Christmas 2014 was not authentically happy. My small family ate, exchanged gifts, and laughed, yet there was a different energy in the air. I felt all of the unspoken hurt.
My father appeared silently angry at me. We said little. It was clear he had little to say to me. Like other members of my family, he doesn’t understand this new version of his daughter. I’ve not returned to the good daughter. I believe in psychology. My father-a simple man-see things in black and white. He doesn’t see the gray that exists.
My mother-in-law Connie sits on the dining room steps leading into the living room. She laughs at my sister-in-law’s chicken video. I smile and giggle, but it is not real. I position my face to perform, act as if everything is normal.
Connie reminisces about my father-in-law who passed two years ago. He was a hilarious, spirited, man full of tricks and ready to entertain.
The laughter continued but my mind drifted back to the previous Christmas. Dad walked grandma up my mother-in-laws short narrow cement steps. Mom followed at Grandma’s heels. Grandma would be gone in a few short months.
My brother followed behind and held the screen door for mom’s friend. He seemed preoccupied, older somehow, his jovial spirit slipping away. My father and him sat in the living room and spoke. My brother would leave to serve in Kuwait a few short months after grandma moved out of this reality and into the next world.
We have always been close. I’ve called him twice since he left in August. Each time he didn’t answer. He never called back. I hear from my parents, my aunt and uncle that he calls them. I can’t write this without soaking my old-school pink laptop in tears.
In adulthood, we were more like friends. We had each other’s back. We listened to one another. He is seven years younger than me. In October, he turned twenty-nine. In November, I turned thirty-six.
In the last few months leading up to his deployment, I was hospitalized. He was in Texas where he was involved in more military training. Paranoia sent me on an early morning drive away from Indianapolis and straight in the heart of Louisville. I drove through some less-then-safe neighborhoods with my two dogs. I knew the police station would be somewhere.
A few minutes after an escapade at the police station my brother tried to reason with me, told me to go back home. I screamed at him. I slammed my finger down on the end call button and threw the cell phone against the door. I was driving on I65 N back to Indianapolis in a downpour. I could hardly make out the yellow lines.
We said little at my grandmother’s funeral. A cold friction hung in the air. Before I was hospitalized and before grandma died he knew about the PTSD. I talked about the abuse anytime he came near me. He admitted that she had hurt him as well. Later he tells me that having PTSD is my opinion. He turns completely. I feel his silent judgement. You are making a mountain out of a mole hill.
After the hospitalization, he pushed me away making it clear that he was no longer on my side. At the funeral, I sat in the second row beside my husband, behind my mother, father, and brother. It was clear whose side he was on.
If he should ever stumble across his sister, the writer, and reads this I want him to know that I don’t want to pick sides. It is not about sides. It is about how our childhood wasn’t safe, normal, loving. It is about the damage we have both been left with. More than anything it is about healing so we can truly live.
This will be the first year I’ve not been able to say Merry Christmas to him, even if just by phone. It is as though the phone wires are severed. He doesn’t hear me. I don’t always hear him. I imagine him among his army “family” as he calls them, telling silly stories to make other’s laugh. If he is anything like me at twenty-nine he happily partakes of alcohol, the numb-all poison in a bottle. I remember sitting in his crib and holding him as a baby. He will forever be my baby brother.
I wish him merry Christmas. Good health. Safety. Love.