Family, lost and found

You might have noticed at this point that my family was more of the “unhappy in its own way” kind. Helmed by parents whose own parents had never shown them much affection, which meant they never learned how dispense it themselves, my family was an archipelago of six individuals with few bonds. We were four girls, who could have been friends and should have banded together to defend ourselves against the unhappiness around them. Instead we all retreated into our private miseries, desperately alone.

Now, many years later, everyone’s worked on fixing what got broken, with middling success. I’ve managed to patch together reasonable, respectful relationships with both parents and two of my sisters. However, my third sister was so traumatized by her childhood that she, like me, ran away young, but then permanently severed all ties to her family.

She was my favorite sister, even though I never let her know. Blond, very thin and vulnerable, she was the little-est of the bunch, and generally got ground under in the fight for whatever crumbs of attention were to be had. I know where she lives and what she does; she has a general idea of what we’re up to, but remains determined in her refusal to re-establish a relationship.

It breaks my heart but I respect her choice.

A while ago, a new person came into my life through a circuitous route. She’s 87 and lives in my beloved Brighton Beach (I can see the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel through the windows). She started life in what used to be Romania, but is now Belarus, and has lived in Russia, Poland and Israel. Her whole family was murdered by the Nazis. Her husband and son are dead. We see each other every week, and have long conversations and go on little outings and errands. She lets me practice my still halting Yiddish on her. She is sharp, and witty, and beautiful. She stuffs my pockets with her rugelach, sugar cookies and sponge cake. She makes sure I wear a scarf and a hat. She loves to see me dance at the events we go to, and one day I will get her to dance with me.

I walk to her apartment from mine, one straight line 6.8 miles, down McDonald Avenue, the most utilitarian of thoroughfares. Everyone else is going to work. I am disappearing. Her apartment is my little refuge from the world, a place utterly peaceful, outside space and time, with just the F train clattering by every few minutes.

She is the third of four girls and her name is the also the name of my favorite sister, #3 of our lot.

She calls me the daughter she never had. I can’t call her my mother, because I have a mother. She’s not really like my grandmother either – at 87 she’s still too young, in a way. Maybe somehow, someone has given me another sister.

Oyfn pripetchik

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