Sunday, September 04, 2005

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.

1 comment:

frog said...