Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Year of Sundays, Chapter 1, Part 3

Chapter 1 - May 1
 part 3 of 4

Of all of us, Melanie was always the beautiful one. It was hard to see these days because she made almost no effort to keep herself up, but when we were children, people would stop us on the street to admire her. I might have resented it, but she was just one year older than me, and I thought she was beautiful, too. I wanted to be everything she was, and I had no doubt that I could be. Until the bad thing. We got Melanie back, of course, but she was never the same.

She grew up the family peace-keeper, and resident devil's advocate. She always smoothed everything over, made us see each other's point of view, and wanted everybody to get along and play nice. Which is funny, because her own life was a train wreck that crashed from one crisis to another. She was the one who got drunk at a party and knocked up by a stranger. Oh, the family scandal. Well, not really. She was twenty-four when Caleb was born, well past being a teenager, so it never was much of a scandal. Now she's thirty-four and Caleb is ten, and the stranger actually has custody of Caleb, so he's not entirely a stranger anymore.

I waited, kind of breathless, in my closet, wondering if Mother and Mel were going to talk about the biggest secret of all.

"My precious girl," Mother said. "Come here. Right on my bed, yes, like that."

I heard a squeak, then a sob, and realized that my sister was crying. Melanie never cried. And I mean never.

"Oh, my lost, lost girl," my mother crooned, and I imagined my mother with her arms around my sister. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." She was crying, too.

"It wasn't your fault." My sister said in a strong voice, pushing back the tears. "Stop now, Mom. We've done this a hundred times. We don't have to do it again."

"I'm your mother. Of course it was my fault. I lost track of you."

Melanie sighed. "You had four children, and lost track of one of them for 5 minutes at your brother's funeral. It's forgivable, Mother."

"What happened to you will never be forgivable. Those three days – " My mother's voice broke.

"I know, Mom, I know. But the truth is, I hardly ever think of it anymore. I don't even have dreams, and I haven't for years. He'll be in prison for a long, long time. And if he gets out, well..." Her laugh was sharp and without humor. "I'm far beyond the little girl I was."

"You stopped being a little girl when he took you."

"I forgive you. I didn't blame you then, and I don't blame you now. Please, forgive yourself and let it go."

"How can I?" Our mother asked. "Your life is so hard. The medications, the bad spots, the hospital."

"I live from moment to moment, Mom. I'm okay right now, and I'm grateful for it. My brain chemistry gets out of whack – who knows if being kidnapped when I was ten has anything to do with it at all. Plenty of people suffer from bi-polar disorder. People with perfect lives. People who were never hurt at all. It's random, like everything else."

"How do you know so much?" Mom asked Melanie.

"They do teach us stuff at the hospital, you know, when we wake up enough to learn. I have all kinds of information about being bi-polar. I take a lot of credit for being healthy these past months. I'm doing the right things. And when I have a fall, I'll take responsibility for doing the wrong things, too. I don't talk about what happened to me. In fact, with every passing year it's easier and easier to pretend that it never happened at all."

I was amazed, upstairs in my closet, at how much insight my sister had. It was like she was comforting our mom with last words, not the other way around. But maybe it had to be that way between them. Maybe my mom needed to hear it, because I heard her sharp intake of breath.

"You can do that, pretend it never happened?"

"I have to, Mom. If I obsess about it, think on it, try to remember every detail, then I'll surely get sick. You have to let some things go in order to move on. I've let it go. And you will, too. Even if it kills you."
Melanie laughed then, and I don't think she meant it to sound as harsh as it did.

"Okay, Mom, I'll tell you my last request, and then you can tell me yours, okay? When you look at me, stop seeing the lost girl and start seeing the found girl."

I heard my mother's deep breaths. Here breathing got loud and scary when she got emotional. "Okay," she said in a soft voice that made her sound like the girl, not the mother. "I will. I promise. Silas is staying tonight. Will you come tomorrow after he goes to work? Because I'll need a little practice looking at my found girl."

"Of course," Mel said, and her voice was relieved.

Funny, how well sisters knew each other, and at the same time know nothing. I had no idea what happened to Melanie while she was gone. Only that she was kidnapped from our uncle's funeral, and she was gone for three days. And then she came home. She didn't speak for a full week, not one word, but cried every night. And the day she started speaking, she stopped crying. We shared a bedroom back then because I was afraid of the dark, but Melanie never was, not before those three days, and not after. The morning she finally talked, I woke up to find her standing next to my bed, staring at me, her face completely blank.

"Mellie," I gasped, scared as all get out. "What's the matter?"

I didn't expect an answer, because she hadn't talked since she came home. But the blank look disappeared and she was my beloved sister again, and her eyes flashed as she spoke. She said, "Nothing happened to me. Nothing. So I'm not going to talk about it. Ever." I almost shouted with joy because her voice had been painfully missing from our house, and when she started talking again, I thought she was okay.

As I grew older, I figured out that a lot of things had happened to Melanie over the course of those three days, scary adult things, but she hadn't been lying when she announced that she would never talk about it. Ever.

"So, Mama," Melanie said to our mother in a teasing voice. "What did you tell Silas and Elizabeth?"
Our mother laughed. "Oh, I shouldn't tell you. It won't be fair."

"Who cares?" Melanie asked. "Tell me anyway. You know it's never fair."

They both started giggling, and I realized there was a private joke between them that I didn't understand.
And then my mother told her, and I couldn't believe it.

"Silas has a secret. I told him he has to tell you girls. And I told Elizabeth to go back to school and forget about having babies. And I'm going to tell you something, too."

"Okay," Melanie said.

"I'm proud of you, my beautiful, found daughter. I'm proud of the way you manage your illness. I'm proud of you when you are well – I know it takes a lot of work. And I'm sad when you're not well, but I always have faith that you will do what you need to do to get well again. And I truly believe, of all my children, that you are the strongest. I want you to use that. When the others get stuck in petty arguments, when they make themselves blind to what's important, I want your voice to rise above the rest and tell them what's what. You have the ability to see things clearly in an instant, and to know exactly what the solution is. So you give them what-for, if you have to, on my behalf."

I could hear satisfaction in my sister's voice when she answered. "Oh, I will. You can bet that I will."

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