December 18

One of my sisters isn’t coming to Christmas this year. And I’m kind of relieved. See, all four of my sisters and I decided we’d go to my mom’s house for Christmas. Laura’s husband is in Afghanistan, so she’s coming with her two kids and maybe two dogs. Tammy lives by my mom, so her whole family will be there. My younger sister and her husband are flying in from Las Vegas. (People actually live in Las Vegas. It’s weird.) I’m going with my two kids and my dog. And Brenda was initially coming up from Florida with her two kids. Her husband was going to be working. It was going to be a great Christmas because we would all be together which rarely happens. Until Brenda’s husband lost his job and found another in Texas and then he was going to come up too since he would have a break before he started working. And that’s when I stopped looking forward to our big family get together.

See, Brenda’s husband is an abuser. I’m no longer softening it. They’ve been married for years and he’s progressively gotten worse. Or maybe not because it’s hard to tell what the real truth is anymore. For years I was a sounding board for my sister’s complaints…starting with his controlling behavior. His accusations. His anger and threats. The first time she told me he hit her, she made excuses for him. His drinking hard alcohol, which he normally doesn’t do. His stress. His whatever. I told her then she should get out, but he apologized and promised and for a while, things were better. She asked me not to say anything. The next time he hit her it was worse–worse threats, worse anger. She hid outside in the bushes at their house while he searched for her, yelling to her that he was going to kill her. Finally pushing her into the living room furniture, breaking a table. Still she stayed. The day she called and told me that he had been arrested, I was grocery shopping. I listened without talking while she described how he had tried to kill her, really meaning it this time. He had ripped off her underwear and choked her with it. She had a burn mark across her throat because of it. I went home, shut myself in the bathroom, and cried. And then I called my older sister and told her everything. Said I planned to go to Florida to get her. We told my parents and made a plan. But Brenda found out and begged us not to come because this was finally his wake up call. He was going to get help and things would be better. That was a couple of years ago, and things aren’t better. They’re just different. Four months ago she called because she found out about his cheating. She finally was going to make a change. I was ready once again to do whatever I could to help her out. Then three days later, after he begged and cried and made all the same promises, she decided to stay.

I know my sister needs help. Her kids need help. My brother-in-law needs help. But at this point, I don’t care about him. I don’t like him. I don’t respect him in the least. I told Brenda I couldn’t pretend to be happy to see him. I told my mom that I was afraid I’d say something at Christmas and makes things worse for my sister. And maybe I don’t have the right, but I’m angry. I’m angry at my sister. I’m angry that she continues to stay and that she doesn’t see her own worth and that she’s doesn’t acknowledge how it’s affecting her kids. I’m angry that I keep trying to help and she won’t let me. I don’t agree with her choice to stay. I don’t agree that instead of coming for Christmas, they are driving to Texas to stay in a hotel because they sold their house and haven’t found a new one yet. I find it all so unbelievably unbelievable. But I also know that statistics say it takes at least 7 attempts before someone actually leaves an abusive situation. She’s trapped in something that is too hard for her to get out of right now. But when she does, I will, of course, be there. My anger isn’t blame, it’s just anger. Relationships shouldn’t be that way. My once independent sister is someone I don’t really know anymore. My nieces will have scars from living in an abusive family that even they don’t understand. It shouldn’t be. So, selfishly, I’m not-so-secretly glad that I won’t see my brother-in-law next week. But I’d trade the holiday to bring my sister home.

March 11

I took my kids out for dinner tonight. We don’t do that very often. In fact, all three of us have crazy schedules, so we rarely sit down for a dinner together anymore–at home or elsewhere. I miss that. When they were little, I tried to have regular family dinner time. Sometimes we’d play games like “I spy” or “I’m thinking of an animal…” Sometimes we’d tell jokes or I’d ask what they learned at school that day, and when they responded with “nothing” I’d ask why I bothered to send them, which always ended the same way, them asking to stay home and me giving a list of worse things they’d have to do at home than at school. Sometimes things would get a little out of control, like the time we had a spontaneous burping contest before realizing that the Schwan’s delivery guy was standing at the open door and could hear everything. Or the time I asked them to tell me something I’d never guess about them, and they unwittingly revealed doing things they shouldn’t have done like climbing to the roof of the barn or playing with knives. Of course, in the interest of fairness, their responses generated discussions on the dangers of certain behaviors instead of punishments after the fact. Smart kids.

Now dinner conversations are different since my kids are basically adults. Tonight we talked about a certain person from our past whose name is rarely mentioned. The topic came up because they ran into an old friend while shopping with their dad over the weekend, and this friend asked about him. Wondered if they ever see him or talk to him anymore. Sadly, my kids’ reactions were the same. They both admitted to never even wanting to think of him, let alone talk about him. Said they don’t even like his name anymore. It’s heartbreaking to know that we share such a painful relationship, and even more so knowing that I was the one who let this person into our lives, never dreaming of the damage it would leave us. But it was something slow moving. In the middle of our conversation, Bree said this: a frog will immediately jump out of hot water if dropped into it, but if you start cold and turn up the heat, it will sit in hot water a long time without realizing it. A perfect analogy. We were living with a person who was internally angry and whose method of coping was breaking down the people around him. And maybe he didn’t know. It doesn’t really matter now. Thankfully, we moved on and don’t have to see him again.  And tonight, we all admitted that we were ok for having endured this pain. Both kids said they learned valuable lessons. Both said they immediately forgave me. They get it. I hope they carry this maturity into their own relationships and are able to instantly know when something is not right or good for them. I’m thankful we had this conversation tonight. I learned that they may not want to talk about him, but they aren’t worrying about the past. Smart kids, still.