of the night, especially those that lurked during earth-shaking thunderstorms fueled by Alabama’s energy rich atmosphere. She was my chaperon during 1990s summer vacations from school – meaning we could stay at home in the A/C instead of going to my grandma’s house which doubled as a sauna during the dog days of August. I remember my sister getting her first car – a used Toyota Celica – which became my first car when she moved on to her 1997 Honda Civic. During the darkest moments of my feuds with my father in the early 2000s, she once stood up to him – physically getting in his face to call out something he said to me that was intentionally improperly contextualized and reeked of bullying – without flinching my sister did so.
Even when we became adults, she was the host of many an impromptu road trip I took to North Alabama during her living in Huntsville and then Atlanta once she moved there. A free couch or air mattress was always offered. She would bake the tastiest chicken, crispy and flavorful. We would recount funny family incidents and catch up on current affairs. Quips, jokes, and witty retorts were commonplace.
My sister would let me parade around in her cars – the coolest at the time an Infinity G37 – during my early twenties when I was hellbent on showing the racist whites I was just as worthy and the untouchable gays I was just as desirable. Trying to fight the willful ignorance of the self-hating racist whites and obscenely arrogant gays brought out the worst in my own character – which my sister unwittingly enabled. She was simply being a big sister trying to make her little brother happy.
She was a familial vision board of sorts, an aspiration to which I set my own goals.
I always remembered my sister as being strong, funny, and resourceful. She got along with our shared maternal relatives as she did with my paternal relatives. Everyone on my father’s side — from what I can remember — treated my sister as if she was a blood relative. I want to believe they did this because of the kindness of their hearts – which I fully believe explains part of the reason. The remainder rests on their understanding our mother was not the one to cross — disrespecting her children for any reason was the equivalent of poking a beehive manned by the most belligerent and revengeful of bees. Select paternal aunts insisted on learning this the hard way, resulting in confrontations of epic proportions. Bought sense is the best sense at times.
Tangential Note: I have blogged about my mother no-nonsense way of living her life, as if she is an easily triggered black woman awaiting any opportunity to cutta-bitch. That could not be any farther from the truth. She bends over backwards to be kind and supportive to people — until you give her a reason not to do so. She loathes pretty language aimed at minimizing truths that should be told. She is practical and somewhat bossy. Many of our relatives and neighbors back in Bullock County, Alabama never longed for idiotic behaviors and statements — keeping her busy in advancing accountability and setting records straight. Nowadays her approach is much more streamlined, holding folks accountable following the first infarction then cutting them off completely after the next offense. No second chances are granted. She is neither above reproach nor perfect — abandon that rebuttal — she detests drama and stupidity, as do I.
My Sister – Belligerent Drunk Whisperer
When my sister would come home from college to visit, I could barely contain my excitement of her pulling into the driveway! This excitement was partly due to genuinely wanting to see her, hearing about her college and away-from-home stories. Her life seemed so much grander than mine at the time; having the freedom of a young adult to make her own decisions. I was barely a teenager when she left home for Huntsville to attend Alabama A & M University. She started out a fiercely independent woman who I believe to comfortably take life by the horns.
Her home visits were so welcoming because they ushered in a weekend of peace and quiet from my father. Peace and quiet? Thus far, you have painted a picture of your father spending all his waking hours elevating the Golden Child as a prince. Now you are implying he wreaked havoc at home too, not just among your paternal relatives? While that was a big investment of his time, money, and FICO points; my father did work a full-time job and paid several bills to keep a roof over our heads.
He was fun as a partner to play video games – at which I would become mad if I lost. Super Nintendo. Nintendo 64. Mario Kart. When he and I were not bonding over video games, I would feign for his attention and approval by helping him work on cars – handing him tools I barely could recognize or doing other child-appropriate duties. During the dark times, which were more routine than the fun times, he doubled as an opinionated drunk with a hobby of emphasizing every perceived flaw he saw in my mother, how little he thought of her worth, and how much of a sellout son I was in always agreeing with her. Much like the anti-intellectuals and domestic terrorists comprising today’s Republican Party — not all members yet enough of them — accusing the media of have a liberal basis, my dad accused me of having a motherly bias.
My sister’s presence meant a three-day reprieve from such exhaustion. I think he would suppress bullying my mom and me during the weekends of my sister’s visits because he knew she would not hesitating in taking a cast iron skillet or any skull-cracking object right upside his head. Nary a police officer, jury, or judge have sent my sister up the river for doing so — not even in the Heart of Dixie.
I would hate to see her return to Huntsville, her absence was a gigantic weight lifted off the mayhem’s pause button. This may sound selfish – I was a powerless boy in desperate search of another protector from the fear producing factory that was my father. My mom could only mitigate so much. He terrified me – additional details of which are for another blog. My sister was our savior, a sight for sore eyes when she came home to visit.
Growing up, she and my mother had their squabbles, nothing outside of the typical American mother-teenage daughter relationship. I distinctively remember her breaking curfew once, only to tiptop into the front door and greet the fire and fury of a worried and simultaneously relieved mother.
After she left the nest, I believe something happened that really change how my sister showed-up in the world. Maybe this transition occurred prior to her leaving home, something unbeknownst to me and my parents. Just because I felt ok-enough under my parents’ roof does not mean she felt the same. I lived with my biological father – who supported for my sister as if she was his blood daughter. Maybe that was not enough. Maybe the less than ideal life she has now – a perspective informed by her actions, words, and treatment of others; not my unfounded opinion – has nothing to do with our parents.
My sister has made statements here and there about her feelings. She has not discussed in any great detail how her experiences with men, racism, and other social (and maybe even physical) maladies in a comprehensive way. I know tidbits of difficult situations she has shared over the past two decades, neither anything that is appropriate to share here nor enough for me to fully contextualize why she treat those closest to her so poorly. She is not required to lay it all out for me or any other relatives to see. We are also not required to tolerate mistreatment and being used by her because of her pain.
I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.