The day seems to be dragging along, on auto-pilot as usual… having a cup of mid day coffee somehow in the haze that it really would, this time, lift the fog didn’t quite live up to the intent.
“Eh, not so much” I’d think & trudge through those mid day slumps hoping that some miraculous zest of energy would find itself landing on me, aiding me with a cinderella-like song within to not just finish my impending chores but actually enjoy them. I realize then almost immediately fantasies are kids tales, then turned Disney movies, making some teenager, not more than 17 – a millionaire. Hey! Who cares? One can only hope they go into rehab before they are 23 and their parents try selling their stories to tabloids for profit. But that didn’t squelch my desire for a real live love of sitting on my computer entranced in my daze of negative ions. All in a day’s work.
The phone vibrates. My sister calls. I don’t answer. WHAT? I’m in the middle of some vvvveeerrryyy important work. She then follows up with a text, somehow with a witty clairvoyant appeal, knows I’m dodging the call. I can only imagine what she wants. My sister and I haven’t been the greatest adversaries, and most of our conversations aren’t generally those either of us enjoy to the fullest. ‘Call me’ it reads. Translation = ‘Doom’.
Mine and my sister’s relationship has been laborious through the years. Our paths different, our attitudes have been — let’s just say– varied. I was the go-getter always described as having wings and needing to fly to make my way. Oh, I’m sure there were much more colorful words than that, from my mom who swears I abandoned her. Which of course isn’t the case, the true story is I wanted to see some of the world, no desire to remain stuck in the midwest without hopes of seeing the outside world. My sister on the other hand was very opinionated and much more averse to change, she was more than comfortable with the world that had come familiar to her. Instead of understanding one another, more often than not we stood on the side lines of one another’s lives not really understanding each other, but instead observing – judging, scolding and shaking our heads. I would be described as the responsible one. Always one to remember birthdays and special occasions. In my harried schedule somehow always remembered to get everyone a card or acknowledge them in some way of their special day while my sister was always the ‘Well, you – know – how – she – is’ sister – and for some reason that excuse seemed to disguise her irresponsibility or consideration for others for nothing other than this just being some born innate anomaly she was cursed with. That excuse never fully impregnated my desire for an equally responsible sibling whom my children would come to love as their aunt. To love them the same way I would love my own aunt. My children, who should be spoiled by her time, her words, her presence if not her physical remembrance of a couple puny gifts throughout their lives. But that didn’t happen. It took much soul searching and much understanding, but I realized as an adult it didn’t become questionable throughout the years as no one wanted the confrontation for full fledged recognition of her ways. She was excused for her lack of familial responsibility with a shrug and a statement. The excuses didn’t work for me and made me bitter over time. Holidays would pass, she wouldn’t remember to send cards or think in advance to buy gifts for my children.
Let’s not get consumed with my complaints being materialistic. I’m not hung up on the materialism of the exchanges. My kids didn’t have much of a family so every little acknowledgement was recognition, of realizing a special day was theirs. What kid doesn’t need to feel special from time to time? A text message and maybe a phone call may resume. MAY, I said. My daughter’s graduation came and went with a Facebook comment on her graduation pictures that she was proud of her. But that was it. The most monumental day of my daughter’s life to date and what? A Facebook comment? My mom didn’t do anything more. But there was no Facebook mention from mom, so I guess I can’t complain about my sister’s familial Facebook responsibility. At least Facebook made it possible for my daughter to be recognized on HER BIG DAY. Thank you Facebook for that at least. And it became evident when me and my sister were together that I didn’t care for the way she was so callous about ‘This-is-just-the-way-I-am” mentality that everyone else seemed in acceptance of. We fought. I didn’t cower as everyone else usually did to my sisters opinionated, overly stated ways and me, the responsible one was very vocal about those things when we were together. We even once had a fist fight at Thanksgiving. I know, redneck and ridiculous! I was young and unsure how to channel my anger productively at one time and fists flew easier than words. I stayed distant and far away from their drama. I learned to convince myself they weren’t like me. I wasn’t like them. We were so different. I cared. I paid special attention to her kids. I Made sure they had gifts and cards and phone calls. It was just easiest to swallow that way. I moved 750 miles away and never looked back. At times I missed my family. I missed my family mostly for my kids having family, PERIOD. But there were also things I would never miss. But when it was all said and done, was I really so different?
A few hours later I called her back. “Are you sitting down?” She asks quietly.
“Does driving count as sitting?” I ask fumbling with my radio stations instead of dividing my full attention directedly. I’m half listening and half not.
“Donna has brain cancer”. She said. Now, when people talk about a bitter silence, there is nothing to describe it. Stifling, numbing silence. I stumbled for a response. She had my full attention now.
Donna was my aunt. Not just my aunt, my favorite aunt. Where me and my sister struggled to find commonality. Donna and I just had a bond that was just indescribe-able. She became that sister. We are 9 years apart and we grew up together. My mother was 16 when I was born, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother – which is where Donna spent her days growing up as well. She probably hurled me into adulthood well beyond my years with talks of dates, french kissing, braces hurting.. not to forget Leif Garrett posters, Shaun Cassidy and Good GAWD don’t let Andy Gibb in those tight leather pants escape me for one second. But in my mind, I was already the sophisticated adult I knew I would seed from. I wasn’t even of the age that I thought boys were cute, but since I looked up to Donna – and she thought they were cute…. I automatically thought they were cute too. Only later did I truly realize I thought that none of them were really cute. Scott Baio was much more my type.
“How bad?” I managed to ask dignified even though I couldn’t really comprehend the message just laid on me.
“Stage 4.” Silence. Awaiting a response from me, which there was none. “Pretty bad. She’s asking for you.”
I have a background in medicine. There are 5 stages of cancer. I didn’t even have to use my fingers to count the stages…
This wasn’t good. Breathing became short and shallow. My mind raced for the possible solutions. Is she going to give up and enjoy what she has left? Or will she fight with all modern medicine has to offer? I wanted to know her reaction, her response, her demeanor. I was itching to figure out what her mind has set out to do about this. Was she in pain? I somehow couldn’t fathom it. It became as foreign as Chinese algebra must be. I somehow had a need to reach out to her, to them. My family. The people I worked so hard to escape, I now have a desire to be there.
I spent the next few days in a fog. The same fog I had hoped my coffee would somehow magically lift. The coffee wasn’t working. Neither were tears, neither was hope. I wasn’t much of a “hope” kind of girl, and was surprised at my reaction even permit it to enter my consciousness, I always thought of myself as more of an action – take – charge kind of girl. But what could I do? How could I help? Where could I fit myself into this equation? I was yet to call her. She was asking for me and I wouldn’t. I couldn’t call her.
HOW. How do you call someone you haven’t talked to in so long only to discuss their impending death? I couldn’t do it. It made no logical sense. In most situations you call someone to make idle chit chat. To catch up. To talk about what was for dinner or how your husband annoyed you or hurt your feelings. The big meetings where big decisions are made. Face-to-Face is THE only option. But that is a long drive, I can’t just take off. I have so many things to do right now…….
I picked up the phone several times with the attempt, looking over the hospital phone number, dialing in the first exchanges. I would then hang up. Repeat.I never got much further even though this ritual lasted ten minutes or so. I can’t call her. I just can’t. My sister. My aunt. My closest relative, who every time she sees me – she sees that eager little girl with bright eyes and a quiet thirst for life. ‘Tom, Tom’ she called me. It was the most endearing term I recall of my childhood. I even bought the Tom Tom Navigation system b/c it was such a tender pet name that always took me to the door steps to the best part of my childhood. “I want to see my Tom Tom” she says. It always made my heart warm. Not many memories of my childhood made my heart warm but this one will always be my favorite. And it was from my favorite person.
My sister, the next following days keeps texting me to remind me that Donna is asking about me. ‘Have you told Tom Tom?’ she asks disappointingly. They all sit silently. They don’t want to make me out to be a villain, but they don’t know what my intentions are either. They are my other family members, some new that I’ve yet to even meet. They know me by reference. Yes, I’ve been around that much. One of the things I always kept meaning to do – go visit and just hang out, make myself present but that never seemed to creep into my schedule. Does anyone EVER have enough time? Distance was my safety blanket. I keep pitching the idea of just taking off to see her. I’ve always been rather spontaneous and random, it isn’t exactly unlike something I’m capable of undertaking, but I do have responsibilities here that need taking care of. I keep tossing it around, over and over in my mind. Then you know how it is. You get so annoyed with yourself for so many deliberations you just make a decision for the sake of arguing with yourself. Then decide to just live with it regardless of any consequences.
It was just inevitable to me that I just had to go. Words on the phone wouldn’t pacify and fill the void within. I know she thought I didn’t care. I couldn’t leave that legacy.
I finished shooting my wedding Saturday night, arriving home about 1 am or so. I was soaking of sweat, disheveled, tired and sore. I tried to unwind slightly and go to sleep which wasn’t easy. I tossed back and forth thinking heavily. It was hard to get into that place where I relished the thought that sleep would find me easily and consume me. I would shut my eyes and instantly was transfixed to those days of ole. Sitting at my grandmother’s table. The TABLE of WOMEN (deserves caps b/c this was a big deal, full of adult grown women I revered) – the table of all knowledge. All things good converged here. Where all troubles became apparent and were worked through with dessert, conversation and coffee. The smells of female companionship floating through the air hung like Christmas Eve in Rockefeller center with warm coffee and the love of your life – watching ice skaters and enjoying the magic around you. It was the single best place in the world. For me as a little girl, it was all those wonderful things. All the women in my family would crowd around her kitchen table. She would make an intoxicating coffee cake or on rarer occasion, cheese cake. They would cackle at some thing I am sure at the time even if I did pay attention to the words, the conversation wasn’t aimed for me to understand. The female camaraderie was something I would never forget and never to date again be permitted to partake in. It was a once in a lifetime presence. I will leave in the morning. There was no way around it. There was no other option. I finally dozed off……coffee cake looming in the air as I fell into my trance.
The next day I found myself on the road by about 9:30. Chelsea Handler’s book on DVD was keeping me company. It was rather like having a very sarcastic friend as a passenger without having to talk, keeping my mind occupied with stories of bad sex, smoking pot with her dad and boyfriends with strange fetishes. Although I was masterfully tired, upset and concerned – I did find myself laughing to the book as I drove. The yellow lines racing past abruptly. I drank very little water strategically, Not having to stop at sub-rate gas stations where pee is spattered all over the critical spots becomes a welcome avoidance on the road. Oh, if you do get lucky and there is toilet paper – it’s quite the consistency of air. No thanks. I was dehydrated, feeling a dehydrated headache coming on, but I wasn’t going to buckle. No way. I would persevere. I had to get there. It was now my inevitable mission.
After 9 and a half hours, and passing that ‘Welcome to Kentucky’ sign miles before. I finally reached the driveway. I sat there for just a full minute trying to figure out if I would be that strong one, the crutch to hold onto if she needed me or the big sap unable to control the flood of emotion that I’ve somehow managed to conceal.
*To be continued*