Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Cousin Gets a Dose of My Mom & Sister--Part 2

Part one here.

A state police patrol car was signaling from behind. To her horror, Lee realized the bus was pulling over to stop right on the Interstate. She had made it several hours away from her aunt's house, but was still within the reach of law. My mother had called Lee's father when she realized Lee had run away. A flurry of phone calls and investigation led to the bus being pulled off of I-5 to retrieve a 14 year old run-away.

Lee's father and mother arrived to pick her up shortly after she was taken off the bus. Her mother was quiet, her father was enraged. Lee soon found out she was being accused of more than running away. It didn't take long to find out the hot anger of her father had to do with something else. Lee was accused by my parents of having stolen a stack of postage stamps and around $100 cash from my father's desk. Lee's father being in law enforcement made the accusation of theft all the worse for him. And for Lee.

My uncle, Lee's father, is my father's younger brother. My uncle thought very highly of both of my parents. If they said something, it was the absolute truth. Lee soon realized there was going to be no appeal of the verdict. She had been accused by an unimpeachable authority. My parents. Lee's mother wasn't so quick to condemn her daughter. She had been the one who received the letters from my grandmother describing the disappearance of some her of personal things while living in my parent's home. Lee was not living in my parent's house at that time. My sister was. My aunt had always suspected my sister of the theft of my grandmother's items. Lee's mother also knew that Lee didn't have a history of theft. Her son did, but not her daughter. So when Lee vehemently denied the charges, she saw her father only became more angry, although her mother was quickly convinced of her innocence.

The aftermath of these events was devastating in my cousin's home. It was the equivalent of a bomb going off and shredding everyone in its radius. Lee had "earned" the disgust and opprobrium of her father through my family's accusations. Her mother was so completely convinced that her daughter did not steal from my parents that she was set in diametric opposition to her husband. Their already rocky marriage was now in extremis. My father had issued the verdict that Lee, the thief, was not ever to be allowed into his home again. This shame was nearly insupportable for Lee's father. His rage and disgust was directed at his daughter. His wife's efforts were directed at protecting Lee from her angry father. The battles raged on.

The chaos of Lee's home now increased exponentially. By the time she was fifteen she again made plans to run away from home. This time she succeeded. She was gone for many months. Her circumstances deteriorated once she was out on her own. She eventually was living in the street. I don't need to list the trial of woe that her middle teen years resulted in. With a little imagination you can probably guess what pitfalls she was set up to fall into by the circumstances I've described.

Shortly after Lee found herself in the street she contacted her parents. Money was sent so she could ride a bus back home. When she returned, home was very different. Her mother seemed distressingly indifferent to her. As was her father. No one asked her where she had been or what had happened to her. Obviously malnourished, thin as a rail and in poor health, no one expressed a shred of concern except that she take a bath because "you smell horrible". She was home again, but she was on her own. Her parent's marriage was all but over. Neither of her parents seemed to give a shit about her so immersed were they in their own drama and misery. Shortly after she returned home, her parents separated.

Over a year after my cousin had run away from my parent's home a surprising event occurred. My father called his brother and asked if he and my mother could come over for a short visit.

When they arrived my mother sat quietly not saying a word, as is her usual role when something really big is going down. My father was acting as the family spokesman:

"We were wrong. It turns out that our daughter [my sister] stole the money from us. We owe you an apology. "

End of subject.

Immediately after this statement my father turned to his brother and started making small talk. That was it. "We owe you an apology." There is a very large difference between saying you owe an apology and actually giving an apology. This was a grand example of a non-apology. Minimally, an apology would look like this: "We are very sorry for the false accusation made by our daughter and we ask your forgiveness." My cousin, sitting with an infant in her arms, was stunned into complete silence. She felt confused at my parents' attempt to sweep away an avalanche of dreadful consequence with this barest mention of culpability. It effectively trivialized everything she had endured as a result of my sister's vicious lie against her. Something so huge was just reduced to a mere dishonorable mention. My parents assumed a cool, distant mien while they mechanistically pronounced their reversal of the accusations that turned Lee and her family's life completely upside-down. They refused to even wear a look of humility. And where was the perp, my sister?? Safely back at home sheltered from having to make the confession herself.

I am certain that what happened is my sister finally got caught stealing cold hard cash from my parents with no one else around who could be blamed. This would have led to a line of questioning about the cash that went missing from my father's desk that wasn't noticed until Lee ran away. My father would have been the one to revisit that event in light of new information. Whatever my dad had on my sister, it had to have been overwhelming for her to confess to a previous crime of stealing and then blaming her cousin. It is very likely it was my father that put two and two together and was holding my sister's feet to the fire. Whatever my sister's punishment ended up being, it couldn't have been too bad because the most difficult thing for her to do in order to make redress was not required of her. She was not required to make things right herself to the people she had so grossly wronged.

This is how I look at my sister's refusal to personally apologize. At the time she would have been around 20 years old. Although she was still living in my parent's home, she was no longer a minor. Knowing her as I do, if my parents told her she needed to apologize directly to Lee and her family, my sister would have been quite capable of flatly refusing to do so. She could not have been forced to do the right thing because my parents had little power to make her do what she didn't want to do. My sister had long ago rebelled against parental authority. So her absence from the apology scene at my cousin's home was likely less about my parents sheltering my sister from the consequences of her behavior and more about my sister absolutely refusing to make things right herself. So, in my mind, not only is she a complete coward, but she is a low-life for not ever doing anything to even try to make things right. Morality is fundamentally about doing the right thing by others. It is about how our personal habits and behaviors and words affect other people. My sister, like all narcissists, violate all the fundamental laws of morality because they put themselves first in every situation. In my opinion, my sister belongs in a zoo because her level of morality resembles an animal's. She is unsafe to directly interact with humans.

Because my father had issued the edict to his brother that they weren't welcomed in his home if Lee was with them (which means they didn't feel welcomed at all) my father would have felt the pressure to clear the air a bit since the residual sense of fairness still present in him would have required he make some signal that the closed door was now open again. Naturally, my father's lame-ass overture did little to bring the two families together again, but I doubt he cared about that. He only wanted to remove the evidence of his part in the crime against my cousin and her family by removing his imposed sanctions. This was his "cleansing act" to absolve his own conscience. It obviously wasn't about making things truly right.

I do understand that the level of shame my sister brought on my parents was substantial. Part of the evidence of their sense of shame is that these events were never even hinted at to me. I never heard any of these events from my parents' or sister's lips. I did hear about my cousin running away and being a thief. They never told me the "rest of the story". I also know how my father, for as long as I have memories, has held his brother in some contempt. This was largely because of my mother's nasty attitude toward anyone in my father's family. She was able to infect my father with her many insinuations toward all of his family. Since my sister's actions affected people whom my parents considered "beneath" them, this would have helped to mitigate their sense of shame giving them the courage to show their faces for the fake apology session. All that "these people" deserved was a quick quasi-apology with no acknowledgment whatsoever of the dreadful consequences my cousin and her family had lived with because of my sister's bad act. These facts, when I finally was made aware of them two decades later, outrage me to this day.

My cousin shared this episode with me about a year after we had developed a close friendship. The year was 2003. At that very time my sister was beginning to show signs of jealousy that Lee and I were close friends. It was something I tried to hide from my sister as much as possible. But certain events (involving our mother) were making the truth evident. Sister dearest wanted a piece of this action. As had been true all of our lives, if I have something, sister feels entitled to it. She had already made comments to me that made it obvious she expected me to smooth the way to open up the possibility for Lee and my sister to start communicating. When I became aware of my sister's outright crime against our cousin and her lack of confession for any of it, I was sickened that she would expect to come into Lee's life like nothing had ever happened. I was aware of my sister's expectations of me; how she was expecting to have a friendship with our cousin, too, with me opening the way for that to happen. I was also aware that my cousin not holding resentment toward my sister (she's just that kind of person), but she was having a hard time feeling like she could trust my sister. No small wonder. Like me, Lee had been the recipient of malicious acts that had never been admitted to. This makes forming a trust nigh to impossible. Because I now had a big picture of my sister's past relationship with my cousin, I never did anything to try to facilitate the two of them becoming friends. I wasn't going to be found pressuring my cousin to trust a person that I myself was still not able to trust.

Keep in mind, my sister could have made the effort to start communicating with our cousin on her own. Nothing was keeping her from picking up the phone. Well, nothing except for this sordid past. She knew she had a huge hurdle to get over in order to have a friendship with our cousin, but she wasn't willing to pay the price to truly make it right. She was unable, nay, unwilling, to make a full confession even after 20 years and apologize to the person she directly wronged in such a callous and devastating way. But my sister, as usual, was more worried about her own feelings. Not wanting to set herself up for rejection she would not extend herself in such a way as to experience full rejection if her advances were rebuffed.

In true narcissist fashion, my sister wanted to proceed as if this unpleasant past didn't exist. She wanted my cousin to pretend it didn't exist. Sister dearest hung back, occasionally making small overtures toward Lee, but Lee never took the bait. Sister was held back from more aggressive overtures because of this past history. She was afraid of outright rejection, so she would make a tentative attempt, like a Christmas gift one year (kinda funny after never having given my cousin Christmas gifts in all their lives) or a short email. Lee acknowledged the gift or would answer an email without inviting a response...and then would let the contact drop. My sister didn't have enough moral certitude to proceed more aggressively, which is why she wanted me to get in on the action. My sister did send one email to Lee during this time in which she made an attempt to wash the slate clean by vaguely apologizing for things not specified. While attempting to look like she was apologizing, she also minimized her own guilt by blaming the "damage" done to her by our mother. She attempted to pretend to not remember anything specifically wrong she might have done, but wanted Lee to know she was sorry for whatever Lee may remember being done against her. I was singularly unimpressed when I read it. She was trying to whitewash things, not apologize. An apology is completely ruined when accompanied by excuses. If you are not willing to completely own your shit and to not attempt to shuck any of the blame, then don't bother calling it an apology, cuz it ain't one. I'm sure my sister noticed that her shitty non-apology didn't buy her any capital.

I am certain my sister never has connected the dots between her letting her cousin take the rap for her own theft and the violent upheaval of Lee's life and her family's cohesion. This doesn't take her off the hook. This makes her all the more despicable to me. Why? Because, in her own mind, she is less guilty than she really is. She has no real appreciation of the extent of her guilt and the depth of reparation necessary to show true remorse. She is less guilty in her own mind than she really is in reality. Even with this lesser amount of guilt from her perspective, she isn't willing to come clean.

My sister spends an inordinate amount of effort and emotional energy on remembering the past with her mother and father and recounting all the ways their actions hurt her. This is because she found Christianized, yet still Freudian, psychology which tells her all her problems stem back to her childhood. Nothing is ever her fault. She is a class-one victim and is anxious to make sure everyone around her knows how damaged she is. I used to wonder when she was going to get around to reviewing the past where she hurt people. Then, I would wonder if she would do what she was expecting her parents to do for her: completely own her bad acts and express eternal remorse for them. But, no, it never seemed to go there. She does exactly what she faults her parents for...ignores her own bad behaviors and acts like they never happened or puts a positive spin on her deeds so they are no longer viewed as mis-deeds. If you feel like making excuses for my sister, go right ahead. But I'm done with excusing her. She has never been willing to own her own shit, while expecting everyone around her to own theirs. Like any narcissist, she is a complete hypocrite. One of my greatest temptations right now is to send her a link to this blog so she can finally see in black and white what I know about her and what I think of her so for the first time in her life she would be forced to hear what her victims think of her. I'll probably resist this temptation successfully unless she tries to force herself on me at some point. All bets are off then.

One of the people most relieved when I cut off my sister was my dear cousin Lee. I was the only person through whom my sister could have access to her. The same was true of my parents. When I stopped communicating with them, I was not only sheltering my immediate family, but Lee, her sons and her father. We all live in the same city a few houses apart. My parents and sister are unaware of where we all live. We moved in tandem for a second time to a whole new state and city. This move was not done specifically to drop off the radar, but it happily worked to that end. We all feel delightedly happy and safe from their predations.

I can end this chapter with a happy note. Before my cousin was out of her teens, her father turned around. He radically transformed after he and his wife separated and eventually divorced. The abusive behavior stopped. He has been a loving and supportive father to his daughter. Those who know their situation, know he has gone well beyond the call of duty in how he subsequently helped Lee and her sons. They are a close and loving family now. Her sons are good young men with bright futures. I am proud to know them all. They are more than family, they are beloved friends. They have each and all experienced the very worst of my family. They know personally the hateful and cruel ways of my parents and my sister. I am blessed beyond measure that our lives came together in spite of my mother's multiplied efforts to keep me from knowing these wonderful and real people. I am grateful that I stopped believing my mother's lies so I could find the people who are more family to me than my parents and sister ever were.

When you expunge narcissists from your life, you find that you have a lot more room in your life for good people.


chickwithbrain said...

I love happy endings!

Anna Valerious said...

Ha! Hard to find those in stories with narcissists.

Anonymous said...

wow! i just happened to stumble across your blog, and i love it..

this story reminds me of my in-laws in a lot of ways. i've recently wondered if they were, in fact, narcissists. completely at a loss of understanding, i searched, hoping to find a term for who they are. so far, it's the only one to describe them!

thanks for your story. it gives hope to us out there still fighting the battles, hoping for an end. happy or not.

-victim of narcissism