I sat on the couch in a state of suspended animation. I couldn't even begin to process the information my mother had just thrown at me so bluntly, as though it bore no consequences in my life.
If I was smart, I would leave. I would go for a walk, try to clear my head. I would step out the door of the house and find myself magnetically drawn to the tree like I always was. I would walk to the opposite side of this magnificent specimen and find the spot where I used to sit when I was a child searching the universe for meaning in whatever troubled me at the time. I would settle in between the exposed roots, in the spot that was made just for me, and I would sit with this for however long it too to make sense of it all in my head.
I didn't leave.
I sat there on the sofa in disbelief. Even though I had no reason to doubt what she'd said, even though there were a lot of things that suddenly made sense now, even still I didn't want it to be true.
Then it suddenly occurred to me that this wasn't just about me.
I had a sister. The thing I had always wanted most in the world had come true, and though it was far from the ideal set of circumstances, it was real. She was real.
I had to find her.
In that moment, I found a new sense of determination. I had a sister and I was going to find her.
Mother walked back into the room. She seemed somehow fortified by all this, as though the words that had just come out of her mouth had released a burden from her chest, lifted a weight from her shoulders. This was not the same woman I had driven home from the hospital just moments ago.
She was different.
She was carrying a plate with her sandwich. The same sandwich she'd eaten every single day of my life that I was aware of, save the rare occasions when we were out somewhere. Then she'd inevitably order the same sandwich, turkey on rye, no cheese or mayonnaise, one piece of lettuce and a pickle spear on the side. The sandwich that I had said that I would make her when she was tired and weak, the sandwich that I had made only about a million times before, the sandwich that was resting on her plate now.
How long had I been sitting here on the couch, unmoved?
She sat at the table as she always did, arranged her napkin on her lap, then began the long and arduous process of picking at the food until approximately half of it had been consumed. She never ate the crust, and cut it off with the butter knife first. Then she took tiny bird-like bites, chewing each one methodically, washing every single one down with a drink of water. She always left a good portion of the sandwich intact, and always ate exactly three bites out of the pickle.
The right side of her jaw moved methodically, as she always chewed predominately on that side. When you watch someone eat the same thing every day for most of your life, you notice these things. And they annoy you.
I was annoyed with her.
Not for what she had just told me, but for how. For the fact that she only deemed it necessary to tell me now because of money, as if that was what I cared about at all. For the fact that she seemed so cold and detached from it all. For the fact that she chided me for asking if she was sure, when she had provided absolutely no information to back up her allegations.
That was about to change.
I should have gone for a walk.
She finished picking at her food, wiped her mouth and pushed the chair back away from the table. She stood slowly, deliberately, and walked towards me.
I still hadn't moved, but instead had sat there the entire time she ate, just watching her. It suddenly occurred to me I had done that, and that certainly must have been a long while now, as I knew how long it took for her to eat.
I felt twinges of guilt for doing that, but then rationalized that I was probably in shock or something, and thought for half a second that maybe she understood that.
She sat beside me, her body turned towards me, though her eyes seemed to look anywhere and everywhere but directly at me. She seemed nervous, as though she was searching for something, seeking something.
The floodgates opened.
He loved her, not me. He stayed only because he felt like he had to, but he really wanted to leave. He wanted to be away from me forever, he wanted to start his life over with her. He loved you though, and that's why he stayed. He was never here though, not after it all started, and certainly after that girl was born.
Abigail, you mean? I asked.
Yes, her. He was walking on cloud nine when she was born, and he was so happy. He tried to show me pictures of her, but I wanted nothing to do with her. I hated her. I didn't want to hate her, she was an innocent child and this truly had nothing to do with her, but I wanted no part of her life. I wanted her to disappear, to be gone forever. I wanted to believe that none of this was happening, that he wasn't in love with someone else.
It was all so unfair. You were a teenager, spending more and more time with your friends, as you should have been. That time was supposed to be our time, we had planned it that way. Instead of doing all the things we planned together, he started over with someone else. He did them all with her.
And then he got sick, and I had to take care of him. Then he died.
She was sobbing. The tears wouldn't stop coming, and I saw how deeply this had wounded her. Had she really kept all this in for all these years, never telling anyone aside from the lawyer? I didn't want to ask that question, but I felt like I already knew the answer.
I didn't have to ask it.
She had carried this burden alone for over half my lifetime.
My heart broke for her.
I scooted over towards where she sat now, hunched over, with her forehead in her hands. I handed her a tissue and put my arms around her.
There was nothing I could do or say that would ever make this better for her, and I knew that already. The damage was done, the hurt was inflicted and he was gone. Dead.
At peace or whatever.
Mother wasn't perfect. Far from it, actually. I knew that as well as anyone would, obviously, but it was no excuse for what he had put her through. None.
She sobbed and sobbed until she ran out of tears, and I held her until the sun grew heavy in the sky.
I knew then that I had to find my sister, but that Mother must never know.
I knew then that I needed to protect her now, that it was my job from here on out.
I knew now that no one else ever had.
This post is a part of a collaborative project including many writers from different backgrounds, all writing on the same prompt each week. After taking a break from the challenge, I am back (and hope to stay a while). The first post in this story can be found here, the second here, the third here. Please check out the pieces written by the others in the group. I will add their links as they post.
This week's prompt:
|“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better.” —Anne Lamott|