Letter to My Sister

Even though we haven’t spoken in over 20 years, we still feel the presence of each other’s orbits – like binary black holes forever locked in a gravitational pull simultaneously towards and away from each other, knowing that closer contact, even an inch, could result in the destruction of each of us.  I see that you have looked at my linkedin page, and you probably see that I am following you on pinterest.  We have each blocked the other from facebook- too personal. I want you to know that while I will continue to set firm boundaries as regards your involvement in my life (protecting my family and my home from your behaviors), I do love you, unconditionally, and I forgive you. I even feel sorry for you, and sad for the fact that we have both experienced life, and particularly aging, as an only child. Our parents did that to us. What a horribly lonely way to go through this world. I have spent my entire lifetime finding and nurturing “little sisters” among my friends, my students, my colleagues – again and again, trying to fill a hole.

I don’t know if you have spent the past 35 years in therapy, as I have, but I have figured out some things I thought I might share with you. I hope it will help you; if you have a different perspective or experience of our family growing up, then I encourage you to think about these questions and find your own answers. First, none of this is either of our faults, really. The years I have spent exploring and unraveling our family of origin have led me to the following conclusions: Dad was schizophrenic. That much we knew already. But as my therapist LP says, “If this is a given, then you have to look at your mother, and ask yourself: Why did she marry him? Why did he marry her? What was her situation? You can’t presume normalcy, given what you know about one side of the equation. You have to question your mother's mental health, too.” From a simple analysis of mom’s personality and behaviors, my shrink and I  have decided that she was most likely schizoid personality disorder. You can find a checklist of behaviors that fit that syndrome and see if you agree. This way of thinking about mom, and my own childhood, was a real paradigm shift for me. At the time, I just thought all the things mom did or didn’t do/allow/encourage us/teach us while we were growing up were “normal”, that every kid’s mom was that way. I also felt anger and sadness, grieving really, towards her for not raising me the way I needed.






Just out of curiosity, I have spent time doing my own genealogical research, with an emphasis somewhat different than mom's. My goal has been to understand the family dynamic, going back a few generations, to attempt to understand why mom was the way she was. I know Granny Ruby was born sometime in the 1890’s (various proposed dates for her birth are 1896 or 1898); do you know how I know this? I remember when everyone had to get a social security number, back in the 1960’s, which meant they had to confirm and document their real age, and thus birth date, and I remember both mom and dad discussing that there was conflicting evidence as to when Ruby was actually born, how old she said she was, and how old she really was. Why does it matter? This fact alone to me suggests that Ruby may have fudged on her age a bit when she got married to L.L. Crabtree; we know she had a hard life, and a rough childhood, more personal tragedies as a young adult, and grandpa Crabtree may have been her way out. (Did you know Granny Ruby had a prior, first husband? She told me once his name was Mr. Miller, but she would never tell me more about him. I asked her once what happened to him, and all she would say was that he died “in an accident.” Very sad voice.) Why any of this matters is that this means Ruby was 33-37 years old when mom was born. Given what we know now about advanced maternal age and how it affects the development of her children, I suspect that Ruby’s age may have been a contributing factor in mom’s genetic makeup and in Ruby’s child-rearing methods. (Did you ever wonder why Ruby never really adapted to the 20th century? Why mom dressed us like characters from "Little House on the Prairie"- in the 1970's? ) I remember Ruby telling me stories of having to invite all the little girls in town over to play with mom, when Martha was a child. From Ruby’s perspective, the point of this anecdote was how the little girls wore frilly dresses they were not allowed to get dirty, and Ruby put all the little girls in overalls so they could play outside, then cleaned them up, and put back on their fancy clothes, before sending them home. From my perspective, I note that mom needed her mother to schedule play dates and manage her social life for her. This is the earliest indicator of what we know to be mom’s socially avoidant personality.

The real eye-opener to me, at least, was tapping in to various versions of our family tree on Geni.com, and learning that L.L. Crabtree, our grandfather, was born in 1880. Did you ever wonder why he died before I was born, and we never knew him? Mom always said it was because he had cancer, but what she left out was that he was really old.  He was 53 when Martha was born, and would have been 80 when I was born. Let’s guess he and Ruby married a few years before mom was born- that means he was late 40’s or early 50’s when they married. What sort of many never marries until he is that old? Especially nearly 100 years ago? My thoughts are: a man who has no social skills himself. A man with some sort of mental illness, perhaps, a man who is a “confirmed old bachelor” (as Aunt Margaret called him, before he married Ruby) was, 100 years ago, typically either gay or an oddball in some way. A man who only a desperate woman, looking for any man to lift her out of poverty and servitude, as Granny Ruby did, would marry. (Do you remember the stories of Granny’s childhood? Did you know about her poverty and cruel step-mother in Louisiana? Her surgery for some sort of tumor on her jaw when she was 6? That she worked as a nanny, in Dallas, as a young woman? I grew up with these stories, not just from Ruby, but from her brother Bob, and her cousin, Lily.) My thoughts are bolstered by the only known photo of L.L. that exists- he is not looking at the camera. (Not looking at the camera is often a characteristic of autism and schizoid personality disorders. All the photos I have of mom- she is not looking at the camera, either.) Remember how mom used to talk about how L.L. loved his small dog, Tillie? (Schizoids often relate only to animals. Like mom and her cats.)  Ever looked at the old Crabtree family photo – the one where L.L. is crudely photo-shopped in, and wondered why? The story mom gave out was that L.L. was “late” to the gathering when the photo was taken. My thoughts are that the family didn’t wait for him, bc he was the odd one, a bit different, looked “off” and they really didn’t want him in the picture. L.L. himself was also the youngest child, of a father who had a dozen children, which means his father was older when he was conceived, as well. Aunt Margaret has shared with me that L.L. was “besotted” with Ruby, and “doted” on Martha, but other than that, only cared about his dog Tillie. Again, schizoid personality disorder.

Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t really. I just find it interesting. It helps me reframe how I think about mom and dad and our childhood. We know so much less about dad’s childhood family – but I do know his parents were older, too, when he was born. That they divorced when dad was little – who does that, in the 1930’s? What happened there? I met Richard’s dad, Sigi, when I was about 3 or so, and have photos of him with me. He appears to be in his late 60’s when I was 3ish…..which makes him late 30’s when dad was born. Granny Bert seemed about the same age as Ruby, to me, when we were growing up, but I really have no idea. Dad’s sister Nell was a few years older than he was. Given that there are so many folk where I live who are grandparents in their 40’s and 50's, and I know what that looks like, it is safe to say Sigi was at least in his 60’s when I was born. Mom and dad were 27 and 28 when I was born- very old, for their generation. That means they were 30 and 31 when you were born. 

I know I have absolutely no idea of what your experience was like growing up in our family. My therapist asked to look at old family photos, so I took her some, and she looked at one I have of you, about 8 or 9 years old. The photo is taken from the doorway to your pink bedroom on Briaridge, looking in, and you are sitting on your bed. Your room is an absolute disaster, as it always was: waist –high with toys, clothes, and crap. The giant red riding bouncy ball thing, dolls, doll /little kid furniture, stuffed animals, doll houses, baskets, Bozo the punching clown, Barbie suitcases, boxes. I remember, as a kid, making fun of you for that pile of junk, and that you would enter your bed from my room, going through it to the bathroom and hop on your bed from there. As an adult, I look at you sitting on your bed there like you are on an island, floating in a sea of debris. My therapist says it is a barricade. A wall you constructed between you and the hall - our parents – and your bed is like a little bird nest, halfway hidden and safe behind the wall of junk. That’s not a bunch of toys you left out one day – that’s a purposely constructed mine field. And your only way of dealing with the world is through my room – through me. The only safe way in or out.

I also know, as a parent, that I would never allow my child to live in such filth.

I look at other photos of the two of us when we were little – at our body language – and it is blatantly obvious: I am looking at the camera, often frowning, and you are hugging me, clutching me, holding my hand, squatting in the corner near me, following me, looking or pointing at me if I am off camera. I’m not being narcissistic when I say this; I feel extreme guilt. I wish I had “seen” it earlier. Dad told me over and over about this, but I was just too young, too caught up in my own misery, to see it. My only guilt is that I should have treated you better. I wish I had been raised to do that. I wish you had been raised not to be so screwed up, so I could have done it. When you were born, mom sent me to stay with Granny Ruby for a few weeks. Rather than feel exiled, I felt a reprieve, joyful. It was wonderful to be loved and nurtured and fed and talked to. Paid attention to. Granny actually cooked meals and read and spent time with me. That period was the beginning of a life-long closeness I had with Granny Ruby. I got from her the love I did not get from mom.

My experience growing up with mom was that she would never cuddle us, snuggle us, love on us, kiss my boo-boos when I got hurt, or hug me, or brush my hair or bathe us. There was no physicality in our relationship with each other whatsoever – never a touch. She didn't rock us as babies. No one soothed my forehead when I was sick or got me a cup of water at night. There’s a reason I sucked my thumb till I was 13; it is a classic self-soothing, nurturing mechanism. You typically see it in children who are stressed, scared, lonely, upset, abused. Sucking my thumb and twirling my hair were all I got of affection as a child.

When I was pregnant and living with mom, years later, I asked her once if she could hold a cold bag of ice against my hurting lower back, and she wouldn’t even do that. I didn’t notice this till I had my own children, and loved hugging on them and cuddling them as babies. Smelling that sweet baby skin. Kissing their boo-boos when they were older. Curving my hand around their prickly heads when I gave them summer buzz cuts, as little boys. Holding their hands, patting their shoulders, even now, when they need a little mothering, even though they are now grown young men. Did you feel lonely this way? Craving human touch? Why didn’t we ever learn to love each other? 

Growing up, our family had a triangle dynamic that instead of uniting kids vs parents, it pitted you against me, with mom as puppet-master. I never saw this till I saw the opposite of it with my own sons. Dysfunctional though she was, mom was the master at triangulating you and me, pitting us against each other. I don’t know if it was intentional, or just happenstance, but it is real. Dad was always off somewhere else- either physically (in the garage, painting, at work) or mentally (busy being crazy.) I’m not saying mom was intentionally Machiavellian; I don’t think she was capable of that. I think she was mentally ill too and did the best she could. Problem was, she was incapable of handling kids, taking care of a family, of raising us, running a home, or giving us what we needed as kids. Why the hell did those two ever marry and have kids? Was it the pressure of the ‘50’s era to be that picture-postcard family? She was a stay-at-home mom who couldn’t even cook dinner, bathe us, groom us, or clean the house. She did like to do laundry- my earliest childhood memories are of her ironing. Constantly ironing. Watching tv and ironing. It was some sort of solitary self-stim thing like spinning a top.

From my perspective, the triangle dynamic started when mom decided to put you in nursery school/kindergarten – you cried every day, and she would bribe you to go- with ice cream, candy, toys, whatever it took. You would come home each day and show me your latest prize, laugh and brag about what you had conned mom into buying you that day.  I once called her on it – I was about 6 years old – and she gave me this feeble excuse that she couldn’t get you to go any other way. Even then I smelled baloney. Who was the adult here? This behavior escalated when I was in Girl Scouts, in VBS or Sunday school, and you cried every time to get your way, to be allowed to do stuff with my age group of kids instead of your own. Mom caved and let you get what you wanted, every single time. In the end, this screwed you over because you never developed your own friends, your own confidence. I know mom wanted you to go to nursery school bc she secretly just wanted to be alone, while at the same time she wanted you to be a problem, health or mental health wise, so she could stay home and care for you. That's because you were the golden child. She steered you into being just what she wanted - the problem she had to deal with. None of this applied to me, the scapegoat. She used to force me to go to school whether I was sick, or not. I was the kid who threw up in school, bc mom made me go even if I was throwing up at home. I was the kid who got those 100% attendance certificates, in spite of  stomach bugs, sinus infections, colds, the flu. 

Both dad and I hated the fact that our home menu was dictated by what mom perceived to be the 3 or 4 foods you would eat, in an endless rotation with no variety. I suspect your “allergies” were not the issue at all, but really what mom wanted or did not want to cook or eat - with you as the excuse. I suspect many of the behavior issues that, at the time, we all attributed to you, were in fact mom’s issues, with you as an excuse. Her use of you as the cause of everything. I may be wrong, but that’s what I think. Not having a boxer dog any more (what dad wanted) but switching to a fox terrier, then poodles, bc they were not as “allergic”. Did she ever get you tested for allergies, really? How can you be allergic to one dog, but not another? Is it a breed specific allergy? 

I am sure you remember the time you had the “hives”, the morning we were to leave for vacation, and our parents took you to Mrs. Stark the neighborhood nurse lady and you were mis-diagnosed as having what? Allergies? Hives? When you were already on a bland diet (bc that’s what mom liked) and our house had already been “allergy proofed” (according to mom)? In reality, you had rheumatic fever…..mom and dad couldn’t wait an hour to take you to a dr and get a real diagnosis? I would never do that to my kids. It’s not even like they had a flight to catch- they were driving, for God’s sake. And we know rheumatic fever stems from untreated strep throat…..does that mean you had been sick for a while and they failed to notice? How do you not notice your little child has strep throat (the coughing, sore throat, fever, crying….) Later, on that vacation, your body limbs, hands, face and feet swelled up so much that your eyes swelled shut and you couldn’t fit your feet into your shoes….did they take you to a dr then? No, they bought you new shoes. Do you think incidents such as this happened bc our parents were hapless, helpless, clueless, or unobservant, uncaring? I can never decide. It’s not as if they were ignorant – both had multiple college degrees - or avoided the dr – mom took us all the time for sinus infections. So what was up? I do know that when my front tooth broke, and they gave me the silver cap bc it was $25 cheaper than the white one, it scarred me for life. The whole time I was growing up, kids in elementary school called me “the girl with the silver tooth” and few knew my name. 

As a parent, I can tell you: Neither of us were being properly cared for.  We both had a childhood of neglect. I remember our childhood diet as a never ending parade of baby ruth candy bars, butterfingers, cinnamon toast, coco-cola, and greasy BBQ chicken. I remember visiting a friend once, whose mom served us a lunch of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and goldfish snack crackers. I was so damn excited about this that for the rest of my life, it was been one of my favorite combinations. I don’t remember mom, on an ongoing basis, bathing us, brushing our teeth, combing our hair. I do remember her reading us books after lunch each day, in the summer. We managed to play together just fine when we played with our kiddles and dollhouses; it was only when others were around that the squabbling began. Mom’s allowing you to avoid your own peers and spend time with mine meant that you weren’t learning to make your own friends, to find your own identity, to explore the world with healthy boundaries given to you, to curb your impulses or feelings, to create your own safe havens. It may have felt to you like, in the short run, you were getting what you wanted (be with Karen’s friends) but overall, it was denying you your own identity. I don’t think you had one until you started playing the French Horn; I think you have held onto that hobby way too long bc it was all you had that made you uniquely you. Something mom approved of it.

I felt, at the time, that I was the “Cinderella” of our family- a fact many of my friends have corroborated over the years. I have many memories of being told to clean my room or clean the kitchen before I was allowed to leave the house; I do not ever remember the same being told to you. My room was obsessively neat, just as yours was disastrously messy, bc that was my response to the world around us- to organize it, decorate it, make it tidy and pleasant- then close the door. To create a small corner of order in the chaos of our lives. Your behavior was the classic “acting out” that most children do to get attention, but it back-fired where you needed it most. Your behavior alienated me, and I was just a little kid too, just trying to save myself, and couldn’t see past it or understand it. My friends began to comment as to what a whiny, tattle-tale, bratty little bitch you were. We couldn’t allow you to join us bc you frequently lied and ratted us out. (The infamous “slapped hand” incident, where you slapped yourself, ran and showed mom the mark, and told her I did it, is an anecdote that reveals a great deal about your mindset at the time.) I don’t know if you remember when you were forced to play with Sherrie Garrett, bc no one else would (She was your age, ate her own boogers and wouldn’t share her toys) . You pitched a fit and wouldn’t do it, then mom forced me to go, and I was 4 years older. At 7 and 3, it made a huge difference. I rebelled by stealing tomatoes from a neighbor’s yard and throwing them at the Garrett’s house. I got in big trouble- the biggest trouble of my life – but it was worth it, bc mom didn’t make me do ANYTHING like that anymore. I began my retreat from our family, spending more and more time away, time at my friends’ homes. At least at Dorothy’s, Monica’s , Spuddies’, Bill’s, or Judy’s homes, I could find normalcy. Everyone- me and my friends- hated you. The brattier you acted, the more we avoided you. As an adult, I now know that this sort of acting out is the sign of a lonely, frightened, miserable child. You frequently begged me to take you along, and I offered up various excuses, but the simple fact is: you were most of what I was escaping. You and mom. As an adult, looking back on it, I can see I should have taken you aside, told you the rules, told you to behave, and let you come with me, just once, to see if you could adapt. I wish I had done this. I wish I had saved you. But as a little kid, trying to save myself, I didn’t have the social, emotional, or mental wherewithal to think of this. I could only save myself.

You will no doubt read all this and I think how arrogant I am. And you are right. You want to know why I feel and think that way ? Because I am the “adultized child.” I don’t even know if you are aware of this, or if you were forced to do these things, too, when I was not around. Mom so hated leaving the house or making a decision or doing anything, she started sending me to the grocery store on my bike around the age of 5 or 6 , to buy her groceries. She trained me to clean the house and do the laundry and clean and cook. She sent me to cooking school every summer starting around the age of 10. Did she send you? These were useful skills and I didn’t complain other than the house was always such a mess I couldn’t keep up with it all and felt ashamed to have friends over. Who was it that perpetually messed it up? I never did figure that out. It was a house full of females…..

I was also the “perfect daughter”. Mom nagged me constantly to make high grades, be sweet and kind and think of others and never get in trouble and go to church every Sunday and “pretty is as pretty does” and to be modest ad nauseum… I did all that. I was in AP classes and made straight A’s and graduated in the Top 10%. I had an SAT over 1300 and got accepted into Rice University. I was president of the Latin Club and in Student Council and won awards in Junior Achievement and JCL. In addition to all this, I started working as soon as I was 16 and have worked without stop ever since. I don’t know about your grades, I suspect you did similarly well, as you got accepted and went to Northwestern. But you never had a job, growing up. Aside from playing the French Horn, what else did you do? Were you involved in other clubs and activities? Did you go to Sunday school every single Sunday? I never saw you there. Why did she force me to go, when she herself did not? What a hypocrite. This is where my arrogance comes from: Once you become that “perfect” person, you start to look around you and think to yourself: I have done everything you ever asked of me, and more. You have no grounds to be critical of me in any way, until you follow those rules, yourself. 

That which does not kill me makes me stronger. 

I don’t know how much you remember of all this, how much the 3 year age difference impacted your perception of events, vs mine. I do know this : We moved from the house on Spruce Dr to the Briaridge house in 1966 bc I was molested, around age 5, by our neighbor who lived behind us on Spruce. The teenaged son in that house. His mom came in and found me, a little child, trapped in his room with him trying to finger me while keeping me pinned down. I remember the boy's mom's anger and shock and dismay, but she didn’t tell our parents. I did- that night at dinner. How was that ever allowed to happen? Mom let us run around the neighborhood, unsupervised, for hours at a time.  I remember about this age riding a tricycle around the block, age 3 or 4, completely naked, and other kids laughing at me and telling me to go home and put on clothes. Why was I riding a bike around the neighborhood, naked? Somehow, this teenage molester lured me in and did his thing. I remember mom and dad’s eyes growing huge and fearful as I described the dark haired, pimply guy and what he did to me…..a few months later, they sold the house, and we moved away.

I remember you and I playing in some dirt, when we moved to the new Briaridge house, that was freshly sprayed with DDT (or something worse ? malathion? A super strong pesticide that stung our skin) and dad came home, saw us playing in it- who knows what mom was doing -  and found out and started screaming. He grabbed us both and put us in the tub and started washing us roughly, then mom came rushing in and told him it wasn’t appropriate for him to scrub us, so she rinsed us off and said she was done. Whatever the toxic chemical was that we were covered in, dad was more scared than angry. Mom was just as calm and oblivious as ever.  

I remember dad was the one who encouraged me with my art. I won a prize in 2nd grade for a drawing, and he then forced mom to drive me to art lessons, after school. We carpooled with Dorothy, which was how I met her. It was around that time that mom began to think of me as “like dad” and you as “like her”. I think this was your doom. I got to create my own identity, be a separate person, set my own boundaries, psychologically; you did not.

I know that mom never let me have a birthday party, except one time, when I was 10. I don’t remember you ever having any, either. My gfs and I sat around the dining room table and ate cupcakes. It was not a slumber party. We were not allowed to play any games or move around the house. You know what birthday parties were typically like, in our era? I went to dozens of my friends’ parties. I went to slumber parties, parties at Shakee’s Pizza, parties at putt-putt golf, parties at the movies, at restaurants, at the mall, the skating rink, parties where we played games like  “Mystery Date” and “Mouse Trap”. Parties where we shopped and had lunch at The Magic Pan. Every friend I had got to have a birthday party every year. But we didn’t. Calan threw me a surprise birthday party for my 16th birthday, and I ran out the back kitchen door in a panic. I was afraid. I didn’t know how to react. It was a “Polynesian” themed tiki party. It was awesome.

I remember being around 12 and starting to grow, and dad was the one who told mom I needed a bra, and new bigger clothes that fit, bc the old ones were too tight and “revealing”. I had been wearing the same one pink nightgown since I was 7 and I looked like a hillbilly. It was tattered, torn, and had holes in it. Mom cut all my hair off- we had a big fight over that- and bought me a book on menstruation, but never once had a conversation with me about it. She never bought me tampons or anything else, either, makeup or shampoo or deodorant or anything else. I just had to take stuff from her cache.  I had to figure out how to use it all by myself. To this day, Rick makes fun of me for having a thing about towels; I trace it back to all four of us having to share those two ratty thin worn ones (from dad’s days in the Navy) when we bathed, growing up. Why did we all use our parents’ bathroom mostly, the glassed in shower- why did no one ever spend the few dollars to buy a shower curtain for one of the other bathrooms?  Or stock it with soap, shampoo, t.p.? Wtf? Yet our parents owned a travel trailer and later a pop-top camper, and at once time had as many as three cars. So the issue wasn’t money, per se. The issue was running a house, raising children and taking care of the domestic aspects of our lives. Mom didn’t go back to work till I was 13 – so I had a stay at home mom the first 12 years of my life. What was she doing all that time that she couldn’t be bothered to clean the house, go to the grocery store, manage a home or take care of us? Do you remember the awful black mold in that one shower we all used? One word, mom: Clorox.

You know what I loved about spending time at Dorothy’s lake house? It wasn’t just the swimming and water-skiing all day long, or the golf lessons or lunch at the country club, playing video games, hiking, golf carting, her giant tree house and general fun. It was that her parents created a real home. Meals were served, like normal, on time. Cereal, pancakes or eggs, for breakfast. Sandwiches fruit and chips for lunch. Dinner was real meals : spaghetti, pepper steak, friend chicken, meatloaf. Mrs Murray ran a tight ship: All Dorothy’s friends learned to do the laundry, fold and put it away. To clean the kitchen and help prepare meals. To clean the house, and help her do yard work and in the garden. But it was a home, a real home, and I loved it. 

I know mom was angry with dad for developing his schizophrenia, you like could control that (which I recall as suddenly becoming more acute around 1972-3; my therapist says I just became mature enough to notice it then, but I am not so sure. I do know we all got the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69 and were so sick we nearly died, Granny didn’t even come for Christmas that year, and neither mom nor dad were ever the same.), and for losing his job, and for “ruining her life” by forcing her to go back to work, screwing up their finances, etc. I also know this: What did mom ever do to try and get dad medical help? If my husband suddenly started acting unbalanced or crazy, the first thing I would do is take him to see the family physician, and talk to the dr. about it. Nag, trick, threaten or force him to get treatment. The sad thing about our dad is, he did finally get medical treatment for his schizophrenia at the end of his life, when he was in the nursing home. He came back into his right mind, was his old sweet self. One simple Rx. I think of his productive life that was wasted. Spending time with him then was healing for me. We spoke of many things, and he asked me to take care of you.

As soon as I could at age 16, I got a job. You know what I bought with my first paycheck? A bathrobe for mom, bc the one she had was so tattered. I felt ashamed to see her wear it to go out and get the paper each day. After that, I bought myself what I needed- incl tampons, makeup, clothes, etc. I learned what I needed from my girlfriends and by reading magazines. I moved on, and prepared to move out. I remember you did not work- mom kept dangling just enough money at you to keep you unemployed, offering to buy you what you needed, if only you would consider continuing the music career. Even at the time, I viewed this as a manipulation, a way to keep you helpless and dependent on her. Had you gotten a job, you would have grown in confidence. You would have figured out for yourself, much earlier in your life, that a music career, however pleasant and admirable, was a dead end. You would have prepared to leave her, too. Grown stronger, less angry.

When I left home and headed off to college, I vowed never to return. I can only imagine how bad it became for you after I left. (Mostly by hearing Rick’s stories of what his younger brother endured when Rick left his childhood home. He too, has a dysfunctional dynamic, but an entirely different one.) I made periodic attempts to incorporate you in my social life, my “family of choice” aka my friends, but you had not learned yet the needed social skills. Even in our 20's, you still felt there was something to "get" on me that could be reported to mom or used against me, later. You made your own bed; I let you lie in it. I never invited you to visit me, meet my friends, go on vacation. I put you in my wedding at mom's behest and you had one task: play the French Horn. You blew it. I couldn't make you a bridesmaid bc you had no social skills. 

Decades passed and every contact I had with you, you showed up and looked for some angle in which to try and manipulate me, or else stole something: Greg’s books from our home in Houston, a rocking chair from our home in NY. It was so damn odd, and just cemented the idea of how off balance your thinking was. What goes through the mind of someone who does that kind of stuff? You ask me for an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, and you come to my house, bring your cat, eat at my table, and then stomp off with a rocking chair strapped to the roof of your car, while it is snowing heavily? Every time I visited mom’s home, more furniture of hers was missing: her hallway table, mom’s piano, the pair of Victorian chairs. Did taking these things make you feel empowered somehow? Did they fill the void? Did you ever play the piano you hauled off? Did taking things that belonged to other people make you feel like you had power over them? Like you were somehow getting back at them? Taking from them something equal to what you felt had been taken from you? They were such odd things to take, too- did you truly need them? What did these things represent to you? I learned early on not to care, to just let you go, and to buy what I wanted to replace them. With my own money, that I earned myself. Empowering! My therapist suggests you were angry, acting out, and taking things to get our attention, and also to “take” symbolically what you never got: love, attention, a place in the family, etc. 


Here’s the thing: I have always assumed you were as intelligent as I am – we come from the same stock- but you don’t act like it. I can’t decide if your problem is one of intelligence, or emotional issues that cloud your intelligence. Your showing up and stealing things at random intervals are impulsive acts – not carefully thought out. There were better things for you to steal than my antique gold watch (which I bought when I lived in Houston), some old art books dad gave me, or mom’s furniture and jewelry.  You just didn’t think it all through. These behaviors reveal a lack of self-control on your part. A lack of calculation; that’s how I know you are hurting. The art books are the tell-tale clue; they can easily be replaced, and have been. But you can never “steal” the relationship dad and I had, that involved art- what the books represented. If the universe is a zero sum game, and what is not Kristie’s must be Karen’s, and what is not Karen’s goes to Kristie, you failed to look at the bigger picture. Somehow you did not foresee the trouble you would cause yourself with the “great faux stolen French horn incident”. I can only assume that the ill will you caused for yourself with the Plano police dept. and Collin County criminal court over your false police report for a theft that never occurred is what has kept you in check against me, all these years. The slapped hand “mom look what she did” thing worked so well for you, when we were little, but backfired when you filed false charges of theft in a high dollar amount, so easily verified. You didn't even have the courage to resolve that one on your own, but skipped town, and made mom do it. That's your cowardice showing.

You also failed to see that while mom loved to whine about me to you (and vice-versa, part of her triangulation of the two of us) she would not let you harm her only grandchild. She would tell the truth to save him, even if she was mad at me. You have to look at these events and family dynamics a few steps into the future, like a chess game. The gross miscalculation you made when you threatened Will, as a baby, was surprising. Firstly, bc of your hubris- that you thought somehow you were even a player, with any power or control at all, in the divorce situation between Greg and I. That one made me laugh. It clearly revealed your grandiose notions of your self, your mistaken idea of your own importance, a self-conceived idea that you were the center of the universe. Why not? In the triangulation between you, mom and me, you were. But I left that little dance, years before. Secondly, that you were so threatened when I was down, needing financial help and other support, going through my divorce. Why did that threaten you? I’d have thought you would relish it. Something in you assessed that situation and thought somehow you could use it to your advantage, but you miscalculated how to do it – to get what? Mom to love you any more? More money from her? Did you not realize she had plenty for us both? To get me to leave her home sooner, so you could move back home and be the kid that lives at home forever, never has a life? Or did you just want me to be uncomfortable, when you stole my bed and furniture? Uncomfortable like you had been, all those years? Only thing is, I wasn’t- I just went out and bought a new bed. That’s how my getting a job at age 16, and learning to take care of myself at an early age, being self-sufficient all my life, has taught me to be empowered. 

But the worst miscalculation you made was regarding your own life: Because you were so busy treating me like trash, you failed to see that a relationship with me might have benefits for you, eventually. So much ugliness passed between us as children and teens/young adults, it probably never seemed imaginable that there could have been a path forward towards fun, adventures, connectedness, nurturing and healing.  Are you lonely now, as an old woman, with no family? Who remembers your birthday, buys you gifts for Christmas? invites you to join in on holiday dinners and vacations? All these years, you could have been a member of my family- spending summers at the beach house in OBX, visiting Bill in Paris or NYC, getting to know Rick’s family, riding his uncle Barry’s boat up and down the Potomac, having a family to spend time with, to love you. To create memories and celebrate the milestones. You see, you thought of Will only as a pawn to be passed around like a football and threatened, when it suited your purpose. You never thought that someday he would grow up into a person, part of a loving family that has given me what I never got as a child, and could have been given to you, too.

Since I first wrote this piece, I have continued my therapy, exploring the idea of mom as a non typical narcissist. If you can get away from the idea of narcissists as extroverts, but simply apply the checklist of behaviors she engaged in, it fits. She actively created the life and the family dynamic we were raised in, as her appendages, even though she always seemed so passive and helpless. That was just her shtick. I was the scapegoat, you were the flying monkey. She pushed me away, but she actively used and manipulated you to do whatever she wanted done but couldn't bring herself to actively do. She couldn’t “get” you to go to nursery school, which would have freed her up to work. So she stayed home to take care of you, because she didn’t want to go to work. You had “allergies” which necessitated certain menus......do you still have those allergies today? Same with the choice of pet. All of your "needs", which dictated our family menu and lifestyle, came from what she said about you. None of it was ever verified. Letting me go away for weekends and summers with Dorothy gave her more time to spend with you, her favorite. Did you have fun with her during those times? What did the two of you do? Did you get more attention? Or was it easier for her to ignore one child, rather than two?

The most evil thing she did was to manipulate you, whenever she was mad at me, to do her bidding. She couldn’t show her anger at me directly when I was getting married and moving out, so she invited you over, and the two of you went through my belongings and stole whatever you both felt like taking. That' ll show me! It all backfired on her when she had to testify before the Collin County grand jury. That calmed her down a bit. Made her realize she needed to think twice about things. Yet she called you in when the nursing home wouldn’t release her because she had dementia. And every time, you came running. You did what she wanted you to do. Was any of it ever your sole idea? Did it benefit you?

I showed my kids The Fountainhead a couple of weeks ago to teach them some of these life lessons:
Bad guy with a sinister smile: “We’re all alone here. Tell me what you really think of me...“
Good guy with no expressi
on at all: “But I don’t think of you.“ Turns and walks off. 
That is power. Power over self. When you have that kind of power, two great things happen: 1) Nobody else’s words/actions can hurt you. 2) You never seek to hurt anybody else with yours, because you derive no benefit from it.

Well, you lied about mom's will, and stole my inheritance from me and my sons, her only grand kids. That was 5 years ago. Since then, you’ve blown through a half a million dollars, been fired for the second time, had your home foreclosed on, and filed for bankruptcy. You are 54 years old with no career, no home, no money, no family. All of these things just tell me that you are still just spinning, acting/reacting to life without a clear sense of who you are, what your purpose is, what the meaning of your life is. For someone with several masters degrees and is also a CPA, this financial irresponsibility on your part screams a cry for help. Erroneously thinking that taking money, and taking things - from me, from mom, from my sons- will stop the pain inside. Please get yourself some help. As I said at the beginning, I love you, I forgive you. I feel sorry for you. But I won’t allow you to destroy my peace and happiness. Godspeed.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/22/well/no-one-helped-my-mentally-ill-mother-or-me.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below