I seem to be having nightmares more frequently of late. Last night I wasn’t hungry, but I wanted to eat. I didn’t know what I wanted. I knew what I didn’t want – I didn’t want protein, carbs, fat, or sweet treats. I didn’t want food. But I wanted to eat. I did not eat. Instead, I watched an episode of Babylon 5 with David and went to bed after a glass of milk. This was a compromise on my part – I was no longer full from dinner and it tasted delicious.
And last night I dreamt again about my sister. This time it was the tennis ball.
I must have been 12 or 13. It was after she moved home from foster care and before my parents reunited. And some stupid fight broke out over a tennis ball. A tennis ball that didn’t have an owner and with which I was playing.
And of course, this was utterly unacceptable to her. And she demanded that I give it to her and to the neighbor who was her best friend at the time. And I refused. I knew she would try to take it anyway. She always demanded anything she wanted and if she wasn’t given it, she simply took it. Always.
So it was with the tennis ball. She demanded it. I didn’t want to relent this time. I wanted to stake my claim. It didn’t belong to anyone. I had been playing with it first. I wasn’t done with it. I had been enjoying myself. I wanted to continue to play.
When I wouldn’t give it to her, she hit me. And she kept hitting me. She hit me until I was lying on the floor in the fetal position, curled around that tennis ball, unwilling to let her take yet one more thing from me.
And so she left. She and her friend left the house. And just for good measure, she kicked me in the eye on her way out.
And she kicked me so hard that the blood vessels in my eye ruptured. And the white of my eye was stained with ruby spots of blood. And my mother was at work until 11:00 that night. So, when she returned home the next morning and I told her what had happened and had her look at my eye, of course it was my fault. I should have just given her the damn tennis ball. And besides, what was I talking about? My mother couldn’t see anything wrong with my eye.
But I went into the bathroom and looked again. And there they were – those red dots of blood. And sure enough the neighbors asked what happened to my eye. And people at church on Sunday asked what had happened to my eye. And no matter how many times I made my mother look at my eye, she couldn’t see it. There was nothing wrong. Why hadn’t I just given my sister the tennis ball in the first place?
My sister continues to do the same thing today – always striving to take from others what she wants, believing that she can’t truly have it for herself if she does not have it all. If I am happy in my relationship, she finds some way to disparage it and to claim that her own happiness in her relationship is greater. If I take pride in my academic accomplishments, she insists that they amount to nothing of value in this world and that she has accomplished what truly matters in life – reproduction. If I take pride in my vocation, this sacred and holy work that I love, she declares that my faith tradition is invalid and she alone has divine knowledge that is worthy of being held. If I hold to my faith and tell her with all genuineness that I am happy she has found a faith tradition that is meaningful to her, she switches faith traditions, enters into my own, and declares how much more she is getting from this community than I ever did.
And I’m tired. I am not in competition with her and I’m tired of being set up for a competition that I have no interest in. And I’m tired of the continual reworking of the story when I tell her I won’t compete and I’m happy that she’s happy and that nothing in my life is a poor reflection of her, just as nothing going on in her life changes my own experiences. It still never stops. She still demands all the tennis balls, never mind that she has no tennis racket and never learned to play the game.
I woke up this morning with an idea in my mind that was, all at once and in equal measure, both wonderful and terrifying.
It was this: I never have to see my family again.
I never have to see my family again.
I never have to see my family again.
This, of course, breaks the first rule of my family – loyalty to your family is everything. It also means stepping outside the bounds of the second rule of my family while appearing to keep in holding with it – inside the family, every man, woman, child for themselves only.
I have my own life in a place far away. I have a new family that I am building with D – one built on love and respect and the belief that there is enough for everybody and nobody needs to hoard it all or to deprive everyone else. I never have to see my family of origin ever again. Though I would, in fact, happily spend time with my mother or either of my brothers circumstances permitting, of course.
There is something liberating in this truth and yet the power to make such a bold decision overwhelms and terrifies me.
It used to be that when I meditated, I focused on the movement of my breath. “In. Out. In. Out.” Lately I have been trying something new. Two thoughts that carry on, distinct and separate, but wholly entwined and dependent on one another. “Love. Forgiveness. Love. Forgiveness.
I have been focusing on these ideas as I try to enhance my capacity to love others and to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt me. Today, I breathed in love and I breathed out forgiveness. My mind was drawn to the possibility (the glorious possibility) that I can choose to never see my father or my sister again. I brought my focus back to my breath.
And I began to cry. Choosing not to allow abusive and bullying people into my life is an act of love for myself. When those bullying and abusive people are family, I would have to forgive myself for breaking the family rules. Love. Forgiveness. In. Out. Love. Forgiveness.
And the possibility that just maybe there are tennis balls enough to go around.