Man, I can't seem to make time to write in my blog. Have you missed me?
How did Housewives of DC get on there?
Having your own business means that whenever you are laying around drinking wine and eating cheez-its, you probably shouldn't be; and not just because of the calories/hangovers/inappropriate texts. You should be drawing, marketing, fixing your broken website, putting layouts together, preparing for art shows. I can sort of justify writing this blog because it loosely falls under the marketing category. Even if I'm complaining about Facebook or confessing my marathon 50 Shades sessions, as long as I also mention the fact that I can draw your kids, pets, or belongings, then presto... marketing! I do have a degree in advertising, you know.
But really, I just want to tell stories, preferably in a bestselling book. Although that's rather unlikely, as only my friends on Facebook and a few artists from my favorite artist websites (artfairinsiders and the corner booth) read this blog. Getting discovered is even less probable than working hard enough to make it happen on my own. It's hard to justify this rambling blog when I've got drawing to do, plus it's past dinner time, RIGHT NOW. Listen closely and you'll hear the Zumpano men sighing and snacking in the background.
Thank goodness this time, Beth will help me justify my blog.
Out of the blue, I got an email from someone who had been reading my Pencil Envy posts. Not only did Beth order a chunky sized portrait, she wanted a story. A story about her sister. Hey! That's almost like getting paid to write stories, only she's not paying me to write, she's paying me to draw. But I'm making it a package deal.
My first thought about the portrait and story about Beth's sister, was that I don't have a sister, because I'm rather self-absorbed that way. I wonder what it would be like... would I be close with a sister? Fight with her? Would she love me despite all my many flaws? Would I love her beyond hers?
I assumed that Beth's story would be about sisterly love, a Walton's hair-braiding slumber party childhood with some eventual grown up wise advice with wine. But it wasn't.
"Saying my sister and I have never been close is an understatement," Beth wrote me. "We hated each other growing up. The only thing we're close in is age; for six weeks every year we were the same." She said her sister could be mean, choosing exactly the right words to form the kind of word weapon only the most familiar family can wield. The kind that cuts you to your core.
As adults, they had an uneasy relationship, going months without speaking. They lived less than an hour apart, but only saw each other a few times a year. "We are polar opposites," Beth explained. "She's a minimalist, I collect everything. Her house is sparsely decorated, mine looks like a gypsy’s den. She has a firm sense of right and wrong. I have often been described as having no moral compass. She's successful, I was always just getting by. We just never meshed. I often said if she wasn’t my sister we would have never been friends. But still, we're family."
If you've ever told me a story, you probably enjoy how I immediately butt in and relate the story back to myself, even though I've read Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and I know I'm not supposed to. I told Beth how I've struggled in my family relationships, too; how my closest family friendship has deteriorated and how terribly painful it's been. How I could relate all too well to those mean missiles that leave such deep, gaping wounds. Here, I thought, is someone I can understand; I'm not the only one. I've counted each month of silence with a pit in my stomach. It wasn't supposed to be this way.
"I know," Beth told me. "My sister got mad at me in June and she didn't speak to me or my mother until September. The next time we spoke was when she called to tell me in her matter-of-fact cold tone that she was sick, probably dying." And Beth was forbidden to tell their mother. "I was as close to my mother as you are to yours," Beth stressed, "maybe closer. It devastated me not to be able to tell her, but I knew if I did, my sister would never ever speak to either of us again." It was excruciating for Beth, fearing her mother would hear from someone else, until her sister was just too sick to hide it anymore.
"My sister told me she wouldn’t have done the same thing for me, wouldn’t have taken me in and cared for me as I was dying, cared for my family, pets, my belongings, my affairs. I told her I knew that. I wish we had shared that moment much sooner. It seemed to bring some peace to her to know that I wouldn’t change no matter who or what she was. That’s when she finally got me.
"She thanked me for making her watch Fight Club. She forced me to watch Eight-Legged Freaks. The last movie we watched together was Man on Fire. She loved Denzel and really wanted to see it. I begged the Blockbuster guy to help me locate the last copy in the store, a needle in a mountain of movies haystack. It took over two hours but we finally found it. As I was checking out, he said they could’ve ordered it, it would only take about a week to come in. I remember thinking we probably didn’t have a week. She died four days later."
"My sister's death haunts me, much more so than the deaths of my mother and father," Beth told me. "I am guessing it’s some form of guilt I just can’t let go of. Some sort of ‘it should have been me, not her’ thing."
This summer, her nephew told Beth he can't remember the sound of his mother's voice. She tries to keep the memory alive, knowing that the hardest part about dying for her sister was losing her kids. Not being there to see who they will become. The best photo the kids had with their mother was when they were quite young and Beth's niece hated her hair. Funny thing about death, there are no more "through the years" pictures, no more do overs. Beth asked that I combine recent photos of the kids with their mom, taking extra care to make sure I got her niece's hair just right. A Christmas memory for two wonderful kids who can't yet fully realize what they've lost.
There are children in my version of Beth's story too, and I worry about them. At first, I listened to Beth's side, thinking, yes, yes. I get it, I can relate. Up until the cancer. Then I'm a puddle thinking about it. I'm torn up. I'm thinking how maybe my family member would probably take me in; but I don't know if I could do the same. I don't know if I can be as forgiving. I shared more about my own family experiences with Beth, eager to connect, telling her about our long struggle of distance and disease and pain and tough decisions and judgment. That the hardest part is how we'd always loved each other like crazy and now neither of us can get past old wounds far enough to have a healthy relationship. I know I have some terrible faults that have made things worse between us - I'm too critical, I'm too sensitive. And now I'm too scared.
Beth shared that she's had many of the same struggles. But not the same as me. The same as the person who has hurt me the most.
And then I realized, this whole time I'm rooting only for Beth, thinking I'm in the Beth role... But I'm not. I'm the cold one. I'm the judging one. And I don't know if I can be the one to forgive and open my arms, and my home and my heart again. I'm too closed off and I'm just so hurt. But people make mistakes. Does it really take something so catastrophic to build that bridge?
Beth owns her part of her story and I own mine. I do. Writing this entry about a client's family has caused me to do more soul searching than any that I've chosen to write on my own.