On Friday I didn’t go to visit my sister.
Wait. That’s not entirely true.
I met one of my sisters at the new Starbucks in Mission. Diane sipped her decaf latte as I wiped cinnamon from my lips, drinking the same thing I always order, a grande cappuccino.
We caught up on family news as we drank, and then, finally, we started talking about what we really needed to decide.
Would we, could we, should we…visit our other sister, Rhonda?
Rhonda lives only a few minutes from where we were sitting.
The last time I saw Rhonda was just over three years ago. She sat beside me at our father’s funeral. Her eyes were black and she seemed to pull her words down from clouds that hung, dark and heavy, just out of her reach.
In short, she was quite wrecked. I don’t know what she ingests. She used to be mostly a prescription-drug addict, but now, I have no idea what she takes to ensure she is never in the building.
Diane lives closer to Rhonda than I do, so she’s seen her a few times since the funeral. But as soon as she visits her, it is the same pattern that we have both experienced – endless guilt-inducing calls for money that go from begging to name-calling.
It is always the same; all or nothing.
We three sisters are each separated by four years.
Because Diane is the oldest, when she left home at 17-years old, I was only nine and Rhonda thirteen.
Which is why it is Rhonda who I remember the most from my childhood. Rhonda was the artist, the one who could draw anything. She was the one who belted out every song from Jesus Christ Superstar while her strong hands nailed each accompanying chord.
Rhonda could make horses fly over jumps while perfectly tucked onto an English saddle. Or she galloped bareback, a she-devil completely in sync with her horse, her glossy brown hair flying out behind her. Rhonda played basketball, spiked a mean volleyball, and could do the butterfly stroke for a crazy number of lengths. She had her lifeguard certification. She drove fast, got busted drinking at parties and fought against every rule.
In short, I grew up in awe of my big sister. She was strong, artistic, brave, rebellious and wild.
For most of my life I have felt guilty for all that I thought Rhonda had done for me. I saw her as the one blazing the trail, fighting against the tight walls of our Mennonite upbringing. Rhonda was my hero, kicking and screaming against everything we were told not to do.
It is only in the last few years that I have come to realize that the story I’d been telling myself wasn’t true. She hadn’t been doing any of that for me. It had nothing to do with me at all.
In fact, because of her behaviour, she actually made my high school years harder. After everything they’d been through with Rhonda, I’m sure my parents were convinced they simply needed to be even stricter with me.
As I get older and see how fragile this life is, I am endeavouring to try to see the truth of things and to make healthier choices. And one of the best choices I can make for my mental health is to stay away from the sister I love.
I have never been to Al-Anon but I have read enough to know that unless Rhonda sees she has a problem and gets some help, nothing will change. Considering she’s about to turn 61-years old and has never admitted to being an addict – I’m guessing the change isn’t coming any time soon.
Unless someone has experienced the profound manipulation and energy-zapping abilities of an addict, this decision probably sounds heartless. Hell, it sounds heartless to me and I’m the one doing it. But I realize that it doesn’t matter how it looks to other people. It’s my life and my decision.
Still, I truly wish I could be larger somehow. I wish I was a bigger, better, Dalai Lama-ish person who could visit her, keep my boundaries intact and get out without crying all the way home and feeling sick for days. But I’m not and I can’t and I’m finally coming to terms with that.
My sister is stuck in a special type of hell. And the thing about being in her hell, is she does her best to drag me or anyone else in her presence to join her in that black hole. Addicts are specialists in guilt and manipulation. Being around her is like entering a vortex where my energy feels like it is sucked out of the soles of my feet. And, once contact has been made, the pattern begins with screaming-crying-threatening and ugly phone messages that carry on in an endless looping nightmare.
Even so, Diane and I went back and forth, should we, should we not, should we...
We talked again about the Al-Anon saying, the one I repeat to myself:
I didn’t cause it. I can’t cure it. I can’t control it.
In the end, we made our decision...
As I drove away from the Starbucks I realized that sometimes I’m so busy at looking at what isn’t, that I miss what is.
That is, I had just spent two hours with a sister who loves me like I love her. A woman who, like I wish for her, genuinely hopes for my happiness. A big sister who understands how messed-up it is to have a sister like Rhonda. So I might not have seen Rhonda, but I had a lovely time with Diane.
I still like to think that I might see Rhonda one day, but then I think that’s probably more of my wishful, and slightly delusional, thinking. Still, I want to believe that it could happen, so, for now, I’ll hang onto that thought.
But this time, I decided to choose myself first.
Because this is what I know for sure, as bad as I feel by not seeing her, I will feel worse if I do.