Years ago when I was 8 years old my sister started attending a college in the south. We were not close, my sister and I, I guess because of the wide gap in our ages. Don’t really recall any long chats with her about anything in particular. My immature actions were mostly seen by her as an annoying bug buzzing around her head. However, every now and then she’d deign me with a dose or two of her wisdom that, quite honestly, left me more confused than enlightened. She’d tell me things such as: “a person’s shoes will tell you a great deal about who that person is. Always look at a person’s shoes.” She also taught me how to properly hold a knife and fork “European style” and how to properly set the dinner table; niceties that my divorced, raising four children alone, mother showed no interest in doing. Those are sisterly lessons for which I am still quite grateful, for Mom was busy getting her own college degree too, at the same time she was working. Other bits of her wisdom shared with me during those early years have long vanished or been vanquished from my memory as I replaced her wisdom with my own. All… save one. A memory she gave me during a talk we had Christmas Eve still remains etched on my brain.
She’d only been attending college in the south for a semester and was home for Christmas break. On Christmas Eve, mom announced that she’d be going on last minute holiday errands leaving me with my sister – as usual – in charge of… me. I’d begged mom to take me shopping with her because the relative peace I’d felt (there was still a brother to deal with) while my sister was away at school had disappeared with the start of her vacation. When she came home that Christmas, as in the past, my sister was hostile and distant towards me. Maybe even moreso.
Mom, however, needed to run Christmas errands and I would only slow her down. “Stay home and catch up with your sister,” mom insisted. Mom didn’t know about the probably long-term psychological damage I was suffering at my sister’s hands with constant taunts of being too skinny, “skinny legs and all,” she’d rant at me from out of nowhere or grill me with the incessant question of “why are you so anti-social?” because I liked to squirrel away in my bedroom reading books or building hundred pieces jigsaw puzzles.
This day however, was different. After mom left the house, my sister pulled me to the sofa and asked me to sit down. I was puzzled by her kind tone towards me, but knew better than to let my guard down. I was immediately taken aback as tears flowed rapidly from her eyes, gushing down her cheeks and onto her favorite pink ruffled blouse. I was taken aback because this was one tough chick. Years earlier, I had heard her verbally break a neighbor lady into itty- bitty pieces when this neighbor mistakenly thought she could tell our brother, older than me, though younger than our sister, what to do in the absence of our mom, who was at work. So scared was I that my sister was going to give this adult a merciless beatdown that I ran away to keep clear of the altercation and the burden of being an eyewitness, thereby embarrassing the neighbor no further.
But now here my sister was, crying in front of me, the pesky bug. They were two tough women, my mother and my sister. I had never seen my mother cry and my sister definitely took after our mother. The story she told me was devastating to my sister.
My sister told me that she shared a suite with three other girls in an all women’s dormitory. The suite contained a sleeping area, a small sitting area and a toilet. The showers were common, located down the hall. One suite mate had been fooling around with a boy becoming pregnant. The roommate had not told her parents though, according to my sister, everyone in the dormitory seemed to know. The girl was quite naturally fearful of her parents reaction. She also refused to go to a doctor. One night after the roommate experienced quite severe pains she delivered a baby-stillborn. Not knowing what to do she took the baby into the bathroom where she attempted to flush it down the toilet. My sister said that the baby’s head would not fit down the narrow hole of the toilet and so just sat there…motionless. No one one knew what to do and so the baby lay in the toilet as a parade of dorm mates came through to see the sight for themselves.
“Don’t be bad with boys and let them get you into trouble,” she intoned to me with a solemnity that I didn’t understand at the time was a precursor to her more mature years.
I was too young to know what it meant to be bad with boys, or being pregnant, but the image of that undeveloped baby inside that toilet remains in my head to this day. I never did ask my sister how they eventually removed the baby from the toilet or what happened to the baby’s mother. Or if I did ask, I imagine I was too traumatized by her words to retain that bit of information.
I hope that we are not so angry with each other over this election process that we can’t see the forest for the trees. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court is slowly chipping away at Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose her own destiny. And no matter how we may personally feel about abortions we have to give our daughters better alternatives than shyster back-street doctors, self-induced expulsions or any of the myriad of horrible methods women resort to out of desperation and/or frustration.
Also, we must consider the hundreds of soldiers who have wittingly or not so wittingly put their life on the line to “protect this country in addition to the innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran who did nothing wrong other being born in lands of milk and honey. I’m sure you can think of other pressing issues our country faces.
My sister continued to torment me for a few more years until she started her own family. With a little time and a lot of space I was able to put my childhood in perspective eventually realizing the better, deeper side of her. My sister never again mentioned to me the shock of her freshman year experience. Not even as adults have we dared broach the topic.
Here’s hoping that we elect a Democrat for president (not the real John McCain) who will uphold our values and principles. Here’s hoping that we never have to say we’re sorry to more innocents in this world because in the rawness of our emotions we made the wrong choice.
Let’s hang onto the the notion that liberal/progressives have concern for the welfare of others. That’s what love means.