(This is the third guest post in a three-part series.)
Things were ok for some time, but the same habits recurred. It smelled. The floor began to pile with twinkie wrappers and bags from fancy potato chips. The grass grew above the windows.
Addison was born and there was a brief moment of hope. We speculated that being a mother was what Brenda needed to get a grip--- notice our judgment. After a couple of years, they were foreclosed. Charles, her husband, had been gainfully employed and their collection of new/unused kitchen gadgets and DVDs had steadily grown. They left the house my father built, the last house he would build, the house that they carried Addison home from the hospital to, and moved into an apartment.
After the foreclosure, I went to their house because mom told me that they had left some furniture I could use. From past experience I knew there was also probably valium or even lithium to scavenge. The scene was familiar.
I walked through the kitchen, which still smelled like fetid meat despite my mom's guilt-ridden attack with bleach and ammonia. The cabinets bulged with unopened as-seen-on-TV items. The living room floor was still covered in garbage, and sticky.
While rummaging, I found an unmarked box with photos from Brenda's childhood, pictures of our father and Brenda's mother, of Brenda as a child, all the way up to the period when Brenda was almost an adolescent--- when her mother died. It had pictures of dead cousins and grandparents, a picture of the shack in which my grandfather was raised and his father made blackstrap molasses, and a family bible with births recorded from the civil war until Brenda. At that point, for the first time ever, I felt something other than pity, love, or disappointment towards my sister.
I hated her.
Brenda had abandoned these testaments to a time that will never again exist. I hated that I watched my father die a little bit while he was poking through the box, quietly and without tears. I hated my sister and her lazy husband for raising their daughter in squalor. I hated the fact that, at five, Addison did not bathe regularly and suffered from urinary tract infections, that she ate shit food, got very little exercise, and that their lives revolved around the television.
It took me too long to forgive Brenda. Of course I was not able to really imagine the shame and guilt she must have been experiencing in losing her/her daughter's home, the tremendous weight of the mental illness under which she labored, and how our family's judgment compounded her other burdens. It was also not my place to forgive her of things that were beyond her control. I'm still a little sad and a little angry, mostly with myself. The truth is hard to approximate and harder to communicate.
“[T]he hydrangeas that you planted… turned out beautiful, some are blue because I put come copper coins in the fertilizer, it's a secret of nature, and every time I arrange them in a vase I think of you, but I also think of you when there aren't any hydrangeas, I always think of you, Ferula, because the truth is that since you left me no one has ever loved me as you did…”
Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits