5/10/2016

Hearing the Sound of Angels

So they played,
They acted as if all was the same,
They ran around in circles,
While neighbors called them names.

They ran to the backyard,
And gathered fruit from the trees,
They bit into their tough skins,
And they laughed with glee.

They danced to their house,
And they quickly looked around,
And were confronted with the memory,
Their parents’ room had not one sound.

It is funny that, as I have aged, my long-term memory has gotten so much better than my short-term memory. Because of that, I remember so much more about my childhood.  I understand this is not altogether uncommon. However, being from a divorced home and in rare circumstances, it caused a lifelong bond between my older sister and I, unlike most siblings. 

In my case, my parents were divorced when I was younger, in the 1960's. At that time, divorces weren't as common but were dramatically increasing. It was hard to process as a child. My parents seem to argue a lot from what I can recall. They seemed in love one minute and shouting at each other the next. Terri and I were left standing in the middle, in a home where the tension could be thick hanging in the air and we sometimes felt forgotten with all the turbulence going on. I can literally remember an old stand up vacuum cleaner and us each standing on one side each and hugging each other around it wanting to disappear out of the room. We wondered if the fighting would ever stop.   I was too young to process what the arguments were about. I was too young to understand also why our mother seemed to be gone frequently.   

Mom one day was gone, just like that. And she didn't come back.   I don’t recall a good-bye. I vaguely remember Dad sitting down and talking to my sister Terri and I about explanations but how does a child process their mom isn't coming home.  It never registered, it never seemed quite plausible. A mom deserting her children, something seemed amiss and the pain stayed, the scars never quite healed, we just tried to hide them from everyone except each other. 

We loved dad something fierce but my big sister, only two and a half years older than me became even more important in my life then. She was hurt as much, if not more than me. But with mom gone, I felt alone and she felt she needed to protect me. I didn't want to add to Dad's pain and my sister said we needed to help Dad so she was my confidante for what I was feeling and going through. 

As time went by, she became, in my mind at times, a sorta surrogate mom, I went to her when I was hurting. And yet we competed for Dad's attention. Having lost Mom we were scared of losing our father too. We knew if Mom had walked away from us, it was possible Dad would fall out of love with us too. We use to talk about this as kids in our rooms and I would bawl and Terri would assure me she would always be there for me regardless and hold me. As a child, it is never quite understood. Dad told us things about our mother's parenting skills but who really gets that or wants to think poorly of a parent. And we internalizes those issues. Part of us even blamed him at times. 

In those days, the 60’s, divorces were rising about 1% every 1-2 years and by the 1970 the rates were about 33%. The percentage, though, of single fathers with custody of their children was 1%.  We were an abnormality. In fact, in today's standards, we would be too as most households have joint custody or custody is given to the mothers.  We were an oddity in society and it was not lost on us or our father.  

Terri and I felt abandoned. Two little girls with a nothing but a male in the house.  A father who was hurt and angry with an ex-wife and two young girls to raise on his own. Our lives, our childhood was never the same. Our feelings, Terri and I's about each other and ourselves was never the same. Terri tried to assure me, and herself, we would be okay but neither of us quite believed it.   

Dad needed a caretaker for us, to replace our mother so he hired an old lady to be our nanny, Mrs. Train. She lived with us except for one
weekend a month when she went and stayed with her son.  And so there we were, living in the same house we lived in as a family, with a mom and a dad except now there was no mom. In its place was a nanny, a sweet old woman we grew very attached too.  Our dad changed right before our eyes.  Divorce does that to adults, as I learned myself going through my own,it's unavoidable. The effect though, on children can be harder to detect.
  
Neighborhood kids quickly learned we had no mother and our parents were divorced. It would have somehow been easier on us if she were dead. Kids were cruel to us, bullying us both. We were chanted at during bus stopswaits, while riding bikes, you name it as the girls who were so bad that their own mother left them.  They lived with a nanny because their dad couldn't stand to be around them either.  

 We were the joke and the object of curiosity.  It was heart-wrenching. As we were trying to get adjusted to the change, we walked outside and were confronted with mean screams. There were even calls to the house with neighbor kids yelling things at us. We had hang-up calls, with even our house-keeper getting them. She, at times, would take the phone off the hook.  

One family that pretty much dominated the neighborhood, the Coffees, called us two losers and worse. It didn’t matter whether it was true or not. I began to wonder if there was some truth to it, it was hard to process. Through all the tears, my sister Terri kept vigil over me in the
neighborhood.She would seek me out if I was hiding in the woods behind the Coffee's house till the chanting would stop. She would answer the calls and yell bad things back. She would even punch them if they touched me. It became common knowledge, if you mess with me, you mess with my big sister.

Terri would coach me on how to handle these situations, how to stand up for myself. Terri never seemed to care if she got hurt defending me. Her attitude was I was her little sister and I had no mother so she was going to step in and be there for me always.   She would even get tied to trees by them girls and left there. I would have to find her sometimes out there and untie her when they were gone.  She was brave and told me not to let Dad know how bad it was at times. We didn't want to risk Dad leaving us or getting angry with us if we were partly to blame.  

Our nanny was too old to come out and go around the neighborhood to talk to parents or kids so Terri did it. Dad didn’t come home till later and he just seemed to have too much on his mind for us to bother him with it. I am not sure he ever really knew the full extent of what we went through, how bad the teasing actually got.

We worshiped our dad. He loved us enough not to leave us even if we were bad girls. If he had left, we would have had nobody.  It was lonely at times and made us both feel we had to earn his love and not take it for granted. Losing a parent that is still alive is very isolating. We always felt somewhat different, rejected at the core. But Terri always let me know no matter what I did, rejection of me was never going to happen in her lifetime.  That helped me so much back then knowing someone was security. 
  
We tried to pretend nothing changed in our world but quickly saw we had to do more on our own. We didn't come home to a mom, we came home to an old woman, not our grandmother. We had no one to really confide in but each other and because I was youngest, I used my sister and she had really no one. Dad was a gamble, we didn't want to bend his ear and have him leave us.  I can't remember if, when our mom was living with us, if she was around enough to help us or not. But, at this time in our life, it didn't matter. There was not a mother option at all. 

We wanted our dad to love us more so he wouldn’t leave so we tried to please him even harder. We use to talk about how we needed to not get Dad mad at us so he stayed loving us . Terri was my coach on how to do this and reinforced what I was doing well to please him. Oh yes, we fought, more so to win his attention! I think he knew some of our frustration because when he began dating, he tried to include us on some of his dates, once he was dating a woman for a while.   It made us love our dad even more; our dad was truly our hero.

He told us he was sorry he wasn’t home more but he was looking for a mother for us and a wife so we could be a real family again.  We listened closely and with childlike enthusiasm but we didn't share it really. We did not want to share him with anyone, the little bit of time we had with him. We thought aloud, what was to say a new woman wouldn't hate us if our own mother rejected us? He never assured us that wouldn't happen and we knew it was a possibility.   We met several women during those days. Terri, my big sister, would tell me what would be good about each one as our new prospective mother so I wouldn't be crushed at the prospect. She was the one to assure me all would be okay in the end. I looked up to her as I needed her, that pillar as I had no mom to cling to.

During this time, I would sleep with my sister a lot, especially when I was missing my mom. She would let me lay against her and remind me how much she loved me. Terri, even though young herself, seemed to sense it and stepped in the best she could in that type of role. If there was a storm, I would tip-toe to her room so I wouldn’t be heard and whisper to her I was scared. Terri would understand and play the role my mother use to. She would lift up her covers, like my mom use to on thundery nights, and tell me to come in close and assure me I was safe with her. She was a parent, in some ways to me. It was probably too much of a burden for her in some ways but it was all I had. 

Dad finally found a woman that was the one that made his heart sing. It became increasingly clear; this was the one he would marry.  She seemed to like us but was much younger than him. Looking back now,  it was probably hard to marry someone with a ready-made family, two daughters, both in grade school  and try to fill the step-mother role , never having had children before. Being a step-parent is a tough role to play.  It is so hard to define your position in a child’s life and how it plays out in a new marriage.

When they were married, we had to say good-bye to Mrs. Train. A nanny was no longer needed with a new step-mother in the house. But, the nanny was someone we had been living with for years. We had spent more time with her than our father for several years now. And we had grown to love her and be somewhat nurturing to us. And now, she was leaving. It opened a raw wound in my sister and I reminding us no matter who we loved they would leave. We realized stability of love was never going to be a part of our childhood other than each other. We cried and were quite heart-broken and were assured we'd see her again. Yet, we never did. 

It became clear, pretty quickly, we were indicators of a past relationship to our new step-mother. We were a reflection of our real mother to her in ways. She wanted the relationship to work and we did too.  I am not sure it was anyone’s fault, maybe it was inevitable but it created a rift, undeniably. There was resentment on our part that we lost even more of our father, lost our nanny and then we knew she found things about us distasteful. We had not been parented by a mother so I am sure there were.  

This made us feel like we were the outsiders in our home, particularly when our dad moved us and our newly formed family to a new home.  We called her mom but always felt a sense we were forced on her. If our own mother didn’t love us, why would she? And we rebelled against her too, in ways.  And she quickly became pregnant with a baby. That baby was their child and from then on, it was clear we were second-rate children, not the preferred. 

Terri began on a path of more rebellion than me, being the older of the two of us, particularly when the new son was born.  Dad pulled us aside and told us if troubles continued we would both have to be sent away to a boarding school.  

There it was, the rejection we both knew was coming. It had only been a matter of time. I hated my sister, she had assured me we would not get left again, not by our Dad if we were good. There we sat, after he left the room, his new bedroom, not saying a word for a few minutes. My sister Terri spoke first.  As she spoke, tears rolled down my face. I can't remember a single thing she said because my heart was crushed. I hated her at that moment and a piece of me hated her for years and years. I felt she had lied to me.  I trusted her.  But I still hung on to her, when we weren't fighting. I still shared secrets of my feelings and thoughts with her and let her share hers with me.  No one understood me better, those deep feelings of being rejected better than her or me her feelings than I.  

  
My older sister continued to let me tag along with her friends.  I was insecure more than ever now.  One minute Terri and I fought like cats and dogs, furiously, taking out all our frustration on each other.   Then, the next minute, she was defending me. In so many ways, back then, and still today, we are as different as day and night. In other ways, the similarities between my sister Terri and I are tenfold as we age. We both took different paths. In other ways, are lives played out not so differently. We both went through divorces, proving the cycle of dysfunctional marriage continues in generations but we never followed our mother's choice of leaving our children no matter how bad things got in our homes.  We have had years of distance in our relationship but have maintained contact with each other of some sort our entire lives. One of us has children that are incredibly close to their mom and one has children that are not, some of the children have had marriages that have also ended in divorce much like ours and none of our children are close to each other or close to either of us, their aunts. But inspite of that, having no real family even now, either of us, we have found a way to hang on to the thread of our relationship. 

I have learned the biggest lesson of my childhood not from Terri or anyone else. That is a deep  gratefulness to God for putting her and I together in life.  In those early days in my life, when there was no mother and we both felt unloved by a mother that deserted us, she stepped up to the plate and made me feel she was there to try to fill the gaps.  My sister was my cushion to cuddle up to as a mother would have when I needed one.  My father was gone a lot. I worried about him leaving and not loving me. Terri was the one who whispered I love you and held me when I was crying. She was the one that told me I was worthy of being loved. Every little girl deserves and needs that. I am not sure I ever put enough weight on God for giving me a sister to share in that horrible sense of loss and frustration but I sure do now. 

And then, into a new marriage, we both felt like outsiders. It may have been our childish perception but perception is one’s reality and to us, it was real. We felt like misfits much as we had felt like living in a neighborhood when peopled shouted at us about our mother not loving us. When our step-mother got so angry, we were reminded of the association we had with a bad woman, our mom and each time, we felt abit more broken inside.  We carried scars of rejection that have been a strong bond through our lives that perhaps no one but us truly understands. 

Terri has loved me through it all, through all the highs and all the lows.  I have seen family, friends and husbands come and go. In trying to do the right thing, I have come to cross roads and made choices, and found people fall by the wayside. They have floated in my life and floated out of my life. they have chosen to not defend me, not to support me and not care about my feelings. But never has Terri wavered. She was that person that I knew would not judge me, not punish me for a bad decision and never desert me. My big sister doesn't test me, she takes time to always say I love you and never ever rejects me. She is my family, most of my life, the only sure one I have is Terri, my older sister. 

After  Mother’s Day, I realized this must be written to share. Don't take vital relationships in your life for granted. That single one that has been always there, it may be a heaven sent one.  My relationship with my sister may not be perfect, but I saw something that served as a reminder I am not a part of a family now either, not included, invited, acknowledged. My life means not much of anything to most loosely related to me. But to my sister, I am everything! What I thought I was searching for was something I have always had, a sister. A family can be as simple as one person, someone who unconditionally loves you and is willing to go the distance with you.   My dream came true, just not like I expected it too, and so did Terri's. 

Instead of feeling sad or lonely, indeed now I feel blessed. I was always whole and just didn't see it, I didn't feel it inside. And our connection, our bond, Terri and I was part of that wholeness, that family feeling. It was, is a love of acceptance, of our differences, our imperfections and our memories, good and bad, our fights, and our dreams, hopes and realities. It is not a thing of sadness to me but a thing of joy, of God’s blessing. My father did give me the greatest gift of all, a sister that loves me through it all with open arms and heart.  

Take time to watch, listen and talk to your children about divorce.  Know that their heart feels pain too at the death of a marriage and it is much worse when a child feels rejection.  Recognize that family is something special and who those people are that truly comprise the qualities of a family, they may or may not even be people that you are related to. I have several I am not blood-related to. 

May those of you that experience divorce realize that when families split apart, no matter whether it is from divorce or other reasons, many will chose sides and alienate you. Do not let that indicate to you that you are less whole. You are still complete, just walking a new journey.  There is usually at least one person who will always remain true to you, gravitate towards them and don't lose touch.  Don’t allow yourself to continue to be hurt, judged or feel like an outcast. You can't garnish internal strength, confidence and self-love if surrounded by doubters of you. 

The Lord is always watching over you, become stronger with hardship.  Know God has better plans. Know it is never really completely quiet…


When the girls listened again,
They detected bells ringing,
They put their heads together,
There, it was angels singing!


God bless the sister that protects those that need a shoulder to cry on. 
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