For Ren

(Only We Can Call Her That)

This letter was much more difficult to write than I thought it would be! There's so much confusion surrounding the time we were major parts of each others' lives. I was buried in my own worst nightmare, conflicted about this new situation (how could I feel safe and comfortable and happy in a world without my other sister and brother?), and coping with feelings of betrayal from every direction and a fear for who I would become... 

And you were a little crazy too. You've told me so yourself.

But what I really want you to know is that I am grateful to you and for your part in my messy childhood (and today too, but that's for a different letter). You helped me to become a woman with at least some tiny degree of grace. You gave me the safest haven and, when I was ready for it, you were the first real mom I felt like I ever had. You were the one to tuck me in at night and read me stories. You introduced me to Harry Potter. (So you could almost say you're responsible for some of the greatest friendships in my life, because Himani Patel is pretty fantastic and Harry Potter was the conversation starter that day on the bus... and practically every day since.)

You know, there are all of these stories and puns about wicked stepmothers, but nobody seems to want to address the topic of wicked stepchildren. There may have been vague threats of poisoned apples and some reference to cinder ashes on your end... but we didn't make your life easy for a while there either. I won't say sorry; it doesn't seem fair now that we both look back on it and laugh to pretend there's some sort of guilt. We learned and grew together and we came out of it stronger and full of love, so I'm not sorry. Also, that was probably the only time in my life I was ever a brat, so I'm just going to go ahead and claim that as a rite of passage. Thanks for giving me the space to be a brat, for once. I wasn't very good at it. I still say I don't want to do the dishes- as I'm washing them. Old habits die hard. 

Jokes aside, I'm grateful that you stayed anyway and you never took those frustrations out on us... except for that time you drank my juice when I interrupted. I'm still bitter, because it was my favorite white grape peach juice and I didn't interrupt on purpose, damn it, but I've decided to forgive you. Just this once though, don't mess with my juice! (Please?) 

When someone really irritates me to my core, I remember how you still held your head high and did the best you could to take care of two confused little girls even when we really did have it out for you. Maybe we weren't  plotting to cut out your heart and bring it home in a box (most of the time), and we never did drop frogs in your coffee or put garden snakes in your bed, but emotional strings were pushed and pulled and somehow you never let us see you snap. Little girls are nasty things sometimes, thanks for being the adult.

You know, I don't really think I knew how to enjoy life when we first came to live with you and Dad. Adults outside of my immediate family always told me to "just be a kid for a while" and it drove me fucking insane because I didn't feel like I had that luxury. I had siblings to protect, not to mention my own little heart needed careful guarding sometimes. Sure, I could relax for two seconds while I swam in Aunt Jill's pool... but what if my mom showed up or called demanding that we return home immediately? When you're a minor, the police will get right down in your face and tell you that you belong to your mother, you have to do whatever she says even if it's unfair. They tell you that you are your mother's property until the day you turn 18. So how could I just relax?

You knew how hurt and scared and angry I was, I think you knew it would have to get worse before it got better too, and how little there was that you could do about it all, but you were brave enough to face that... So thank you again. 

I don't care to know details about why you left when you did. Marriage and divorce can be such messy things, and I already know the important part. I know you didn't leave because you stopped loving us or because you didn't want to deal with the conflict we brought. It might have been an added bonus that you wouldn't have to deal with our mother anymore or try to find the boundary between what I was old enough to know and what to protect us from (and if it was a relief, please don't think there's any reason to feel guilty, there isn't). Ultimately, we know you didn't leave because we weren't worth the effort it took to love us. You gave us lots of wonderful memories, helped create safe spaces in our own minds that weren't there before, and showed us what it means to be a strong and powerful woman. We didn't have the chance to take the entire journey of coming into womanhood together, but you were the strongest woman I'd ever met and you planted the seeds to get us to where we are today (and I'd by lying if I said my time with you didn't have a strong influence over many of the decisions I make even all these years later). I still have that long letter you wrote me by hand and left on my desk for me to find. I read it when I'm feeling worthless or stuck or broken; it always helps.

I have to tell you about this one memory that sent my ex-stepdad over the edge, okay? Maybe I've told you before, I can't remember.

You're going to snort, so swallow that sip of coffee before reading on. (You're welcome.)

So, one morning we were listening to Devil Doll or something and procrastinating walking the dogs or cleaning the house I think... and I told you I agreed with Grandma: this was "whiny chick music." You inhaled sharply, and then you breathed out a really long, slow breath. I might have wet myself a tiny bit. (OK, kidding. But I crossed the line and I knew it.) And then, ever so calmly, you looked over at me and in the lowest, most serious voice I ever heard, you said, "Bite me." 

...

Back at mom's house that week, I was listening to some Kids Bop CD or some other embarrassing thing and my stepdad told me the music was dumb and that we should listen to something better. You know what I did, right?

I looked over at him with my curly blonde hair, pudgy pink cheeks, and sweet little smile and whispered, "bite me." 

Yikes. He did not like that. 

I was grounded for, like, two weeks and I wasn't allowed to listen to music at the computer anymore unless I wore headphones. I got a lecture about what an un-ladylike thing that was to say. (Can you imagine that man giving me a lecture on what it is to be ladylike? Even in so much trouble, I couldn't stop smirking.)

Maybe it was childish, but I felt so empowered! I liked the kind of music I liked. I didn't cower down and agree that what I liked was crap just because someone else said so. I turned up the sass and stood my ground. And since that day, I don't think I've ever spoken those two words aloud... but whenever someone knocks something I enjoy, you can be sure my sweet little mind whispers- or screams, because it's a little more serious when my sister is dissing my cats- "bite me." 

So, in a letter as messy and chaotic as our time together was, thank you for teaching me how to be a bitch when it's necessary, and my own advocate always. 

Between that lesson from you, and the lesson from my dad (possibly said while thinking of you?) to choose my battles carefully, I think I've created a pretty grounded adult life of enjoyment, hard work, and only the best sort of confrontation. (Which is, of course, the kind where I can win... but also only the kind that I could win only if I said something, because sometimes I can just quietly take my victory and leave without any struggle.) 

Finally, I love you and thank you for giving me another sweet brother to love. I'm sad that we haven't grown up closer, but I'll always love you both.