Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Circles and Cycles Revisited

I was standing kneading dough the week before Christmas when the thought occurred to me.  I want a sister.  A friend's very close sister had passed unexpectedly and she was left with the desperate urging that those of us who had a sister who was still living not take it for granted. 

I've had an especially strained relationship with my mom and siblings for the past two years and was just wishing to make it through the holidays before deciding what doors needed to be open and how far.  My mother has survived breast cancer and had recently had another scare.  I was selfish enough to decide that I would wait until after Christmas to see what the outcome had been of her appointment with an oncologist.  I've never done anything so rotten.  I knew this at the time and forced myself to live with my decision to wait even though my heart ached at the possibility of losing her, permanently, and wasting another day trying to decide how to go about beginning a new relationship with her without sacrificing anything of myself.  I've felt that it was time, but I still wasn't ready.  Now even with the possibility of illness coming between us, I balked.

I think often of my post Circles and Cycles and how I long to be in the circle of the women in my family.  I felt it with my aunts and their mother, my grandmother, and even my grandmother's loving assisted living caregivers who gathered around her bed in the months before she passed.  I felt it with my mother, sister, and other grandmother when she was still living.  It has been difficult ever since.  I am difficult.  They are difficult.  It has always been easier to choose a circle of friends than to exist in that perforated, oblong, thorny wreath of a circle that we create together.  My dreams lately were also showing me how much I longed to stand in this circle. 

When my mother called to invite me to spend the day with her and my siblings who would be gathering at her house, the timing was unreal.  I immediately convinced myself that she was in fact ill and this was an important opportunity that couldn't be missed.  I was terrified, but in light of the possibility that she may be sick again, I was willing to deal with any unpleasantness that could come from the visit and though I was hoping for a peaceful reunion, I was still nervous that things would go awry.  I wanted to see what it would be like to stand in that circle once again.

When we reached Mom's house after the 2 1/2 hour drive and I got out of the car, there they all were spilling out of the house with the exception of my sister.  My baby brother who has just been released from military service I barely recognized as he is now sporting long hair and a full beard, both of which shone leprechaun red in the sunlight.  He hurried up to hug me, something I wasn't sure would happen after our falling out and I couldn't help but pinch his cheeks like I did when he was a toddler before we were in each others arms.  I knew all was forgiven and forgotten between us at that moment.  Done.  All over.  Let's get on with it and be as close as we always were.  Done deal.

I hugged my mother.  She was tiny.  She has lost two inches in height and is thinner than I've ever seen her.  I was shocked to see that "inside" what had always been my mother was almost the identical form of her mother at the same age.  Who knew they ever looked so similar?  Even her hair, jet black for most of my life, has gone completely white like her mother's. 

Once I was in the house, my sister called a greeting to me from the dining room, using the nickname she and my mother, my cousins, and close friends always used.  It was nice to hear.  I was a little choked up by this point so gritted my teeth and started unloading the gifts and food we had hauled out of the van, to give myself a minute before making my way to my sister and giving her a hug.  There was a time when such an open display of affection would gain a person a punch on the arm, so I knew I was risking life and limb at this point, but she hugged me back. 

I realize, suddenly, that the kids are everywhere.  The nephews, five between us, are hanging out like teenagers do, with my brother, more like an older cousin to them, leading the uproarious conversations like old times.  I'm sure that my sons are old enough to hold their own at this age, but still worry that at any moment things could go bad like before.  There's very little small talk.  I have subjects that I am determined are off limits, my dad for one, as my mother has a tendency in an attempt to feel justified for leaving him, to go over her past concerning him each time we meet.  I will politely steer the subject to another the moment she brings him up.  I will no longer listen.  Homeschooling, obviously, is off limits, as this was the source of our falling out two years ago.

As time progresses, I begin to relax.  I think maybe it will be okay.  Just standing with our backs to each other in an odd half circle of sorts while we prepare different food trays in Mom's horseshoe shaped kitchen is enough for me.  Every time I hear my baby brother laugh in the next room, the same old laugh, I smile.  I've missed him so much and didn't know who he was for a while.  Mother's living room furniture is gone, replaced by a pool table, of all things.  Who is this woman and what has she done with my mom?  And she hasn't once brought up the subject of my father.

I start feeling sad, still imagining that she is sick and putting on a brave face in front of us.  She will tell us after Christmas that the results of her tests were not good.  This is exactly what she would do.  I'm surprised when she blurts out, casually, to my husband that she had a health scare, but that it all turned out fine.  Can everyone tell that my hands are shaking at the news?  It takes a few minutes for the information to set in, for me to realize that we are all here together for no reason other than that it was time.  She confirms it during dinner when she tells us that all she wanted for Christmas was her family around her.  I'm biting my tongue now to keep the tears from welling up, but with so many opinionated people in one room, the subject quickly changes to another.  I'm still the quiet person in the room observing.  I always am.  This time, however, it's like watching a home movie of my family without me present.  I like it.  It's surreal, but the best way to view the situation for the time being.  To see where I fit in at this point.

We eat and Mom, the self-absorbed woman I knew growing up who only went out of doors to walk to a vehicle, is suddenly an avid nature lover.  She wants us all to go for a hike up her mountain.  We all look at her like she's nuts.  My siblings and nephews because it doesn't occur to them that people do things of this sort, and me because this is exactly what I would choose to do.  During a phone conversation while the weather was still warm, she told me she had been gardening all summer and had finally grown her mother's green thumb, but I figured that she had merely transplanted a few pots of store bought herbs into the ground with success, maybe a tomato plant or two.  This woman, one I have never been able to relate to, I could get to like. 

She takes us slip-sliding, me in heels, up a steep, muddy slope past her husband's property to a hunter's platform.  My brother and his girlfriend have given up and headed back.  My oldest nephew soon follows.  I have only made it by clinging to my husband's arm tighter than I did during the birth of our children.  My son wants to climb to the top of the twenty foot platform.  I grit my teeth and watch him do it.  No fear.  I wish he had gotten it from me, but we all know that's impossible.  He is recording everything, Blair Witch style, on his camcorder, narrating along the way.  Fortunately, he hands the camera down to his little brother so he can use both hands to climb.

My younger son swings the camera to where my sister, mother, and I am standing, my mom in the middle.  He says, "You are standing in a horseshoe shape."  My mother turns to me and says, "We're standing in our circle."  I could have fallen off the mountain I was so shocked by her words. 

I joke to lighten the moment, the only thing I do well in social situations of any sort, and ask my sister if she's got her crystals on her.  We both know that if we believed in crystal power, each of us would be wearing one, the idea is so intriguing to us both.  I joke and say mine is tucked in my bra, she says hers are at the bottom of her fish tank.  We all giggle as she tells us how she uses semi-precious gemstones rather than fish tank gravel.  The moment is gone, but I am still stunned. 

I make my way down the mountain in stockinged feet, mud squishing between my toes like the Cherokee my ancestors are rumored to be, to keep from falling on my butt, while simultaneously thanking my lucky stars that it's winter and the parasites should all be dead at this point.

Back at the house, my mother shows me her gardens and loans me a pair of socks.  We've come full circle.


  1. Aw! The week after with my brother was the clincher. Precious, precious time! I may blog about that, too, some day.