My relationship with my sister, Jennifer, is sometimes a very painful thing. I suppose all family relationships are painful at some point. After Mama died, we were closer than we had ever been. But then as time passed, we began drifting. And as our relationship changed, new patterns began to develop – me as the needy, hurt dependent, and Jennifer as the “adult” who has no idea what my problem is. This was a new role for both of us, as I’ve always been the older sister in every sense. I don’t like feeling pathetic. I don’t like feeling needy and desperate. I’ve tried to talk myself out of it again and again – tell myself that I’m overreacting, that I’m being too sensitive, that I’m being childish. But the thought struck me today – if the same scenario is playing again and again, isn’t there a chance that Jennifer carries some responsibility as well?
We spoke on the phone for a few minutes this afternoon, and once again, I felt hurt. Neglected, overlooked, disregarded. We hung up, and I just stood there in the kitchen, in the midst of assembling two pans of lasagna. This is when I usually would just chide myself for being overly sensitive AGAIN. But today, instead of letting it go, I called her back.
I told her all the things that I’ve been thinking. I told her that if we weren’t sisters, I wasn’t sure that we would even be friends. That I felt like I was always her back-up option, her Plan B. I cried. She told me that maybe I should write an instruction manual on how she should treat me. She said that she felt like I was made of glass, and that she had to tiptoe around me, because one wrong move could cause me to break. She told me that she had no idea what I was talking about, that she was tired of having this conversation.
I felt my heart crack a bit. I realized that I’m searching for what I had with our mother – Mama really was a best friend. She never tired of listening to me “talk through it.” She knew when things were good or bad. She knew, and she cared. I’ve been wanting that from Jennifer. I’ve been wishing, expecting, and feeling the wave of disappointment wash over me again and again when she repeatedly doesn’t ask, when she doesn’t act like Mama. She has HER life, HER things, and she doesn’t ask. Either because she doesn’t want to know, or because she can’t extend herself in that way – I don’t know which it is, maybe a combination of the two – but the resulting lack of action is the same. I feel abandoned. I feel hurt. And I feel very, very alone.
Then she said something that had the unmistakable ring of truth – “Sarah, OUR relationship hasn’t changed. It’s exactly what it’s always been. It’s just that you’re expecting more from me than you used to.” And I realized that she’s exactly right. Our relationship is exactly the same, but I’m looking for more from her because of the gaping hole that Mama left. I need her (and Maggie) more than she needs me – it’s a harsh, stark reality. I’ve been looking to her to fill some of the absence left by our mother, who was my unfailing confidante. And Jennifer is giving exactly the amount she’s always given – no more, no less. She has friends, people with whom she shares her thoughts. I’m not one of those people. Strangely enough, I’m realizing that I’ve NEVER been one of those people – I just never even noticed before now because I had Mama. When I had Mama, I didn’t need Jennifer as much… and now Mama’s gone, gone, gone, and I’ve transferred the role that Mama used to fill to Jennifer, who isn’t capable of filling it. It isn’t her fault for not being Mama… it’s MY fault for expecting her to.
Jennifer hasn’t changed. My needs and expectations have. If I keep expecting her to fill Mama’s role, I will continue to feel disappointed, neglected, overlooked. And that’s a shitty way to feel, it really, really is. It’s not fair to her or to me.
I don’t know what my next step is. But I do know that recognizing the limitations of my and Jennifer’s relationship is progress… It’s sad, it’s painful and makes me sit in the bathroom and sob quietly so Sue and Bobby won’t hear me – but it’s another step along the path of learning to live with, and in spite of, the loneliness.