I have some questions

She had large green eyes, long sandy blonde hair and stood tall at 5′ 8″. She signed up with Barbizon Modeling Agency to become a model at 16. They made her cut her long locks into a shoulder length bob. She cried in the bathroom for hours about it. I heard her. I felt bad for her. I was 9. She was my older sister that I looked up to. I thought she was so beautiful. She had smooth skin with no freckles, while I had dry and freckled skin. She had an aloofness that I found attractive and it made me want to be closer to her. She was young, pretty and exciting.

I shared a small room in the back of our house with her when my family moved to Northern California from Southern California. We each had a twin bed, and we shared a dresser, desk and a cramped closet. My brothers shared a room across the hall from us. My 2 older siblings had already moved out and were living together in a small apartment about 20 minutes from us.

My father was depressed. He had gotten fired from his job in Southern California. We had a beautiful home there with a view of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. My dad grew up in England and living near the beach was his dream. Every room in our house faced the ocean with large floor to ceiling windows. I was the youngest of 6 children and there was plenty of room for all of us in this large home. The kids had the whole downstairs complete with a second living room, TV, and steps to the pool outside. But, when I was 7 years old my dad came down the stairs, sat on a coffee table in the center family room and broke into tears. He said he lost his job. I remember my green eyed, beautiful sister hugging him so hard while he cried. I just watched as I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t understand what was happening. But I remember feeling admiration for my sister because she seemed to know what to do.

We moved to Northern California to a house that was half the size. My father was quiet and depressed as he commuted an hour each way to his new job. My sister and I didn’t talk about much in our shared room. But every once in a while she would wake up in the middle of the night and ask me to hold her hand. She would tell me that she was scared. I didn’t know or ask what she was scared about, but I would put my hand out for her to hold. We would both fall back asleep.

I mostly hung out with my brothers, as my sister began dating and going out with her new friends. When she was 18 she came home with a diamond ring on her finger and said that her boyfriend had asked to marry her. She was excited. She told me in confidence that she had been scared that no one would ever want to marry her. I didn’t ask her why she felt that way, I just listened. It was also her way to leave our house, and to not share a room with an 11 year old. She got married at 19. I cried because she was leaving me.

She moved to Bakersfield, and I would take the train down to visit her when I was in High School. She had her own apartment, and she had friends that were married too. They were adults. They owned houses and cars, and some of them had babies. I thought they were all so grown up. She would treat me like one of the girls and invite me out with her friends. It felt good being with them. I would listen to their gossip about their husbands, jobs, babies and friends. My older sister was cool, she was pretty. I admired her. I would think about how much I missed her, as I would take the train home, back to the bedroom I now had to myself.

When I was 20, I left my parent’s home to go away to college. I moved into a dorm at UC Santa Barbara, located on the Pacific Ocean. I was anxious but excited to move out on my own. My sister would drive over from Bakersfield and visit me. She bought a red corvette and she would show up in it at my school. I felt special, I felt cool. She would drive me around town and take me out, and talk to me about her life. I would listen, and be glad to be with her.

She was my mentor, my idol, my beautiful older sister. When I graduated college and got a job in San Francisco she would come visit me. Our relationship started to change though as I began to question our family. I started to ask my mom questions about the abusive events of our past, which my mom didn’t like. My sister would say to me, ‘I don’t understand you, but I support you.’ I had listened most of my life to her and not said much. But now that I started to speak my truth our relationship suffered. She didn’t want to take the time to see my point of view. She seemed to feel that the fact that she was still coming to see me when our mother was not happy with me was action enough to prove her love. But we started to drift apart. She blamed me. If I didn’t question our mother then all would be ok. I was starting trouble. I started to feel like an outsider even when it was just her and I together. I could feel her judgement. I judged her too. Why wasn’t she questioning anything about our family? What was her absolute adoration of our mother really all about?

She left her husband after 16 years of marriage, and a few years later I got married. She didn’t have children with her first husband and when I called to tell her I was pregnant, she was silent. She said that in all honesty she had to tell me that she was jealous. I appreciated her honesty but I was hurt. She wasn’t happy for me.

I moved to Portland Oregon shortly after my baby was born. I was determined to start a new life, and hoping to leave all of the confusion and hurt of my past behind. I poured all of my energy into my new family. My family drama and my sister went on the back burner for me. My sister remarried and became a stepmom to 4 children. But I wasn’t involved in any of it. I didn’t see her for 16 years.

I didn’t agree with our mother’s treatment of us. She was abusive, cruel and manipulative. My sister became closer with her after my marriage. My sister told me on the phone one day that we probably wouldn’t be able to be close until after my mom died. I just listened. It hurt.

My mom died 4 years ago. Me and my sister are the most distant we have ever been. My family shamed me because I stepped out of my role as the quiet youngest sibling and started asking questions. This wasn’t allowed in my family. I took on that shame and guilt and it made me feel bad about myself. For years, I thought that one moment of clarity and understanding with my sister would absolve me of my burden of guilt and shame that I had carried around for most of my life. I felt that if she understood me, somehow that would allow me release my guilt over questioning my mom and therefore ruining our relationship.

But I know now that is never going to happen. We have grown apart. I will never understand her for not questioning anything about our family, and she will never understand why I did. My questions to my mom became an insurmountable barrier between me and my sister. The questions never were answered, but it was the reluctance on my mom’s part to answer them and the damage that it did to our family that show their significance.

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  1. This is a powerful and transparent post. I applaud you for asking the difficult questions even though you didn’t get answers. I hope your sister works through her pain and begins to seek answers. Blessings to you 🙏
    xx, Lisa

    1. I first started asking questions in my 20’s. My mom got very upset, but then she planned a get together with her and my sisters. I was kind of invited, but not really. I knew what the get together was about. It was my mom getting my sisters on her side, and making sure that we didn’t all start talking about our reality as children. I didn’t go to the get together, but I heard that it was very stressful and they told me that they talked about me. Instead of being concerned that I was a 20 something woman living on my own and struggling, they got together to talk about me. So strange!!!

  2. Beautifully written, Peta. Your vulnerability and courage in following your heart are commendable. I’m sorry for the disintegration of the relationship with your sister. Your sister carries a great burden and maybe one day she will find the courage to question it as you have done.

    1. Thanks Barbie. It is a burden to be born into a family that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. I think as children we all have different ways of coping. Some, like me, ask questions and eventually move away from family as things don’t make sense. Others, like my sister, find a way to integrate it into their lives in such a way that they don’t see it. It is very sad, but I can’t change who I am, and I know my sister can’t change who she is either.

  3. Peta:
    I’m so sorry to read about the distance between you and your sister. It takes a brave person to ask questions and a braver one to walk away from toxicity (in my opinion). Thank you for sharing your heart.
    Xx Melanie

    1. Thanks Melanie! It took me a long time to be able to write about my sister. I always felt like it was a taboo topic, because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, or reveal something maybe she didn’t want revealed. But I have come to realize that this is my life and my experience and I am writing it from that point of view. The words are how I feel and my interpretation of events, and really that is all I have, so I have come to terms with writing about it
      Love, Peta