77dbf1c75a6c1653c5e7b2d67c984937this past weekend was a rough one. i went home to massachusetts to see my family, and ended up spending time fighting with my family. to be fair, this isn’t a particularly unusual occurrence for us. my mother and i are one and the same – overly passionate people who feel too many feelings all.the.time. we share the same natural inclination to fight fiercely for the ones we love, with one big difference: my mother gets angry, and i get sad. where she will explode, lit like a spark from inside, i will collapse into myself, big fat salty tears welling up beneath my eyelids. she hits a point where she is so angry she can’t even speak. i hit a point where i’m so sad i think i’ll burst. my little sister takes after my mother. she, too, is quick to anger. quick to yell, quick to throw things, quick to storm out and slam doors and tell people she hates them and never wants to see them again. my other mom is the quiet one of the family. she’s neither sad nor angry. she despises confrontation, and will stand back and let the rest of us fight it out before she opens her mouth.

on sunday, we had planned to go apple picking as a family. after that, we were supposed to go over to my sister’s apartment to review the space, following a request from her that she wanted to make it more “cozy.” anyone who knows me (or has been reading this blog for an extended amount of time) know that i am an OCD-level, type a planner. i like things to happen when they’re supposed to happen, as they’re supposed to happen. i get extremely thrown out of whack when things don’t go as planned, an issue i’ve spent many an hour in therapy working out (though i’m still pretty bad at being flexible and/or spontaneous). so when my sister called about 20 minutes before apple picking time and said she was going to stay home and clean her apartment and skip the family outing, i was, let’s say, mildly annoyed.

then my mother told me she didn’t want us to come over at all. she thought we would judge her on the fact that her apartment wasn’t clean. and my first thought was, she knew we were coming since yesterday. she had plenty of time to clean. why didn’t she do it? my second thought was, i haven’t seen this damn apartment since the day she moved in a year ago (though i ask to visit every single time i am home). what the hell is that about?

apparently, what it’s about is that i’m such a judgmental bitch that even if i were to visit and not open my mouth, she knows my eyes would be flitting around the room, taking in this empty soda can and that piece of trash on the floor, judging all the while. nevermind that i have, month after month, promised to reserve my judgment, and told her that i just want to share in her space with her – it’s her home, for god sakes – that i don’t care if it’s clean or dirty, i just want to be with her. so i wasn’t allowed to come over. none of us were, on that day – though she promised my parents could come the next day. but me? i wasn’t allowed. her big sister, the one who spent hours with her cleaning the apartment when she first moved in, the one who helped her pick rugs and pillows and light fixtures and paint colors last summer – i wasn’t allowed in.

and for some reason, that touched a nerve, and i lost it.  i was so sick of her assuming that i’d act a certain way, think a certain way, do a certain thing. couldn’t she give me the benefit of the doubt? why was it that everyone else could be a part of this portion of her life, but i couldn’t? wasn’t i worth anything to her? her response? it’s just the place where i sleep. what does it matter? why do you need to see it?

as i said above, my sister’s natural defense mechanism is anger. the sort of anger that seeps through phone wires and travels over text messages and transcends any sort of potential benefit of doubt. i made the mistake of inquiring as to why we couldn’t come just for a bit? why she hadn’t taken the time to clean before? why she couldn’t just put her worries aside for a moment and let us enjoy the afternoon?

and somehow, it turned into a fight. a screaming fight, where i stormed upstairs, and she stormed outside, threatening to move out of the apartment my parents had so lovingly purchased for her, and paid for, and fixed up, and decorated. this was how badly she didn’t want us in the apartment – so much that she would threaten, and scream, and do anything she could in her power to keep us away. when she said she would move out, i saw red. see, my parents dropped a hefty sum of money on a second home for her. they call it an investment property, but we all know they really bought it for her. and they’ve poured money into fixing it up, into making it a nice place to live, and what had she done? not only had she shit all over it, choosing, clearly, not to clean it, EVER, but she’d threatened to leave it all behind. she acted like she did not give a damn what had been done for her, what had been given to her.

and at that, i saw red. i felt what my mother must have felt all those years ago when she chased me up the stairs one morning. i was so angry i felt i could strangle her. how could she be so ungrateful? so cruel? so quick to shut out her family, the ones who had done so much for her, and loved her through good and bad? how could she think she could just pick up and leave behind all that my parents had done for her like it was nothing? she had been given something so great, and all she wanted to do was throw it away. it was selfish. it was unfathomable. i couldn’t see through it. i couldn’t see through myself. i was so furious i thought i would scream.

and then she called back, and i did scream. i told her how i really felt – that she was ungrateful, selfish, mean. i was sick of being the big sister who was put through the ringer, who put so much in and never got anything out. {this, of course, isn’t true – but in my moment of anger, it was all i could see}

i let her have it. and she sat on the other end of the phone, and she did not fight. she did not defend. she did not argue. she just listened. and then she told us we could come over.

and when we got there, i knew it would be bad. i knew i was angry. i knew, in my heart, that the reason she hadn’t let us over was because the place was a mess. a shithole. and yet i wasn’t prepared for what i saw when i walked in.

i think my sister is a hoarder. it’s not just that she is messy. it’s not just that she is a slob. it is…i don’t even know how to describe it. it was like a punch to the gut, seeing her living like that. it was like having the wind knocked out of me. all my anger just sort of floated away, and all of a sudden, i was scared. scared that her mess was somehow tied into her not letting me in, both literally, and figuratively. she wasn’t letting me in the door because she knew how bad the mess was. and she wasn’t letting me into her heart because she was too scared to do so.

sitting on her living room floor, she told us she could never let us in. she would never let us in. she was damaged goods. she would never change. she didn’t believe she was capable of it. she believed she had faulty wiring, that it wasn’t (like i had assumed) that she didn’t want to change. it was that she thought she actually could not do it. she wanted to be emotional, and loving, and open, like the rest of us. but she wasn’t capable. she refused to let anyone in, because she was worried they would leave. 

and then she said something that broke my heart.

i live on the surface. i have superficial relationships with those around me, and i know it. and that’s just who i am. 

i looked over at my mother, who was crying. i wanted to cry, but i couldn’t. it was like my heart hardened. i couldn’t cry. i could barely speak. i felt so lost, so emotionally overwhelmed. how do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? how do you convince someone who believes so deeply that she cannot change that change is possible? i didn’t know how. i didn’t know what to say. so all i said was that i thought she was wrong. that i believed she could change. and it would be hard. it would be really fucking hard, but she could do it. and she could do it because we loved her, with all of our hearts, with more love than we thought it was possible to give. ae46bc18df007adaeb7a6d5ff01fb887

and then, when everyone else went home, angry, and frustrated, and emotional beyond belief, i put my arms around her, and i begged her to let me stay. to let me help her. and to my surprise, she nodded.

and so i did the only thing i knew how to do in the moment: i cleaned. i filled trash bag after trash bag with empty beer bottles and soda cans and paper towels and cardboard clippings. i washed weeks worth of dirty dishes. i scraped mold off the bathtub and cleaned clumps of hair off of the floor. i scrubbed crusted oil off the stovetop, and put open boxes of pasta back into the cabinets. i emptied a carton of orange juice that had gone bad.

and i gave her one, tiny, simple job at a time to complete. i spoke softly, but firmly, when she got distracted, and attempted to move a trash pile from her to there.

and just when i thought my heart might break into a million tiny little pieces, so clogged up was it with love and sadness, a little guardian angel appeared in the form of my oldest and bestest friend, joia. joia and her husband live downstairs from my sister. we’ve been friends since we were two. joia knows me just as well as i know myself, if not better. she knows the intricacies of my family dynamics like the back of her hand, knows when we’re doing well and when we’re close to breaking point. she can read my mind, spot my feelings from a mile away, and always, always, knows just what to do to fix things. joia came upstairs to say hi, took one look at me, and at allie, and said, “i had a rough day. did you guys have a rough day too? is it okay if i eat my hamburger up here? okay, great.” and she sat down with her burger, and she ate. and just the sole fact of presence soothed me to my core. and when she was done, she crumpled up her wrapper, and she grabbed a trash bag, and she started to clean. she didn’t ask. she didn’t mention it. she just knew. knew that we were both close to breaking. knew that we needed her. that needed her. and so she helped. not because she had to, not because she had the time to, but because she is my friend. because she is my sister. because she felt the energy in the room and she knew she could make it better.

and after a few hours, we’d made good progress. we’d cleared and cleaned the kitchen, the largest room in the space, and tackled the bathroom (by far the most disgusting). we’d emptied bag after bag of trash. the dishes were done. the mold was gone. the bathtub was clean. the floors were clear. the laundry was in.

and while it wasn’t everything, it was something. a big something. it was a start.

and while a start is good, great, even, i still feel this heaviness in my heart. what if i can’t save my sister? what if everything i do, everything she does, everything we all do, isn’t enough? i don’t believe, in my deepest soul, that she is damaged. i think she is troubled, and hurt, and has put up barriers around her feelings because she’s so afraid of what might happen if she opened the floodgates. but i do not believe she cannot change. i do not believe she has to live her life on the surface. but i still feel heavy, weighted down by my worry for her. i don’t know how to help her, really. my cleaning her apartment was a quick fix, and it was as much a selfish relief for me as it was a help for her. i didn’t solve anything. i said some hurtful things that, even after apologizing, probably stuck with her. it scares me to think i was capable of feeling so angry with her. to think that maybe my loving her isn’t enough.3820dc87cbdea8b8a37eb189d7017438

i guess all i can do is hope that it is. that’s all we can ever do, right? love her, fiercely, deeply, intensely, and assure her that i will never leave her. never desert her.

and then i can let it go. because i can’t carry this weight for her. at some point, she has to carry it for herself. and i believe, i know that she can.

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