Hi Guys. CJ here. I still need to identify myself before each post so that people don’t think that Craig has gone “all girly” over night. Hope you’re well and surviving the Christmas lunacy. On with the show (as you-know-who says)…
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
Have I ever mentioned to you that I’m a middle child? Only about twenty or thirty times, huh? Clearly I have no issues about it at all Being the Jan Brady of my family presents some challenges. One of them is called Marcia (for today). Let’s just say that our relationship is a little strained. Actually, we don’t have a relationship; I haven’t spoken to Marcia for about four years. Nup. Not a phone call, birthday card, Christmas card: nothing.
Farewell Dutch Nana
Prior to December 2005, I can’t remember having any contact with Marcia for at least three or four years. Then, as often happens, a funeral forced all the dispersed members of my family including uncles, aunts and twenty or so I-wouldn’t-be-able-to-recognise-you-in-a-police-line-up cousins to converge on a little town to say goodbye to a very strong and unique woman: my dear Nana.
The morning of the funeral, Cindy (younger sister) and I were running uncharacteristically late as we drove around in circles peering through the mist, struggling to find the church which I had assured Cindy I could easily locate, having been there once for my Opa’s funeral over ten years earlier. It seemed somehow appropriate that it was a cold, foggy, and gothically gloomy day, even though it was the middle of an Australian summer. Sunshine always seems so insensitive and unsympathetic at a funeral. Maybe God really is Catholic. Or maybe He just likes my Nana.
When we eventually stumbled upon the church, we had to sheepishly scurry down the aisle like two late schoolgirls to where our parents were sitting with Marcia in the front row. I found the funeral upsetting and bizarre, not only because of the unfamiliar Catholic ‘bells and smells’ but because my Nana and I have exactly the same name. Hearing my name being repeatedly put to rest throughout the service was like witnessing a strange and disturbing preview of my own funeral. Very disconcerting.
Do I Know You? Oh, That’s Right, You’re My Sister
It wasn’t until much later during the wake (Why is it called that? It’s not as if the guest-of-honour is expected to ‘wake’ up, is it? Although, I suppose ‘after-party’ doesn’t really fit either.) that Marcia and I found ourselves next to each other:
CJ: How are you?
MB: Good. You?
CJ: Fine, thanks, but sad about Nana.
Cousin Anthony (calling): Can everyone come over here for a cousin photo?
CJ: We’d better …
So that was it. That was our most lengthy, heart-felt, sisterly conversation for the past eight years. Geez, I’m glad I don’t have to write a three-hour script based on that little interaction.
You’re probably wondering ‘What the hell happened?’ to make two sisters so estranged. I wish I could recount an exciting and dramatic tale involving lies, deceit and betrayal – perhaps a controversial and divisive will from a distant aunt or even a soap-opera-style love triangle. It would be a lot more interesting and easier for you to understand than the tediously honest explanation:
We just don’t like each other. At all. And we never have.
When I was little, I often imagined that Marcia and I were not actually sisters, that there had been a tragic mix-up at the hospital when I was born and that one day my ‘real’ family would come to collect me. Do you think maybe it’s time to let go of that particular fantasy? Yes, Marcia and I have the same parents – just as indisputably as Cindy and I have the same parents. But that’s our only connection.
I have simply always known that she didn’t like me. There was no specific point of realisation or tragic event which illustrated the lack of expected sisterly love. If you were to ask someone to pinpoint when they realised they were human, or when they learnt their own name you would get the same response – they’ve just always known.
Sometimes our mutual contempt would erupt into savage warfare – especially during the tumultuous teenage period – but mostly the years have passed in an unofficial truce of silent indifference and apathetic disconnection. We each get on with our lives in separate, parallel worlds with our parents being the only junction – and they have finally learnt to accept that two of their daughters are like strangers to each other.
Our society sets some fairly rigid guidelines about who we are supposed to love. We are expected to love our parents, our siblings, our children and assorted relatives to appropriate degrees which are usually determined by their position on a hierarchy of closeness. Most of the time the love arrives exactly as anticipated and it is effortless, infinite and indestructible. Sometimes we don’t particularly like a family member or have anything in common with them but we can still recognise that we love them and that we will always be there for them. And, occasionally, we don’t like them or love them. It happens.
If I Try Really, Really Hard Could I Make Myself Love Her?
There are some rare moments, usually just after watching a schmaltzy Hollywood film, when I believe for an instant that it might be possible to force myself to love Marcia. Surely I could do this one small thing to make my parents happy? Surely I could manufacture some love through sheer strength of will? However, as many of us have learnt through painful experience, feelings are just feelings. Commanding our hearts to love someone because of pity, obligation or convenience is as pointless as watering a plant that died years ago and expecting its brittle branches to bloom.
Similarly, ordering our hearts to stop loving someone is futile – like trying to ‘unknow’ a secret told to us in error. If only it could be as easy as clicking ‘unfriend’ on Facebook to delete our love for the parents who can’t love us in return, the fruitless yet captivating lover, the apathetic partner or the toxic friend. Of course, just because we cannot stop loving someone does not mean that we have to volunteer to be their doormat. A toxic friend may need to be strategically ‘performance-managed out of the organisation’ even though our heart may scream ‘No!’.
Can’t I Just Pretend?
Sometimes I feel guilty that even if I cannot actually love Marcia, I haven’t made more of an effort to pretend that I do. I don’t hate her (I don’t hate anyone, frankly) and I’m sure that she must have some good characteristics that I have been blind to. Perhaps I’m being childish and lazy? But then I recall the ferocity and bitterness of our arguments; the lack of any common ground and the painful awkwardness of our parents stuck in the middle. Oh, and the fact that she hates my guts. It may be a cop-out but some things are just better left alone.
Besides, we are all struggling nowadays to spend enough time with the people we do love. One cool thing about being a grown-up is that we are allowed to choose our friends – the people with whom we connect and hang out with. I would rather share my precious time, mediocre cooking and limited repertoire of amusing stories with the people I genuinely, effortlessly love than with those whom the ‘rules’ stipulate I should.
Free to a Good Home: One Sister, Barely Used
So there it is. I probably won’t see Marcia again until the next funeral – which could take some time given that we have now run out of grandparents. I’m ok with that, really.
So this is where you come in; to offer a little perspective and wisdom. Or maybe just an honest opinion. I would value and appreciate your responses to some (or all) of these questions:
1. Is there something wrong with me for not loving my own sister?
2. Is it okay that we don’t love a sibling (or other family member) or is there some kind of biblical, emotional or sociological rule that I don’t know about. You know; the one that says we go to hell if we don’t love our sister. Oh shit.
3. Can we ‘will’ ourselves to love a particular person? Do we need to have the ‘feeling’ (of love) or can it just be a choice we make? That is, love without the normal (expected) emotions.
4. Should we love people because “we’re meant to”, or should we love them because we want to?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.