Outside the Circle

May 30, 2017

Today my husband and I took our kids to my mom’s new house to go swimming in her newly repaired pool. Her ‘new’ house is actually not new at all. It is my grandmother’s house and is the house I grew up in with my mom, dad, and sisters. It’s old, needs lots of repairs, and has aged over the years, but it holds the good memories I choose to keep. Being there makes me the happiest. Seeing my children run their fingers over my name carved into the wood of what use to be my window sill thrills me through and through.

Taking a trip to my mom’s house is one we all look forward to – on most days. There is a pool for us to swim which is the same pool I learned to swim many years ago. I love swimming with them and soaking in the togetherness of my little family. Today is not that day for me. Today my sisters are there. With their friends. This makes me nervous and anxious. Though my sisters and I were raised in the same house with the same parents, our lives have grown so far apart that it’s difficult to see one another.

I’ve always been different than the rest of my family which is weird to say because I am also very much like them in many ways. My mom, dad, grandmother, and two sisters – one older and one younger – have always been familiar strangers to me. I wouldn’t say I’m the black sheep or the outcast, but – unintentionally on their parts – I’ve felt as though I’m outside of their circle.

The admirable, hard-working traits displayed throughout the years by my grandmother and mom were graciously, and thankfully, passed on to me. My dad’s willful ways and need to speak to others, strangers or not, were instilled in me from the time I could learn to speak. And my sisters? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.

My older sister – which I will refer to as Big Sis – has always had a wild streak. She is a social, people-pleasing follower always seeking the next party and place to have fun. These traits are shared by my younger sister – Little Sis. Even though they are alike, they did not share a circle of friends or even play together until they were adults. This was largely due to the ten years that separated them.

Growing up, Little Sis and I were inseparable. While Big Sis was busy skipping school and partying with her friends, Little Sis and I had each other to stir trouble. Because we were close in age – three years actually – we had the same circle of friends and were always playing together. She trusted me wholeheartedly and never doubted my opinion. Her trust in me ran deep enough to believe that the ‘mud pies’ I made in our backyard were real enough to eat after I told her just that. We rode bikes together, swam in the flooded parts of the neighborhood including the ditch outside of the Piggly Wiggly (Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are going to have a lot more questions than ‘what?!’ by the time you reach the end of this paragraph, so hold your astonishment to the end.), went joyriding on multiple occasions in my mom’s van after discovering the hidden keys one day while she was at work, and a few times we snuck into the fridge to have ‘samples’ of the boxed wine leftover from my parents’ party which left us drunk and giggling on the kitchen floor. No one was allowed to talk to Little Sis crossly or be mean to her otherwise I would fiercely pedal my ten speed bike to the culprit’s house and hurl insults and swear words at them.

Though we had a joyful childhood, there was a dark cloud looming on the horizon. It came in the form of alcohol, a divorce, and a new wife for my dad when I was about eleven. Big Sis moved out, but where she went I didn’t know and I still don’t know to this day. All I knew was she was no longer living at home and that made my parents sad a lot of the time. Times were rough and I tried my hardest to protect Little Sis from the dark cloud’s shadow, and she relied on me for that protection as well. We were each other’s safety through the hard times of our parents’ divorce, reassured one another that mom would come for us the times daddy and his new, much younger, wife would leave us at home while they went drinking at the bar, and would cry on each other’s shoulder when we were too afraid of how our family dynamic was rapidly crumbling. It was as though the darkness would consume us if we were to be separated, and I was too determined to allow such a thing to happen to her.

When I entered high school, Little Sis spent a majority of her middle school years at a private school while I attended the local public high school. We still had a somewhat similar circle of friends and continued to get into trouble while my mom worked two jobs to keep our small, broken family afloat. There were fun times, but inside I was hurting.

The divorce and divide of our family was to be blamed for anything and everything that didn’t go my way. I constantly sought out a way to find an end to the pain that refused to subside. After exploring various ways to escape my house, city, and state, I decided the military was the best way to go. Leaving Little Sis wasn’t something I was thrilled to do, but she seemed to be doing fine with her new circle of friends, and I was confident that nothing could shake our solid foundation. After all, I did share my delicious mud pies with her, right?

Over the years both of my sisters seemed to grow closer as Little Sis and I grew apart. It was no longer her and me, but rather them. Whenever I would come home for military leave, they would briefly visit me then scurry off to whatever social gathering awaited them. Rarely was I invited. They had their circle of friends, and that circle did not include me. I was viewed as the responsible one – the one that got her act together and grew up to take care of herself. Guess they figured I no longer had time for sisters or sisterly fun. But they weren’t solely to blame because I didn’t change their way of thinking.

The highs of my life were shared with my mom and grandmother while the lows were mainly kept to myself. I desperately wanted to share with Little Sis the hard road I was often experiencing, but she seemed to have their own concerns in life. Many nights were consumed with tears and alcohol so I could find some sort of peace to sleep. When I was hurt, which was often, I turned inward to heal which usually involved crawling into a bottle.

The times I visited home, I would sneak into the living room after everyone was sleeping and lie in a fetal position on the floor and cry myself to sleep. I desperately wanted to turn back the hands of time and never leave home. I wanted Little Sis to need me, and for us to be children again riding bikes, eating mud pies, and swimming in ditches. Since I couldn’t change what was, I prayed for the courage to tell her how much I regretted leaving her and how much I still needed her to need me. Instead my cowardice left me crying on that floor night after night.

This pattern continued for many years and even after I left the military. Big Sis and Little Sis were on a self-destructed path together and I was not going down that path. I had my own dreams and family to pursue, and living without them for so long had become a habit. Being on the outside of their circle became my permanent residence and if I was going to be there alone, I was determined to make the most of it. In fact, I met my husband while he was living outside of his family’s circle. We had an instant connection and recognized the distance between our families and ourselves. Starting our own circle is how we changed our separate, individual lives and we became one. I was no longer alone.

Now here I am driving to my mom’s house where my parents, grandmother, sisters, and my sisters’ friends await our arrival to celebrate the holiday weekend. As as we got closer to my mom’s house, dread grew in my belly. My anxiety was high and even though I was looking forward to seeing my family, I was nervous to see Little Sis. Nervous that I wouldn’t ‘fit in’ with her and her friends, that everyone would be judging me and thinking I was so different from them. I imagined they were thinking I didn’t know what a hard life meant and that I only experienced sunshine and rainbows. This is largely due to our physical appearances.

Little Sis and I have differences, but we have similarities, too; however, our physical differences immediately set us apart. While she looks rough and aged, my skin is smooth and youthful. Her voice is harsh and raspy from years of smoking cigarettes while my voice is often mistaken for my eleven year old son’s. She is tattered and marked with life experiences while my scars come from bearing children and surgeries. With all these physical differences, I can see how she would think I’m so set apart from her, and why she might think I’ve always had the sun on my face. I guess this is partly my fault because it’s a habit of mine to always be wearing a mask that is comprised of a flawless surface with a smile to match it and courage to wear it.

Well, today I don’t want to put on my brave, happy face. I grow so very tired of wearing this mask of normalcy, and pretending all is right with the world when I’m around my family. It’s suffocating and separating us even more. I miss my Little Sis and our togetherness. I want us to share our problems and help one another to face them head on. I want to scream out and say, “I AM NOT PERFECT, DAMMIT! I AM BROKEN, HURTING, AND AFRAID. I WANT MY LITTLE SIS AND I WANT TO LOVE YOU IN YOUR OWN IMPERFECT, BROKEN WAYS. LET ME TELL YOU OF MY WORRIES AND TROUBLES AND IN TURN TELL ME YOURS. MY EARS ARE FOR YOU AND YOU ALONE. PLEASE, ACCEPT ME AND BRING MY CIRCLE BACK INTO YOURS.”

Like all those nights crying alone on the living room floor, my cowardice prevents me from speaking those words. I hide behind my mask and stuff my damaged past deep down out of the light and away from the eyes of others. I tell those that I choose to tell, and those that do know about me, know only a little.

Little sis isn’t the same. She is so broken and torn, yet she is beautiful because of the courage she has learned to carry those scars. She wears her brokenness every day for the world to see. Anyone that knows her, knows of her troubles and issues. She cannot hide from her damaged past and pushes through each day the best she knows how. Little Sis is pissed off and angry because of her decisions leading up to today, but she does not hide behind a mask of perfection.

I am the coward, and I hope to learn from Little Sis to wear my pain for the world to see, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to be brave enough to reach out, grab her circle, and wrap it around my circle.

Disclaimer: Please understand that everyone is different in their journey with fibromyalgia and/or chronic illness. This is my journey, my stories, my vulnerability to share with you in order to help in some way. It is in no way to compare my journey with yours or to minimize your pains, feelings, or experiences. Please do not comment with any negativity.

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