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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fighting For One's Place

Being the youngest of my siblings was not without challenges. After all, Margit was nine, John was seven, and Liz was just six days from her sixth birthday when I showed up and ruined it for everyone. Well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement. I think John's feelings may have been neutral, although he did enjoy having a third sister to scare and torture. Margit thought it was fun having a living doll to play with and enjoy. But poor Liz really got the shaft.

I imagine that Mama was dealing with ongoing depression by the time her fourth, and probably unexpected, child arrived. So Liz was drafted to help with my care. From what she has told me, I was a very good baby. I had a reasonably good disposition, and slept when I was supposed to, ate well, and generally was fairly easy to live with. It was almost as if, at the age of six, she was my Little Mama. I sometimes lovingly and gratefully call her that. In order to have her take care of me, however, our parents held her back from starting first grade. For all of her years in school, she was older than everyone else in her grade level. It must have been difficult. 

We've never really discussed it as adults, but I know that my arrival caused a great deal of resentment on her part. She had been the baby of the family, and suddenly was displaced by me. What did she get for her sixth birthday? She got to go to church for my baptism. Gosh, sounds special and fun, doesn't it? She probably got gifts too, but a great deal of the focus was on me that day. A part of me can completely understand how much it must have hurt her to go from being the youngest, and the apple of her Papa's eye, to being just another one of the kids. And have to change my poopy diapers, to boot. I don't know if that resentment has ever fully resolved itself within her. It hurts me in many ways; nobody likes to be the rock that tipped over someone else's apple cart. But even though it was my fault, it wasn't my fault. Like her, I was an innocent pawn in that particular game of chess. But I believe it has affected, and will continue to affect, our relationship forever.

It took a long time for me to figure out why Liz always seemed to act out against me. If she wasn't being cruel in some way, she was more than willing to try and find a way to get me into trouble. In her experience, my arrival, and the love that I received, had taken away from the love that she was getting. I feel certain that those scars will never heal. There is almost a sense of competitiveness in her, an eagerness to make sure that she is the most liked or the most loved. She has a hunger for love that seems difficult to fill. Sadly, she has not learned, or realized, that love is one of the few things that doesn't diminish when it is given freely. It is not finite, but grows the more it spreads, just like seeds on rich, damp earth. There is a fear in her, I think, that love given to others lessens the amount that will be left for her. I find this heartbreaking, and am powerless to do anything to change her deep-seated feelings.

When I was growing up, I often wished that I could be more like my sister. She could be so charming, and always had lots of friends. She was pretty and vivacious and boys liked her. I was the ugly duckling that never became a swan. I was able to make some friends, and I could chatter away with other girls. I made good grades in school without much effort, and I enjoyed the two times that I was allowed to act in school plays. But the boys stayed away in droves. So I made sure to be bright, since I wasn't the pretty social butterfly. Although my sister drove me crazy, I envied her. When she tried to get me in trouble, or make Gram dislike me, it tore me apart. But not nearly as much as the things she said to me when she got older. 

At an age when most people begin to discard their childhood jealousies, hers were still in full flower. When she was nearly twenty years old, she told me that she had always hated me. Who expects to hear that from an adult sibling? She added that she had always hoped that someone would drop me on my head when I was a baby, so that I would die. I was devastated, but it made a lot of other things fall into place. From then on, I had a different perspective when she said hateful things to me or tried her best to destroy Gram's love for me. She was still trying to fight for her place in the sun of everyone's love. She was afraid that my presence was placing her in the shade. Would she have felt differently if she had known the fear that I lived with? If she knew how afraid I was of people's disapproval and anger, would it have changed things? 

Probably not. There will always be a fierce love between us, along with an inability to live together. It would cause us both too much anger and pain. I would be a constant reminder of the love she thought she lost, and the love she might still somehow lose. And she would be a reminder to me of the pain that my very existence caused and created for her. And we would be constantly engaged in the endless and pointless dance of fighting for our place in the world, in our family, and in the distribution of love.