I’m sure my sister Jan loved me, despite the two things she felt compelled to work into everyday conversation whenever possible:
- I stole her bedroom
- She had to take care of me for weeks on end when I was a newborn while our mother was in the hospital
Let me explain.
As our father was quite fond of telling anyone who set foot in our modest abode, our home was originally a two-car garage. Why anyone would begin construction of their home with the garage instead of the house is a mystery to me, but our little house was set far back from the road, intent on beginning its life as a home for cars, but instead got converted into service for humans. It had two stories connected by a very narrow stairwell. There were two bedrooms upstairs, one of which was no bigger than a glorified closet. Our parents slept in the bigger bedroom, my oldest sister Diane slept in the smaller bedroom, and my sister Jan got…the hallway.
This arrangement went on for a decade or so. I’m not exactly sure when my dad decided to begin adding on to the house, or how long it took him to do it. He put on an addition to the kitchen (which my mom used as her writer’s office), he doubled the size of the living room, and to the front of the house he added a bathroom and two precious bedrooms. One of these was for my parents. The other was promised to my sister Jan. At last! Verging on her teen years, she would finally be out of the public path of her parents and sister and have her very own private room! She could pick her own color of paint, her own curtains, everything!
I don’t know how far into this process she got before she received the devastating news that our mother was pregnant with me, and that I would be the new occupant of the aforesaid room.
She had every reason to hate me for that alone.
However, shortly after my birth, our mother needed to have bladder surgery. This was back in the day when hospitals actually kept you under their care until you were recovered enough to take care of yourself and your responsibilities at home. I’m thinking she was probably there a week or more. (This was also back in the day when the fathers did not change diapers, give bottles, get up in the night, or in other ways play “mother” to their infants.)
My sister Jan claimed that the bulk of the responsibility for my care during that time fell to her, my then 13 year-old sister.
This was yet another reason to hate me, although she brandished it more to leverage guilt — guilt into caring for her own newborn son when I was 16, when she was too ill to do so herself.
Because of her mental illness, our relationship was very strained. She spent the last years of her life in an institution. When she passed away two years ago, her ex-husband invited family to their former home to pick out a memento from the few possessions of hers that still remained there.
She was fond of what I considered garish trinkets and cheap junk. She had a flair for taking anything remotely classy and making it over into something . . . trashy. I really wanted to find something I could remember her by, but being really afraid, and really certain, that there would be absolutely nothing there for me.
Until…there it was. The coverless rectangle with the loopy, ballpoint 13 year-old’s handwriting: Dear Diary. Jan’s diary from 1969 – the year I was born!
Of course I flip immediately to March 30, my birthday:
All I can say is my mom’s going to the hospital any time now and boy. What a life I live. This is the only thing I seen or ever did out of the usual.
March 31. Monday.
It’s a girl. At first my dad said it had blonde hair but it’s brown. Boy oh boy, or should I say girl oh girl. I have a terrible headache. When I have my chat with you tomorrow I’ll be much happier.
MEMO for March
March was indeed a terrible month. I felt absolutely ill about the whole idea about life. Nevertheless in spite of my awful month, well here’s the way it went. From beginning almost end by a teensie weensie bit was awful. But the last day or two I must admit was quite nice. Except the part about my bedroom.”
AHA! Here it is! She mentions THE BEDROOM.
To be continued…