Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Case Against L, Part V

For most of my life, most often when I was small, my sister L has told this story: "When I found out Mom was pregnant, I prayed that Heavenly Father would give me a baby sister. After you came, I prayed he'd take you back."
Then she laughs.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Case Against L, Part IV

I had three interactions with L around the time of my wedding seven years ago this month. She flew out from Michigan for the wedding and to visit family. I saw her first when she came to my apartment the day before the wedding. She asked to see my wedding ring, so I showed her. She asked, "Did you try it on with the engagement ring? A lot of people don't think of that." I told her I'd tried them on together. She had nothing else to say.

L and my other two sisters helped set up for the reception the day of the wedding (for which I was extremely grateful because I was a basket case). During the wedding, I didn't see much of L. I was busy trying to visit with all the guests and dancing. When a polka came on, I went over to ask L to dance with a friend and me since I knew she knows the polka. L turned ugly: "I don't know how to polka!" I tried to cajole her, to cheer her up. She was having none of it. Yelling now, she repeated, "I DON'T KNOW HOW!"

The day after the wedding, my new groom and I hosted a brunch at a nice waterfront restaurant. There were traffic problems getting out to the restaurant as there was road work underway. We didn't know about it before the brunch and neither did our guests. Some of us were late. L was especially late. When she arrived, red-faced and clearly mad as hell, she headed straight for me and yelled, "Thanks for telling me about the construction!"

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Case Against L, Part III

L is seven years older than I am. My parents never paid for a babysitter. L looked after me when my parents weren't around. Since she resented me from birth, this created problems, sometimes. She has a tendency to be cruel. Here are Exhibits A and B:

One year L took me trick-or-treating. I was probably six or seven years old (which would make her 13 or 14). She'd stand on the sidewalk while I went up to each house to collect my loot. We started to pass one house that was completely dark. She told me to go up and ring the doorbell. I said I didn't want to. She made me go. I rang the doorbell. No answer. I started to walk away. She said, "Ring it again!" I rang again, reluctantly. She might have insisted a third time; I can't remember for sure. Eventually a very old, very sad looking woman answered the door. "I'm sorry dear, but we don't have any candy. We're very poor." L could hardly keep herself from laughing. Once we got past the house, she was hysterical. Until I told her to stop a few years ago, L called me every Halloween to tell the story and laugh again. Every year.

When I was a teenager I had knee problems. A few times I was in a full toe-to-thigh plaster cast. I had to use crutches. Once day when I was in a cast, L and I were walking into her apartment. She picked up something -- I'm not sure what it was, maybe a small fuzzy toy -- and threw it at me while saying, "Look out! It's a dead rat!" I tried to run out of the way. In a cast, it was hard. I freaked out. L laughed until she cried. She still laughs when she tells this story. It's a story she loves to tell.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Case Against L, Part II

For as long as I can remember, L has had a mental list of the things from Mother's house she wanted "When Mom dies." It was common for her to begin sentences to our mom, "When you die, I want..." She said this with a smile, but it was a smile that failed to mask serious intent.

Before we all went to Mother's house to help Mom move out, L said, "I really don't want anything. It's just STUFF." She did say she wanted a small hand-printed note from our dad that Mom had framed on her bedroom wall.

When she and her family arrived, L made a bee-line for the garage, where sale items were being sorted and priced. She and her kids pawed through the goods for about half an hour before even going into the house to greet Mother.

Here's some of what was in L's car when she drove away from Mother's house last summer:

* Mother's silver
* A lace tablecloth made by our great-grandmother (the only one)
* Mom's small stereo system (which my sister K had explicitly asked for earlier)
* So much other stuff that her husband complained they wouldn't have room to sit in the van on the way home

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Case Against L, the Prequel

A couple of months before we all went "home" to get Mom's house ready to sell, I called my sister L. It was May. I know because it was around her birthday. We talked about plans for the week together and at some point she said their family car was going to need repairs before they could make the trip. She said she was thinking of asking Mom for the money, since "she's helped K out so many times in the past."

I told her it never hurts to ask.

Months went by, and nothing was said about the car repairs.

A short time before we were all scheduled to travel, L sent an e-mail to all of us, saying she didn't think they'd be able to make the trip, as their car suddenly needed repairs and they couldn't afford to have them done.

At some point she asked our oldest sister J if she thought Mom would be willing to pay for the repairs, which would cost at least $2000. This is not an amount Mom's accustomed to giving anybody but her church. It was the same amount L told me she'd need for repairs when I spoke to her in May. Now she was pretending as if the car had suddenly gone bad without warning, hoping Mom would step in and pay up.

I don't remember how it all came down, but at some point I asked L if this was the same repair she talked about in May. Around that same time, J talked to Mom who said $2000 was more than she was comfortable paying.

Within a few days, L and her husband found the money for the repairs! They were on their way.

The Case Against L, Part I

I'm ready to talk about it.

Last summer my sisters and I went to our hometown to help my mom move out of her house and into an assisted living facility in Arizona. This included clearing everything out of her house, cleaning and fixing and painting, and holding a garage sale. Closing down the house she'd lived in since 1967. We knew it would be a huge job, requiring long, difficult days. We also hosted an 80th birthday party for Mother which seemed a good chance for her to say goodbye to all her friends before she moved away forever.

My oldest sister (J) more or less put me in charge of organizing all of this, including arranging the sale of Mom's house and all that entails. I gladly agreed, because J has been the sole provider of personal care for Mom and she handled all the assisted living arrangements. It seemed fair.

Our other two sisters (K and L) were given the plan.

K arrived the same day J and I did, a week ahead of our deadline for having Mom moved. She brought her fabulous husband along, a guy who likes nothing better than laying Visqueen down in a dirty smelly crawlspace and rewiring old light fixtures! They're both hard workers and they worked their guts out, often working into the night after the rest of us had gone to our motels exhausted.

My cousin D, who lived near Mom, came every day to help us. She did some of the most physical, dirty work, including landscaping (for which she has an amazing gift). J and I call her "the fifth sister." She's done an awful lot to help Mom and us through all these transitions.

L arrived three days after the rest of us. She and her family had driven from Michigan, a trip that took several days. When they arrived we all went out to greet them. When I put my arms around L, she kept her arms folded and turned her head away. She headed for the garage, where all the sale items were being organized and priced. She started looking through everything there.

Later I asked my other sisters and cousin if they'd gotten hugs or kisses. They had not. At least I knew I wasn't the only one.

The rest of us continued working to get Mother's house ready for the realtor and inspector. It was about 100 degrees outside. L? She sat inside the air conditioned house eating Doritos and talking to Mom.

On Wednesday, she did the same. Her husband and one of her four kids helped us with our projects. At some point, someone asked me if I thought we should put Mom's dining table out for the garage sale the next day. I said I thought we should, since nobody was really using it and it stood a better chance of being sold the longer it was out. A short while later, I overheard L whispering to J (because they were only standing FIVE FEET AWAY), "I don't know WHY she wants to move that dining set outside!"

I said, "I'M RIGHT HERE. I CAN ACTUALLY HEAR YOU." On my way out the door, I said, "If you have something to say to me, you need to tell ME." Then I went back to work.

L then did what she's been doing for as long as I can remember: She went into her room and flung herself down on the bed, crying. This went on for the remainder of the day. My cousin D went in to see how she was doing. L told her the story just about like I've told it here, except at the end she said, "The first seven years of my life were fine. Then SHE came along." And started weeping again.

For the next two days, L wouldn't make eye contact with me or speak with me. On one of those evenings, the four of us daughters got together to divide up Mom's most precious things, the ones that weren't going to the garage sale but would stay in the family. These included a lace tablecloth made by my great-grandmother, a quilt, some jewelry and a million other odds and ends. L sat with her arms folded, eyes red from crying, saying almost nothing throughout the evening. When my husband returned from a trip to another part of the state to visit his family, he greeted L and her husband warmly. L didn't speak to him.

The stress between us had an effect on everyone. At one point J became so frustrated she burst into tears and told me, "I wish L would just take her shitty attitude and GO HOME!"

Eventually, L decided to start speaking to me again. She came out to the garage sale where I was working. She started talking about something trivial, maybe something that we were selling. I was overjoyed that she was speaking to me again. I put my arms around her and hugged tight. Again, she acted as if she didn't notice she was being hugged, but just kept on talking.

The week went on. The garage sale was a success, the party was sweet and everybody worked from sun-up to sun-down making it all happen. Except, of course, L.

After everyone was back home and in their routines, I got an e-mail from L asking what the status was on the sale of Mom's house. I'd gotten a note earlier, with a similar tone: chatty, friendly. I answered her questions, but then I told her I didn't understand why she was acting as if nothing had happened between us. I told her she had spoiled for me what would probably be the last time I'd be with all my sisters and their families until Mom's funeral. I told her I was angry about her failing to help us with all the work that had to be done. I told her she needed to let go of her disappointment at my being born 40-plus years ago. I honestly believed that by being honest we could get to the heart of the problem and possibly work it out.

I was wrong. She shot back another e-mail telling me she was shocked at my behavior and calling me, basically, a drama queen who ruins every family gathering. We haven't spoken since then.