When I was 23 and my sister was 20, our dad committed suicide. It was awful. I don’t think any of us saw it coming at all. Sis had moved out by then, but she was just a few miles away from our parents’ (dad and stepmom). I was living 600+ miles away, having settled in the town where I had graduated college and living with my boyfriend, who was still in school.
Sis and I would talk on the phone at night a lot in the days following. Sometimes I’d call her and sometimes she’d call me. We didn’t talk anything important most of the time. I remember long periods of silence, interspersed with “she said, and then I said…” type conversations. One night, when I had been drinking a good bit of beer (I drank a lot in those days, still do.), I caught myself slurring my words. I looked at the clock and it was after 10:00. I had to be at work in the morning (she didn’t start work until the afternoon) and I remember thinking “If I don’t get off the phone, pour out this beer, and go to bed right now, I’m going to be really unhappy with myself in the morning.” So when there was a break in the conversation I told Sis that. I said, “Hey, it’s getting late, I need to get to bed. I’ll talk to you later!”
A few days later, my mom called me up and chewed me out. She said, “Sis says sometimes you don’t want to talk and that hurts her feelings. You need to stop doing that.” I was floored. How had she known that I cut Sis’s and my conversation short unless Sis complained to her? How could Sis be upset about me needing to go to bed? It had to be a misunderstanding between Sis and my mom. There was no way Sis thought I was wrong for getting off the phone. I explained to Mom what had happened, but her only response was “you need to be more careful of Sis’s feelings. You need to be more careful about that.”
This bugged me for years. At some point a decade ago I crafted an explanation that made sense to me. Our mom liked to tell stories about us and would pump us for amusing (to her) anecdotes. Our family also has a bad habit of communicating through other people instead of directly; all our conversations were like a game of Telephone. So, I thought maybe Mom was pumping Sis for a story about me, Sis didn’t have one, and so she said, offhand, “Oh you know Erin – sometimes she doesn’t want to talk.” Then Mom took it the wrong way.
A couple of years ago I stayed with my sister when she had surgery – drove her to the hospital, stayed with her there, took her home, cooked, fed her pets, hung out. She was horrible to me pretty much the whole time (That’s another story for another day tho.) I had planned to drive home Thursday morning, but I was worried about making the whole 500+ mile trip home before I hit rush hour at home. I hadn’t been sleeping well at her house at all, so I impulsively decided to leave Wednesday night, drive half way, get a motel, and finish the drive in the morning. She was out on her porch smoking, came in, and noticed I had packed half my stuff. She started screaming at me. She screamed a bunch of stuff that had no basis in reality, like “you’re pushing the family away.” Then she started telling me I was a terrible person because I didn’t “like to talk.” And it “hurt her feelings.” She was using the same language my mom used with me 30 years before. So yeah, there was no misunderstanding back in the day. I HAD TO RUIN MY DAY THE NEXT DAY BECAUSE SHE WASN’T READY TO GET OFF THE PHONE. No. I don’t. No.