I Knew Your Demons
I had always hoped we would grow old together, like those sisters in the movies. Laughing, sharing old stories, watching our kids and grandkids interact at various family reunions. Spending holidays, birthdays, summer vacations together. But deep down, inside my soul, I knew it would never be that way for us. Life had given us a different path - one that would destroy two innocent childhoods, leaving us to fend for ourselves, the best we could.
It was October, 1973 and our school had a fundraiser that consisted of selling Halloween candy. We were so excited about it! I don't remember the prize, but I do remember you saying you were going to win it. You were always the more driven one. Dad had said that if we were going to sell candy, we had to go together - we couldn't split apart. So off we went to each of our neighbors' houses, knocking on the doors selling this candy. After an hour or so, we were down to the last 3 bags, we had one more house to go to and The Brady Bunch was starting on television soon.
The last house we were to visit was the Culpepper's. Mr. Joe and Mrs. Madelaine. They had been our neighbors since we moved into our house. Their grandchildren would come down in the summer and we would play with them all day. Watermelon seed spitting contests, Fourth of July fireworks, camp outs in the backyard, running through the sprinklers. Summer! What a great time!
Overjoyed that we were doing so well with the candy sales, you told me to go on home and start watching The Brady Bunch. You would go to the Culpeppers' house and be right home. We were going to celebrate!
The Brady Bunch had come and gone, Gilligan's Island was just starting when you busted in the house, slamming the door and running to our bedroom. I went after you. Before I could ask anything, you screamed at me "GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE!" I didn't know what had happened, but I knew enough to know it was bad. I went to find our mother and told her that something was wrong with you. Strangely enough, she actually went to talk to you.
Later on, she came out of our room, called Dad at work and a neighbor. Then she began gathering up all the guns and rifles in our house. She gave them to me and had me take them to the neighbors' house. She said "If your Dad asks where the guns are, you are NOT to tell him." I nodded. I took the guns to the neighbors' house and ran back home. A little while later Dad came into the house. He talked to you and then called the police. He told me to stay in the den. The police came. They asked me a few questions, then went to see you. I remember them telling Mom and Dad that they were going to go see Mr. Culpepper. When they came back, I overheard them tell our parents that they found the Halloween candy in the bedroom, all over the floor. They said he was in custody and asked could we go down to the police station.
I remember the blue tile on the walls in the Police Station. There were a lot of whispers going on. I still didn't know what had happened, but I just sat there - listening and watching everyone. Time stood still.
After the Police Station, there was the visit to the hospital. I again sat outside the room you were in, on a chair, in the hallway. This time the tiles were green. I remember the muffled voices, the squeaky shoes on the floors, nurses going back and forth, and your muffled cries. My big sister. I could hear you in the other room, crying. I wanted to go in but sat glued to the chair. Mom and Dad were in there with you. I could hear Daddy's pacing each time the door would open and a nurse went in or out. After what seemed like forever, you came out. Daddy on one side, Mom on the other. I looked at your face. Trying to understand what had happened to you in there. Your face was tear-stained, but dry. I looked into your eyes. The same ones that looked back at me when I would look in a mirror. They were different. There was no spark, no light. They were empty. Maybe you were tired. But somehow, I knew that wasn't the reason.
The next few days all was quiet in our house. I would hear our parents talking in their room, muffled sounds again - but this time angry. One evening, the doorbell rang. It was Mrs. Madelaine. Through clenched teeth, she asked if my Mom or Dad was home. I invited her into the living room and went to find our parents. You came out, saw her and returned to our room without a sound. When I told our parents who was in the living room, I was instructed to go to my room and not come out until I was called.
They went into the living room and stood face to face with Mrs. Madelaine. (I had stayed in the hallway - wanting to hear but scared of what I would finally know.) She began to talk to our parents - starting with asking how you were. Daddy cut her off with a curt, "what do you want?". She wanted to tell them how sorry she was about "what had happened", but that there "had to be a mistake. Joe isn't like that." Daddy told her to leave and never come back.
The following week, there was a "For Sale" sign in our front yard. When we asked what was going on, we were told that we were moving. Daddy was going to be working for a new company and we were going to be moving to a new place. A few months later we were living in an apartment across town.
One day, Daddy came home and asked us to sit down. He pulled out a world map and asked if we could point out our town on the map. We laughed and showed him. He then asked if we knew where Europe was at. We pointed to it. Then he asked if we knew where Saudi Arabia was at. It took us a moment and then we found it.
The next thing I knew, we were on a plane headed for a foreign land. Our world had changed. We were scared. We were young, but we were together.
You had changed since that day in October. You were more careful around adults. You didn't laugh like you use to laugh. I could see changes in you. You were angry. You were sad. You were different.
Over time, we became no-so-close. You never talked about what had happened to you. I pieced it together by conversations I overheard. I hated Mr. Culpepper. I hated what he did to you. I hated how he changed you. I hated how he changed me. I wanted to hurt him.
As the years passed, you struck out at me. No matter how I tried, I was a reminder to you of the past. I understood this and just let it go. You weren't the sister I had before. I stayed because I cared. Because we were sisters. I know you blamed me for not staying with you for that last house. I blamed myself too. I knew the "family secret". But what could I do. I loved you.
Over time, the changes you had were so severe. You acted out. You rebelled. Dad worked long hours. Mom had an affair. I retreated into books. The family broke up. Divorce. We moved back to the States.
Mother really lost her way. She made horrible choices, horrible decisions. Your 22 year old boyfriend (you were 15) moved in with us. Mother was surprised when you became pregnant. I wasn't. Daddy was angry. Arguments. You got married.
Time passed. I knew the mistakes you made, trying to forget everything. Constant reminders. We would drift in and out of each other lives. Sometimes talking. Sometimes fighting. Always trying to be the sister we thought we should be. Knowing each others secrets. Mother died, but before she did, she burdened you with the responsibility of telling me, on my birthday, that she was dying of cancer. I guess she expected some sort of reaction other than the casual, "I'm so sorry for her pain.". By this time, I had resolved myself to the knowledge that I would never be the daughter she wanted, and she, not the mother I desired. I had given up on that relationship. It hurt. I can't count the number of nights I cried myself to sleep over her, but eventually, I stopped. I had a life to live. A child to raise. A husband to love. You weren't as lucky. You tried to be the daughter she wanted. The person who could solve her problems. The more you tried, the harder it became. We lost touch.
Finally, we reconnected. It was so good to hear your voice. To be your sister again. As long as we didn't talk about the past or about our father, we could chat and laugh. We talked about our kids. We talked about the future. I tried to get you to sign up for "The Amazing Race" with me. You had somewhat remained in contact with our grandmother. The one who was the hardest on you. I can still hear her judgmental voice telling you how to dress, how to wear your hair, how to live your life. But you stayed in touch with her. I don't know why. You were furious with me because I had kept tabs on the child you had allowed your in-laws to adopt. But more about him later.
The years go by. We are now in our 40's. You have pushed yourself to become the best you could be and I am so proud of you. Daddy is on his 3rd marriage. You're on your 5th. I've been divorced for a number of years and am too scared to remarry. We still talk pretty regularly. I've sought counseling and have found the best way for us to stay close. After talking to a counselor, explaining our volatile relationship, his advice was "love her from a distance" and explained what he meant. This was the best advice I have ever been given.
You called me on my birthday. I thought it was to say "happy birthday". No, that wasn't it. You were angry again. You mention something about the past. How you hated "that man". I agreed. I hated him too. For what?, you asked. For what he did to you. As we talked you wondered what his life was like now. How you wanted to hurt him. I offered to go with you. As we were talking I said that I would go with you and help, but I doubted that you would get much satisfaction from beating up (or killing) an old man in a wheelchair, but if that was what you wanted to do, I'm right there with you. You seemed relieved that I would do that for you. You're my sister. I will do whatever you want in regards to that man. I have no mercy for him. No forgiveness. Only hatred. You said you would think about it and let me know.
Daddy was diagnosed with cancer. I reached out to you and gave the dim expectations. Although you were curt, I knew this affected you as well. He was still your daddy. I knew you blamed him for all that had gone wrong in your life, we even discussed it. But he was still your dad. Our dad. True to the doctors' expectations, he was gone within 6 months. Luckily, I knew how much you loved him and I also knew how much he loved you. I was able to bridge that gap before he died for you both. I was happy to do it for you.
Every once in a while you would call me, having had a bit of wine beforehand. I remember one time specifically. You told me that I couldn't love you. That I didn't understand all that you had done. All that you had been through. All I could do was reassure you that it didn't matter. You cried, "but you don't know the things I've done!!" "It doesn't matter what you've done. You're my sister and I love you. Always have. Always will." Things for us were looking up. It was just the two of us. We planned a vacation together. Finally, I thought, we'd be that movie version of sisters that we had always wanted. I was wrong.