One day, you look for money in your sister’s drawers and you discover something else completely. You started out the day Nick Botkin, sister of Nancy, son of Penelope. Now Penelope’s your grandmother and Nancy’s your mother.
You try to make sense of that equation, even as questions spill. Why? Why? Why?
Your sister mother speaks many words. Young, love, protection, single, father, irresponsible, hot-tempered, understanding, not understanding. Truth, was going to tell, promise, promise. Hurt, love.
Your mother grandmother speaks the same words, except for ordered her, for her own good, mistakes.
You tell jokes. Liken your family to hillbillies or royals where everyone’s relatives are their in-laws too.
You swig sister, you mean mother’s, Merlot. Try to laugh. Sister-mother doesn’t even stop you, although mother-grandmother asks you to be calm.
Calm, what an insignificant little word now.
But wine wears off fast. Your laughter cracks fast.
So, you light up one of sister-mother’s cigarettes, don detachment. Meanwhile, you try to recite the fundamental facts. You’re eighteen now, after all.
Your sister is your mother. There is no sister. Only a mother. A grandmother. These actions are the truth of things. They are a part of your history, a piece of fabric that can never be unraveled.
When mother-grandmother tries to hug you, you tell her to get bent, detachment drained. She never was a hugger to begin with. She always smiled, said she loved you, but with a clinical tone. And she always listened to that Tchaikovsky when you needed advice.
When sister-mother reaches out to hug, you recoil. And tell her to get bent too. Even though you feel some sorrow, thinking of the movies sister-mother’s snuck you into, the stories she’s encouraged you to write. You think of your laughter, sister-mother’s smile, cracked, but still so youthful. Or was it cracked with knowing and the weight of perfidy?
You want to call out, but to whom? The world’s other relationships seem deceptive, like there are things concealed in the shadows. Details you can’t pick up on. Are your friends in on this little joke?
What if your friends are secret relatives too?
You want to curse, run, but you can’t imagine wandering into the world alone, this knowledge taunting and tormenting. And you certainly can’t imagine filling out job applications and discussing your family in interviews. What would you say when they asked who your mother was?
I don’t know?
They’d laugh at the truth. Or mark you as disturbed, mark you for something beyond your control.
When sister-mother tries to hug you again, you let her but don’t know what to feel. You feel cold arms, distant motions, and numbness, rather than the rough and tumble sisterly ones. You can’t say I love you, because who are you saying it to? Your fictitious sister? Your newly real mother?
And what would you say to your mother-grandmother?
You wait. Try not to hate. Recite those words, sister-mother, sister-mother, sister-mother, while sister-mother holds you, rocks you, and the world seems to grow.
Your mother- grandmother keeps talking, promising better days. Promising that love doesn’t change, but that’s a word you can’t hear right now.
Love. Something so vast, and yet so small, intangible, inexplicable in scope.
Maybe you’ll understand it in a year. Maybe six months even. But right now all you can do is speak those words and wait. Sister-mother. Wait for the motherly sensation to wash over you, whatever that is. Is it the warmth of arms, is it an intangible security? Or is it something deeper, a sense of just knowing you can’t describe?
Image: Wikimedia – Public domain.