It was so very cold that Christmas morning in 1991. The warmth of the sun kissed my face through the dusty old window panes, even as it glistened off the icicles hanging from the eaves of the tiny red bungalow next door. Just as I was about to breathe in the steamy aroma of my first cup of coffee and decide whether or not to dunk my toast, the phone rang. I dreaded answering it.
You see, three days prior, my next to youngest sister had called, her voice tight and fragile, I could hear the soft sobbing between her words. Her world had come crashing down around her, the love of her life and the father of her boys had betrayed her. Three days before Christmas she picked up the phone only to hear her husband on the phone with another woman saying things he should only say to his wife. The confrontation was ugly, violent even, and she blindly ran through her tears to her car and drove away not able to process what had just happened. With no thought of what may come next, she drove for hours before stopping to assess what to do next. It was then she became frightened and called to tell me what had happened.
My sweet sister had to get away, didn’t know where she would go, didn’t know what she would do but she couldn’t stay there and she couldn’t go back as long as he was there. No Christmas for her boys; she had torn the tree and all it’s loveliness down with her bare hands, cursing the day she met this man. Pain and disbelief took over her ability to reason as she told me she would be out of touch for a while, she didn’t know how she could go on. I feared the worst for her; I lived more than three hours away and I didn’t know where to find her. After a tearful “I love you, please take care of my boys”, I heard a click followed by a dial-tone. My heart sank and my tears fell for hours.
We are a big family, spread out all over this country. I am the oldest of six, the one who left home first. My dad and I did not have the ability to talk to one another in anything but brief short sentences ending with “I love you Dad”, immediately followed by “here’s your mother!” Way more history and heartache there than time to tell it so you can imagine my shock to hear Dad’s voice when I answered the phone that morning. My Christmas was looking bleak already; my kids were grown and had plans with their significant others, I had been divorced about a year and a half earlier and the Christmas I was supposed to spend with my sister and her family had just become chaos.
For the first time in my life, I heard my father say he needed me. Mom and Dad and half my family lived on the West Coast, too far away to get there. Dad’s words will always remain in my heart: “Kathy, I have bad news and I need you to do something for me.” Dad had never made a personal call to me. “Your sister has checked herself into the Psychiatric Unit, I need you to go up there and find out what happened and get her out if you can. If she needs to be there, be there for her. I hate to put this on you, but you are the only one who can do it.” My family needed me, I was “the only one”, Dad trusted me with the biggest responsibility of my life. He said he was counting on me, go get your sister!
It was a lonely, fearful, and angry three-hour drive to Albany. Anger for the betrayal I had known in my own marriage, anger at her husband for destroying a beautiful family and damaging their sons for life not to mention my sister’s life. Fearful that I might not get there and be able to help her, at the same time there was determination and strength I had not known before. There was a blessing to be found in this tragedy and pain.
She was curled up like a little child, her face stained with tears, but when our eyes met there was joy, relief, and hope for both of us. I have never been so happy to see someone I love. Several weeks later I wrote a poem about her heartbreak, many years later I am reading it again and I realize it was my heartbreak too.
Today we both lead happy fulfilling lives, we learned to love again and our children are (for the most part) doing well. Perfect? No. Part of the master plan for our lives? I think so. We have a lot to be thankful for and the “gifts” we have received are “priceless”. There’s a line in the song “Blessings” that says “what if the blessings come through raindrops, what if the blessings come through tears . . .”
. . . . There is another “story behind the story” for this one. While stashing some clutter on Wednesday of this week I came across my ‘red book of poetry.’ I had been wanting to find a way to publish my work but trepidation and anxiety over subject matter, cost and permissions always got in the way. Another blogger and good friend laid out the challenge, so I sat down to write the above story about 8:00 that morning. The words and memories came quickly and easily to the page and I choked back tears as I called my sister to get her permission to tell our story. Voicemail answered and about noontime, she returned the call, quite curious to know what I would need her permission for. As I explained and read to her the words that so simply relayed that Christmas Day, silence deepened on her end of the phone while my voice cracked and strained to get the words out. When I finished I could hear that familiar soft sobbing and asked if she was alright with this. She said, “First of all, yes, if my story can help someone else, use it.” “Now I have to tell you something” she continued. “This morning as I was digging into my make-up case, my fingers found the tube of lipstick you gave me that day before we left the hospital. I have always kept it and look at it often because it reminds me of you and what you did to rescue me. That little tube of lipstick is one of my treasured possessions.” She then volunteered “I can’t believe it, this very morning I found that – about 4 hours ago and I thought of you and that day!” I think we whispered, “It’s a God thing!” at exactly the same moment.
Here is the poem I wrote for my sister (and me):