Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball
My youngest sister contributed to the manuscript and this is, in part, my response to what she wrote.
I’ve never felt especially close to either of my sisters. I am the oldest of three. Each of us came out of the womb distinctly different personalities. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this is not uncommon. In fact, sibling relationships take forms like these for most people to whom I speak. Having a close relationship with a brother or sister may be desired, but it is seldom realized.
My sister Melissa had her own path to pursue. Early on, she’d always tried to hang around my friends, often in place of her own. A tomboy, this was hardly surprising. She wanted to be around all the boys. But I usually thought of her as a burr stuck to my socks, or a fly to shoo. Before long, she would push away and form her own identity. Melissa was the middle child, a born rebel.
Sara was much younger than me, quiet and reserved. I admit I never understood her compulsion for reticence, nor do I today. We’d been raised by a father and by a family who took a no-nonsense approach to solving problems. Details were to brought to the surface immediately, then swiftly analyzed. Better to come clean with everything all at once, then have done with it. It’s still what I believe.
I am, I admit, not especially tolerant of people who are not willing to vocalize their internal issues. This form of growth and development, in my opinion, are both integral parts of mental health and personal happiness. In the city of Washington, DC, and at my Quaker Meeting, I’ve routinely run across people whose introversion gives them an unintended degree of secrecy and mystery.
Once a successful dialogue is opened, I’ve found that these sorts of folks have a rich inner life to share. I’ve even wondered if there was anything I might do to pull these people out of themselves. A cultural bias exists against those who are not reasonably gregarious or socially inclined. Though I can be a very shy person, I have run across many people who are much more reserved than I’ll ever be.
I’ve never believed that my own inward focus made me a selfish person. Instead I’d use words like neurotic, anxious, needy, and to put it another way, consumed with my own troubles. Both of my siblings had the misfortune of having to be present during times where I was ailing and in terrible agony. I wish they hadn’t seen, heard, and experienced what they did, but fortunately those days are over.
As I’ve been contemplating the whole of my life, I recognized early on that I was going to have to look beyond my family for solace and companionship. When a little girl, my sister Melissa held a romantic fantasy, fostered by reading books, that a brother and sister were supposed to be the best of friends. Before long, she recognized her imagined view was not realistic, but it clearly caused her emotional anguish to accept.
The age difference that separated Sara and me was fairly vast. We were nearly seven years apart, almost a whole generation. As I hear her talk or see her interact with others, I recognize how much of a Millennial she is. Sara is part of the Internet generation, the cell phone generation, and I’m beholden to a different time and a very different perspective towards life. To her, the 1980’s are an abstraction. She was still a child during the 1990’s, an extremely formative period for me.
Melissa and I are more or less contemporaries, two and a half years apart, but that fact doesn’t pull us any closer together. By the time she was in middle school, she sold into what was then called, without irony, the alternative ethos. Her friends were appropriately sullen, disaffected, and angsty. She experimented with drugs long before I did. Melissa developed a fondness for tattoo ink over time, much to the dismay of my parents. Seeking the new bohemian promised land, Melissa eventually left Birmingham for Portland, Oregon, her spiritual homeland.
After years of bitterness and enmity, Melissa and I have resumed cordial communication. We’ll always be a little distant, but pleasant to each other. I can’t say that at any time I’ve ever thought to myself, I really need to start hanging out with Melissa more, or Sara more. I found their friends and relationship partners many times just as confusing as they themselves were.
Outsiders have noted this same thing, this wild variance in personality traits, and pointed it out on multiple occasions. They’ve wondered how three people with the same biological father and mother could be so dissimilar to one another.
I have my own life, my own friends, my own city to call home. If the three of us were to inhabit the same city again, as we did for many years, I’m sure we’d set up different residences and form wholly different identities. Sara’s basic personality is that of a caretaker. I see that now. But, in this instance, societal hierarchies and boundaries separating older siblings and younger siblings keep us largely strangers to ourselves.
And I’m okay with that. I love Melissa and Sara dearly, but I do believe it is our fate to pave our own paths. Mine will be forever shaped by the multiple chronic illnesses that have caused considerable complications. The stories shared in this book demonstrate the life of the manic depressive. In support groups of which I’ve been a part, anecdotes like mine are the norm. My sisters always played the role of the innocent bystander, and this is how I remember them most in the trying times.