After parents die, it is the business of children to empty their house. While doing this, my sister found photographs and asked me to go through them with her. Among those we found photos of our mother and my full sister together. Those gave my sister insight into their relationship.
Neither of my parents were loving in the way I hear other people speak of their parents loving them and I think this is the reason my co-author helps Quirni so much. When I was young, I learned to rely upon what I saw rather than what I felt in order to grow up whole and survive. I shut down my emotions so I didn’t feel one sided love and so I didn’t get chastised for feeling joy. Growing up in a house where my emotions got me to be punished with derision and dislike meant I learned to shove emotions away, to not use them. Acting like that as an adult makes it easy to plot a book but extremely difficult to write emotionally.
It isn’t that I don’t understand emotion or love. I have children so I well understand that and how emotions make me act. I cannot help but hug them when I see them in pain. I would would stay up weeks of nights to help them through difficulties. I am not a grandparent but I know grandchildren would bring forth the same warmth and care.
What I lack is understanding of how important the emotions are for communicating with others who are not my close family. I reduced the emotional response I have to such an extent when growing up, I forget to unlock it when around people I don’t love or trust. It’s like being at my young home and just not wanting to feel. I learned that as a child and it comes through in my writing. I work hard to overcome it and still fall short. My co-author puts in the emotional context where I don’t. I do understand why she adds it and almost always approve.
My co-author, my daughter, well understands the feelings in the scenes I write even though I leave out the emotional bits. My feelings are obvious to her in my writing and in real life. The love and joy I feel shows up in photographs. I am hugging my husband and children and smiling at my family. It is clear they make me happy. My actions appear natural and right. These are the things missing from the photographs at my parent’s house.
To give an idea of how closed my mother was to me and my sister, in one picture, my sister sat in a chair and leaned to get her arms around my mother’s waist. My sister wore an enormous smile. Our mother’s gaze was focused away from the camera and away from my sister. She wore an expression partway between a grimace and a smile. It looked pleasant enough and would pass for pleasure if not for the body language.
While my sister strained, leaning sideways in her seat to get her arms around our mother, our mother’s arms were pulled away, pulled up with her hands together, as if in the motion of wringing them, the motion one uses to remove particles of dirt that cling. There was no leaning towards my sister to embrace her but the reverse. Our mother leaned away, like an animal wary of a trap.
When we found that photo my sister told me it showed what she had long felt, that she was unloved by our mother, in fact by both of our parents. My eyebrows shot up in surprise that she was unaware of that. I stopped myself from saying “Well duh!” and instead I agreed she was right. It shocked her enough that I readily agreed. I was happy I hadn’t given her the flippant answer. I had figured out what my parents felt for me years and years ago. My poor sister was just learning. I know how much that hurts.
The one photo led her to looking at the rest with a different filter in her eye. Again and again we found photos where my mother embraced my two older sisters. They are half sisters who were not the children of my father. Again and again my full sister and I saw ourselves only tolerated. That was no surprise to me but it was to her.
Our mother’s arms did not hold us. Her hands did not touch us. She wore a distant expression while she leaned, as if to escape. By the time we got to the end of that box of photos, my sister had a new understanding.
I think she could begin to heal with that. Even though I had told her in the past that seeking acceptance from my parents was a bad idea, an endless task with no reward, she didn’t understand. She does now, if she chooses to remember it and believe it.
She might choose that. She remembers how our mother and father constantly told her she made bad decisions or loved the wrong people. She had accepted they were right but now she questioned it. She used to do as they said, or tried to, so she would improve in their eyes and be loved. Such is the love of a child for a parent. I was lucky in that I had long since lost what amounted to meaningless love and escaped the hardship of doing what unloving parents demanded.
I began writing in earnest when I was in Junior High School. It was about the same time as a major blizzard. It was about that time when I became aware of my status at home.
During that blizzard, the wind pushed so hard I was blown down the porch, boots slipping on the snow. My mother opened the door and grabbed my coat and dragged me inside. A child should expect that sort of effort from a mother but I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. I hadn’t expected it. And then, it dawned on me why I was so grateful. I never got that sort of help from her. I was never picked up from a fall.
As a ten year old child, I shouldn’t have been grateful that my mother saved me from being blown off the porch into the barberry bushes. I shouldn’t have been elated to have her snatch me in. But I was so grateful because I never expected it. Maybe her grab for me was a sign of love? Stupid thought. It wasn’t a sign of love, just necessity. She would have ended up having to bandage us or come outside to help us out of the pickers if the wind had pushed us off the porch. She would have been irate if we hadn’t gotten up.
In a loving world, I should have expected my mother’s hand to grab me. I should never have doubted she would save me from falling into thorns. In this new blizzard-formed reality, I quickly understood my gratitude was so strong because help from her wasn’t the norm. My filter changed and with it I believe my ability to include emotions in my writing lessened.
It took years to prove to myself what I suspected the day of that blizzard. It isn’t easy for a child, or an adult, to accept they are not loved by their parents. Maybe it would be better to not accept it, to keep trying for validation, some sign of love. If I had continued to try, could I write emotion better today? Or would I have lost the ability to plot a long series of books? It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, because I accept what I have as good.
I know it will take years for my sister to accept it, if she ever does. Or perhaps she will be wise and forget what she learned from the box of photos, choose to remember our mother as a loving parent who ‘did the best she could’. If that isn’t wise, it is at least safer and less painful.
Where my father is concerned, the pain will not be avoided. I think he gave my sister a gift before he died. He attacked her choices, her son, her husband, and her. Yelled at her and berated her and angered her, repeating what he had said to her all along but now with such wrath and hate she couldn’t forgive him. He left no time for amends in his dying days and that helped her see a painful truth. He brought her to a realization of her worth to him and that shed light on our mother’s behavior too.
My reality became clear during a blizzard. My sister’s reality might have shifted because of one photograph because even the rants of an old, angry man were not enough to refocus her. It was after that photo that she admitted my reality could have some merit. Until then she believed parents must be loved and must be cared for because they were family.
Years ago, when I told her I didn’t believe that and why, she never accepted my reasons. Her parents would approve of her sooner or later. They had to love her and she had to love them. Now they are dead and it took a box of photos to make her question her view.
In the end, this post isn’t about writing it seems. It is about my sister. I want it to be about writing. I want to stay in that safe place but that would be hiding again.
It’s about my sister. The only one who might accept me into her life. The only one I have. I want her to be happy and not struggle with the reality I learned. Her fairy tale world has served her well enough until now.
I took decades for me to find a place where I can freely choose to not love my parents. My sister may not have the time to reach such a place. It’s like climbing a mountain of stairs that sometimes fall away so only toes and fingertips make the ascent. Maybe the struggle isn’t necessary for my sister if it is possible at all.
My parents are dead and so she is free of the debasement they continuously shot at her. She doesn’t have a need to stop loving them in order to stop them from causing her confusion and pain. How could she even start the process with them gone? She never had the sudden awareness brought on by a blizzard, unless that photo of her hugging our mother while our mother recoils is my sister’s blizzard.
Now that I think about it, I think it was her blizzard. Her shock to see she was unloved was like the shock I had in the storm. Maybe that shock will clear her vision. Maybe she can climb good steps to a clear, good place and her way will be safe and easy. I hope so.