I’m the mother of a toddler and a newborn; minding my own business, slopping around the kitchen in Uggs and a dressing gown.
I take a slurp of coffee, open up my Facebook account and there it is. I frown, and click on the new message in bold.
You look evil, the message says. Ugly hair too, the writer adds.
It’s my sister. I haven’t seen or heard from her in over two years.
My mother uses the term schizophrenic, although it’s never been formally diagnosed. The truth is, it runs deeper than that. The problems are complex; and involve issues of parental abandonment, divorce, mixed families and mental health.
I haven’t written anything since my partner and I had children, but this recent event has jolted me back into life. It’s time to write. I can’t hold this story in anymore.
I am my mother’s third child, the first born of a second marriage. My sister was in her early teens when I was born. Growing up, Alexandra was my hero. I thought of her as part-sister, part-mum.
But by the time I was in primary school, Alex, a talented songwriter and singer, was well into a party life, decorated with all the likely trimmings including marijuana and ecstasy. My parents made little attempt to hide the fact from their much younger children .
“She’s on drugs” was the default explanation for bouts of emotional hysteria, aggression and long periods of absence from the family.
Her room was littered with unwashed clothes and had the not unpleasant smell of patchouli oil and faint body odour. I used to sneak in there, and try on her clothes. I constantly missed her.
Occasionally, when she was home, she would flick me a bit of time to play me songs on the guitar. We would harmonise on the piano. She once packed my lunch for school and picked me up as a surprise. I relished these events. Sure, she was difficult, but I idolised my big sister.
Watch the Mamamia Team’s last texts from their sisters:
The will of a child to love is quite remarkable. The first time she hurt me, it was Easter time. She was being kicked out of home again. All her belongings were placed on the front step. I was shattered.
Determined to make a gesture of love and allegiance, I put my ten-year-old thinking cap on. I raced around collecting materials to make a card. I tucked it into an Ugg boot on the front step, with one of my precious Easter eggs. “I love you Al. Happy Easter”.
When mum and I returned home that afternoon, Alex had collected her things. The egg was smashed on the door mat, the card discarded. My little heart broke. A note by the phone read “f*ck your Easter egg”.’
I saw her rarely during my high school years, but she was always delighted to see me when I visited. The visits started nicely but usually ended with me mentally clawing at the door for air after long-winded, pot-fuelled rants about how much she hated our parents. She picked on my weight or my nail biting or my eczema. She was lonely and beginning to emotionally unravel.
My idol-worship had well and truly come to an end after leaving high school. Sitting at my local cafe in the eastern suburbs, she spoke loudly and aggressively about what she perceived to be the suburb’s atmospheric vices. She degraded its residents calling them uncultured. Fellow diners shot us unimpressed glances. I sat humiliated.
There were darker instances. One involving running eyeliner and a bathroom confessional of sex work. “Your sister is a whore, how does that make you feel?” I assured her I loved her, and she had a family who loved her too. Was that said to hurt me? Did she want me to feel sorry for her? She did. And I did.
I could never shake the feeling she resented me. The attacks on the eczema, the area I lived in… it was me she never really liked.
She finally asked me never to contact her again because I put my wedding so close to the birth of her child. I had booked the venue before she fell pregnant. I felt guilty at how relieved I was to finally be free of the drama. Until now.
The point I want to make is this. How much leniency do you give to an adult who behaves in a socially unacceptable way? Do we give them more or less leniency if they have a mental health issue? What if the psychosis is acquired through years of drug abuse? How long do you try to heal the emotional wounds of loved ones? How do you continue to love someone who hates you? I thought I could put angry fires out with love. Sadly, love is not always the cure.
Are people let off the hook too easily with modern society’s tendency to over-medicalise? What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned diagnosis of arsehole?
I didn’t have a choice to avoid being hurt at ten. But today I am an adult. I have given it my best and I am relinquishing myself of a force that has generated negative feelings my entire life. And it’s so simple. I have a block button and I’m not afraid to use it. Today, I’m pushing BLOCK, baby.
And by the way; I have great hair.
Do you have any advice for the author when it comes to dealing with troubled family relationships?