Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fiction dredging up history

Last night, on the commute home, I finally finished reading I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb. I had started this book about two months ago but then put it down and started another book. I Know This Much Is True is a 900-page book and my version is hard cover. I was reluctant to carry it on the train, so it sat on my desk.

But about two weeks ago, I started reading it again and I decided to carry it to work anyway in spite of the bulk. Wally Lamb is such a great writer. If you've read She's Come Undone (not as big a book), you'll know what I mean. I Know This Much Is True deals with identical twins, the narrator and his paranoid schizophrenic brother. I won't say too much, but the themes that are arising in this book struck me deeply, enough so that I needed to discuss them with my shrink last week: How your family defines you. How much responsibility you must take for your family. Biology vs. upbringing. Personal responsibility -- how your actions affect others.

It's all about family, and this dredged up past and present thoughts of MY family, where there was a lot of anger, a lot of rage, as we were growing up. My dad was randomly violent and my older brothers got a lot of that; we did, too, but they got it more often. There was a pecking order; my brothers would turn the tables on the younger kids. I remember getting beat up a lot.

But I wasn't innocent. I passed it along as well, picking especially on my younger sister, doing cruel stuff to her in retaliation for her tattling or whining (that wasn't allowed, that wasn't part of our "code").

Beyond that, I had to watch her receive more than her share of my father's anger. I would watch it unfold, petrified that I'd be the next victim, as sometimes happened. I would wonder why she kept on talking, when she was obviously pushing him too far ... why didn't she see he was about to erupt? "Everyone" else knew pretty much when to shut up. For some reason, she couldn't shut up, and she always got it. I'd see it happen, or I'd hear the noise and yelling from upstairs.

I think about this a lot because I'm pretty sure my sister has some kind of emotional disorder. I don't think it's schizophrenia, but there's something there, and reading this book has made me wonder what part my own childhood cruelties played in how she turned out. There's no denying that the physical pain and fear I went through as a child affected me, too, and I'm doing my best to work through that and overcome it. My ventures into BDSM have helped me tremendously. Yes, I sometimes use it as therapy.

But I can't deny that I too caused pain to someone else. How does one makes amends? My sister and I do not get along all that well. We skirt around the edges of a relationship. I don't do the best I can. She make me uncomfortable, it's hard to talk to her, and I tend to avoid her.

I loved the book, by the way (glad I don't have to lug it around anymore), but not sure I like this sudden introspective look at my past. I'm wondering if I really need to reach out to her more, to try harder.


Brian said...


I wanted to stop by, but I don't know you well enough to comment on this post. I have strong opinions towards abuse and no contact with my family.

Ms. Cassandra (Sandy) Park said...

Sometimes I wonder if that's the direction I should take. But my brothers redeemed themselves and I get along with most of my sisters. My father is the most difficult... can't really talk to him at all.

Anonymous said...

First off, thanks for the tips on the books. I just ordered them...I'm always on the lookout for new reading material and they sound great.

I don't think you can beat yourself up over being mean to your sister when you were kids. Kids are kids and sometimes they are mean to each other. I doubt you were any meaner than other siblings are to each other.

I have only one brother, but he also doesn't seem to grasp the concept of social cues or when he's pushing that line. He'll blithely go up to the line and just keep right on going and then is surprised when everything blows up (and it's never HIS fault).

We weren't abused as kids. He has just always been like that and he still is. He's very difficult to be around. He is ultra-sensitive if you say anything HE doesn't like, but doesn't pick up on the fact when he's hurting YOUR feelings or annoying you or anything else. He's always right and believes whoever is loudest wins.

Thankfully he now lives across the country and I don't have to see him much. I love him and all, but I'm glad I don't have to see him that often. I do think he has some sort of personality disorder, although, even if he got a diagnosis, he'd expect the world to change to accommodate him.

Sorry to babble on. Your description of your sister just reminded me of my brother. I know sometimes people are just hard to deal with. Loving them, doesn't mean you have to like them though or be best buddies.

Family you are stuck with by matter of biology. It's your friends you get to choose.