It’s Complicated

 

This isn’t a post about autism. It’s about my sister, who passed away two years ago today.

For the first eight years of my life, I was the youngest child in the family. Eric and Amy were six and five years older than me- which meant they mostly liked me because I was little and cute. I was constantly used as a pawn in their battles. It was always two against one, and I am pretty sure I was never the “one” in that equation. They fought for my favor.

I shared a room with my sister, so she was at an obvious disadvantage. She didn’t like me touching her things, and she yelled at me a lot. Also, I was kind of a tomboy, which she did not relate to at all. I never let her put eyeliner on me or curl my hair, and she was always disappointing me by running home crying every time she got hit in the face during a neighborhood sporting event. It happened so frequently I am convinced she made an actual effort to catch things with her face. 

In spite of this, we were close; and in those moments of Amy and Jenny against Eric- we were the best of friends. But I am going to be brutally honest here. I liked my brother a lot more. No contest. He was way more fun to hang out with and I don’t really remember fighting with him at all. He was always nice to me (while Amy did lose her mind on me every once in a while).

For example….

My favorite sibling fight of all time happened one morning before school. Eric and Amy were old enough to be left in charge, and our parents were already at work. So we were alone. We had a classic black rotary telephone on the kitchen wall (with the longest cord in the world), and Amy was on it every possible second. She would stretch the cord down the hallway into our bedroom, and Eric and I enjoyed walking by the kitchen and pressing down the handset hangar. It never hung the phone up- you had to press down for a whole minute or something (sometimes a few times) to get the phone to actually hang up. We just liked how it made a clicking sound in the phone that drove my sister into a rage.

Well, on this particular morning I accidentally hung that phone up for real.

Forget whoever was on the phone, because Amy was only interested in killing me. And I knew my sister well enough to realize that I could be in actual physical danger. To drive the point home, she wasted no time in shoving me to the ground. Now, this is where that whole two against one dynamic really reached epic proportions in our household. Eric immediately stepped in, yelling at my sister for touching me- and then, I was suddenly no longer a factor at all. It became an all-out one against one physical fight between the two of them that literally went through every room of our house. Furniture was thrown, Amy’s glasses went flying (really, though, they were probably already broken from an earlier ball hit to the face), and I was sobbing because I thought Eric was truly going to kill Amy.

We missed the school bus.

What’s weird is that I don’t remember much about that fight other than how it started; and I remember the moment when I truly believed something tragic was about to happen and no adults were there to stop it. Parts of it were pretty cool, though. I mean, someone was going to get in big trouble here, and it was hardly ever me. They trashed the house AND missed the bus. This was exciting drama for a kid.

But overall, we did all get along. Even in our two against one battles, we managed to play well together most of the time. The politics of it usually only affected which board games or outdoor adventures we were going to participate in that day. The three of us played the most wonderful and ridiculous games. I have no complaints, except that my younger sister missed out on all that.

Whatever. She’s still in her twenties right now, so she’s got that going for her.

Right before my younger sister was born we moved into a new house. I still shared a room with Amy, and between the ages of nine and eleven I developed a much stronger relationship with her. I may have had more in common with Eric, but Amy was a girl. We conspired on ways to get our dad to take us to the roller rink, and we bonded over being annoyed with our mother. We practiced our mind reading skills every Friday (with varying results). Eric wasn’t really into any of this.

Amy left home when I was eleven, and she did it all wrong. She didn’t come home. She made a mistake, as people often do. The details aren’t important now. It just meant that there were a few lost years during a time when there shouldn’t have been. And it set the stage for a separation in that sibling bond that was more than just a part of typical growing up or age difference.

My relationship with my sister had become complicated.

I never once doubted how my sister felt about me. She always cared about me. I knew she felt an obligation to me, but she would also disappear for years at a time. After I moved to Illinois, there was little to no communication at all. We would try to get together when I made visits home, but sometimes I couldn’t even reach her.

We never had a falling out, this was just who we had become. There were reasons, and those reasons always got in the way. As the years went on, we lived our separate lives in separate states- and I knew very little about my nephew and niece.

We were becoming strangers.

 

Eventually Amy’s attendance at family events became more predictable. Then we started up some online discussions (Facebook was great for keeping up with my siblings). When she was diagnosed with breast cancer we were both making more of an effort to stay in touch, and I felt like I finally knew what was going on in her world.

We moved back to Michigan in 2010, and I got a job working downtown- practically next door to Amy’s office. We went out to lunch together a few times a week. From July through October, everything seemed normal somehow. We were good friends. We saw each other quite a bit, even texting each other during the day. Things were how they always should have been.

What if we hadn’t moved back to Michigan?

Amy lost her battle with breast cancer on December 16, 2010. You can read a little more about how this affected our perspective and dealing with Teghan’s autism diagnosis here (if you are willing to find that part). The three weeks leading up to her death I was training in Detroit for a new position. I finished my training the day before.

As many of you know, you cannot prepare for what death does to your brain and emotional well-being. From the moment we knew she would not get better until the moment enough time had passed to allow new thoughts to creep back in- we were right there in that place with her. It was far too long to be there, and the rest of us stayed in that place long past December. I was angry that she was so young. I was angry that she was being taken away so soon after I came home. I couldn’t think about other things, and every other little thing someone else thought of to complain about made me want to punch them in the face.

I had to walk around and think about death, because I had no choice. I stayed awake at night thinking about death, because I had no choice. There was no option to revel in the fact that we were the lucky ones (I am pretty emotionally balanced, but I am not magic). And it seemed incredible that everyone else in the world just kept going as if it wasn’t going to be them next. Her life was over. Wasn’t anyone aware of what that meant?

It’s two years later. I just wanted to say something about her, because it’s not only obviously on my mind today, but because it’s bigger than most of what I write about. It deserves acknowledgement, and I never talk about how I really feel unless I am writing it down. I’m not the kind of girl who likes to talk about her feelings. I have this blog, now; so if you are the “feelings” type, here is everything you ever need to know about how the world affects me. Except that’s not even true. I am still giving only half the story. But if you ask me in person, expect some sarcasm and a story about how my brother-in-law literally bent over for the funeral director when he told us the funeral prices. Who knew you could laugh so hard while planning your sister’s funeral?

This is life. We forget the things that are difficult to remember, but time and time again it comes around to haunt us. Today, I am remembering the life of my sister. She was a good person who was loved by many, and who was lucky enough to have so many people in her life that do still miss her. I am remembering how much of our lives and memories were intertwined. I am thinking about our relationship, and how I wish it had never become complicated. I am glad it didn’t stay complicated. And I am appreciating the people who are still with me today.

 

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