The holiday season is upon us, and yet, celebratory moods seem elusive to me now. A month ago I sent my sister a letter after my former stepfather accosted my front door demanding to be heard. He delivered the news of his daughter’s (my sister’s) recent induction into the hospital for attempted suicide, and stayed for a little chat with our local police department. As I’ve said, it wasn’t a surprise that my sister would attempt to end her life, that sign was all too clear from her tweets.
I was surprised when a letter was delivered to me at work from my sister. It was hand written one page. I was damn near terrified to read it, anxious too. I called my wife and I opened it over the phone with her. I read it aloud and in doing so felt the familiar sadness and pull of guilt grinding down. She blamed me for her attempted suicide, for her mental disorders, for our mother’s sadness. She wanted me to save her. God, did she guilt the hell out of me. I couldn’t discuss it very long over the phone as I ended the letter; I was crying. I was sad for the little girl my mother was so hastily and completely obliterating. I was sad that my sister was so enmeshed with my mother that she would take her own life to make her mother happy. I was sad for the little girl who had a mother who would never love her and care about her as she needed. I was sad for the little boy in me who experienced the same thing. So I cried.
I told my wife that this letter required a response, and she concurred. Over the course of several days, my wife and I crafted our responses, both hand-written. I was punched with emotion when my wife told me she wanted to write something to my sister too. Though, I shouldn’t have been all that surprised, she’s always had my back. Five hand-written pages later, I had the most emotion and caring that my sister would have ever experienced. I knew that down to my very atomic core. I put a lot of myself into that letter to her, explaining that I do care about her but she needs to jettison herself far far away from that family she’s with. Find a new support system, a therapist, and look at her mother for what she is. I knew that my sister would not accept everything in what I wrote, but in cramming so much stuff in there, I was hoping that maybe a single seed of thought would sprout.
I received your letter dated November 12, 2012 today. I’ve included with this letter the information I sent to you in a letter on November 5 and again in an e-mail November 18 because I have no idea if you got it. I care about you and your well-being. I want you to have a better life.
I did not abandon you. You were not mine to abandon. I have a family and they are my priority. I will not drop my wife and children to be your white knight.
If you are looking for someone to blame, start with your manipulative, controlling, fake, conniving mother. She cheated on your father. She lies to everyone she knows. She called us names as kids. Your mother taught you that your value lies in your looks alone. She is the root cause of your emotional and eating disorders. If you’re willing to consider that your mother is the enemy, then you will begin to see how fucked up she really is. Then take a long look at yourself. Do some genuine self-reflection. I am not to blame for where your life is or where it is headed and I refuse to take responsibility for your feelings, our mother’s feelings, her choices, your choices. I refuse to take responsibility for your feelings of abandonment. I have made a choice to leave the unhealthy environment we both came from and have found a new, healthier way of living. I am happy. Do not blame me for your depression. Do not blame me for your loneliness. Do not blame me for the fact that you don’t feel understood. Do not blame me for your emotional issues. Do not blame me for your attempted suicide. If you are telling yourself that I am dead and telling other people that you are an only child, then you are not living in reality. It’s unfortunate for you that you feel you NEED your big brother to survive. I will not have your blood on my hands.
You do not have to feel alone. I once surrounded myself with hundreds of people too, hoping that in doing so, I would feel loved. In reality, they were all parasites who did not love or care about me at all. All they cared about was what I could do for them. You are still surrounded by the people I got away from. And that’s your choice.
You want to talk about Mommie’s feelings? Let’s talk about how I’ve never seen the sadness you wrote about. Let’s talk about how she acts as though nothing has happened, like how she’s never done a goddamn thing wrong, like she never cheated on [your father], like she didn’t try to destroy my marriage, like she’s going to see me tomorrow. She isn’t. Those tears you say she cries all the time are crocodile tears. They are fake. They are a lie. They are used to manipulate you into feeling badly for her. Her sadness is no more real than your happiness. It is not your fault if your mother is sad. You are not responsible for her feelings. Neither am I. I will not tolerate her behaviors. I will never have a relationship with her again.
“I even wrote in my suicide note that maybe my death would bring you back.” Are you saying that you were willing to kill yourself to make your mother happy? Do you realize how fucked up that is? Are you saying that you think it would make her happier to have me back even if you were dead? That doesn’t make you question her motives? Our mother would sacrifice one of her children for the other, has pitted us against each other, and has used us both for her own sick gain.
-OR- was the suicide attempt itself a tactic of manipulation in which you were planning not to die, so that I would come back to rescue you and save you from a crisis. Because, I don’t see how it would benefit you if I came back and you were dead. The way I see it, either you want me to abandon my family and come save you, or, you are willing to sacrifice yourself to fix your mother’s problems. Either way, you need the kind of help I can’t give you.
I cannot be there in the way you want me to. I cannot save you. You have to save yourself. Even if I was willing to do what you are asking me to do, even if I was willing to be your possession, your big toy, your childhood nickname], that would not fix your problems. I cannot fix your problems. I choose not to be enmeshed with our mother any longer. I have done a lot of research. I am in therapy and will be for a long time because I am dealing with the severe emotional abuse I suffered at her hand as well as the unhealthy behaviors she passed down to us.
You want to know why you haven’t cried about me? Because you are living in a kind of denial that will eventually destroy you.
[Childhood nickname] is gone. [Childhood nickname] was the part of me that lied and manipulated. [Childhood nickname] was the part of me that was superficial, selfish, that chose to brush problems under the rug. [Childhood nickname] was the part of me that was secretive, and pretended to forget in order to avoid consequences and accountability for my actions. These behaviors are parts of you too and they came from our mother; she taught us to live that way, by living that way herself. I will never be [Childhood nickname] again. I am living in Truth. For your sake, let [Childhood nickname] go.
You may have seen me as your best friend but it was because we were dealing with a very toxic situation together, rather than because that’s what healthy siblings do. Our relationship with each other was warped. By our mother. But now you’re an adult. Take responsibility for the fact that you’ve never reached out to me in a meaningful way.
If you want my advice: Create as much physical distance as possible between yourself and everyone else that you’ve ever known, especially your mother. Take time to assess the emotional abuses you have suffered. Get a job, save some money, and rent a place of your own. Become self-reliant. Get a new support system, find a therapist, and create the [sister’s name]] you want to be. Or don’t, and live the way you’ve always lived. The choice is yours. I’ve made mine already.
The information I’ve attached to this letter could be life-changing for you if you’re willing to accept reality.
I have already asked your mother and her side of the family not to contact me. It is not appropriate for you to send correspondence or to contact me at work. It is not acceptable. If you have any interest in communicating with me further, you must send a letter to my house, otherwise I will not be responding. [Sister], get help, get real, then we can talk.
Every time I reread this letter, I like it that much more. I was real. I was honest. I was caring. I was adult LSV. This is not what my sister wanted however. She wanted me to save her. Like the father/adult male figure is supposed to, right? she thinks. No. I was put in a role that made me an emotional spouse to my mother, emotional father to my sister. I used “betray” when I speak of how I felt when I found my mother cheating on her husband, and true she betrayed our family, but why did I take it so personally? She didn’t actually cheat on me, and yet, that is my most powerful feeling – personal betrayal. My mother was cultivating some sick, twisted, partially incestuous relationships among us.
I told my sister that I don’t want to live like that anymore. That I can’t live that way anymore. She’s not willing to give that up though. She has only vaguely acknowledged that she received the correspondence my wife and I sent, but nothing so straightforward as a “yes I have”. It’s been silence presumably to get back at me for abandoning her – or so she’s been led to believe. I’ve said my piece, done everything that I could do. She’s chosen a life that will ultimately lead her to an unhappy, probably short life.
And it’s not my fault.