An open letter to my sister

Originally published on August 28, 2006.

I received this e-mail from one of my sisters a few days ago:

Since no one had heard from you in over 2 years we thought you might possibly be dead. I did a little detective work on the internet; simply typed in your name and Chicago and it led me right to your blog site. I read some of your writings and went to a couple of your links. How does that make you feel, knowing your sister has viewed that pornography? Do you feel any shame or remorse? If you do, perhaps there’s still hope for you.

I still remember the day you were born with vivid detail. I remember the joy and the happiness we all felt. I remember the adorable little boy that I bought presents for each week and even took on dates with me. I remember pretending you were mine. I remember the pride we all took in your scholastic achievements and the promise of such great potential you displayed. What happened? When did the downward spiral begin and how did you sink so low?

My heart is so heavy as I write this for I believe what Romans 1:28 says: And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not seemly. Being a male prostitute and a pimp is not seemly; it’s disgusting – an abomination in God’s sight (and in mine). I say these things not in anger or to hurt you (is that possible?) but only because I believe them to be true. I’m thankful for one thing – that you’ve chosen to live in Europe and disassociate yourself from your family. That’s probably the one decent thing you’ve done.

I’ll pray for your soul, Rick, and may God have mercy upon you.

Dear Care

I didn’t know whether anyone from my family back in the States would ever try to contact me. Based on past experience, I would have been surprised if they had. This e-mail certainly surprised me.

During my first stay in Prague my e-mails to family were rarely answered and when I emailed to tell you all I was coming back to Chicago no one responded. That was the beginning of my decision to sever my ties with my family in the States. Indeed, this silence was no different from the fact that in the 14 years of my living in Chicago, I was rarely visited or called, although I couldn’t count the number of times I came “home” to Indianapolis to visit Mom and my sisters and their families.

Mom herself, as a frail 70-something woman, stayed with me twice, learning to love and appreciate my boyfriend at the time. Vicki, our shared sister, saw me for about two hours in downtown Chi only because she was already visiting with a church group on a shopping trip. None of my nieces ever came, although they promised many times.

You, dear Care, never visited once. Never called. Not when I was in Carbondale, Chicago, or Prague. So why should you be surprised that when I got away from the States, I would not maintain contact with anyone, least of all you? My life now, even more than when I was in Chicago and just an ordinary alterna-fag, is so far from the realities of my quite normal family that I really couldn’t see the foundation for a rapport.

How could I explain myself to you? I can’t explain myself to myself. One thing I know: despite the circumstances of my homelessness, a fact which you seem either not to grasp or don’t care about, I am far, far happier than I’ve been in over 20 years. That’s an assertion that no one’s going to believe. But I don’t care.

For my part, my favorite memory of you comes from the summer of 1974. Your daughter and my niece, Angie — she must have been 8 or 9 — and I had just come in from swimming in the backyard pool. It was hot but we wanted to dance. I put on the 45 I couldn’t stop playing that month: Linda Ronstadt’s When Will I Be Loved, a superior cover of the old Everly Brothers hit. I loved the randy guitars on that song.

Now, even though my mother was backslid at the time and my dad wasn’t religious at all, dancing to popular music in the house was still frowned upon by my other Pentecostal sister, and also by my mother.

You were just beginning to become Baptist at the time, I think. I danced by myself all the time in my room; I knew it was not appreciated. Since you and Mom had gone to the A&P for groceries, Angie and I wanted to dance in the big family room using the gigantic Admiral console stereo with the big speakers, lined in red fabric. The door opened and you and Mom stood there for a bit watching us. Then you came in the door and quickly set the bags down on the kitchen table and joined me and Angie.

I thought it was the greatest thing. You and I joined hands and sang along. Ronstadt’s cover is not the dirge that the Everlys made it. She’s defiant, and despite the song’s title, hopeful. With the brisk rhythm, the ripping roots-rock guitar and the vocals right on the edge of a shout, she’s telling the world what it’s missing for not loving her.

Damn the heartaches, I will get what I deserve. Maybe we understood that, too, but, whatever, the joy was infectious and I was amazed that you felt it too.

I looked at you smiling and sweating in the sunlight coming in through the picture window, and thought, wow, my sister is cool. She’s smiling and beautiful and she’s dancing with me. Even Mom almost got in on the act, clapping her hands and laughing. Our dog Spot certainly got involved, running around between our legs, tongue hanging out and barking.

Care, we were never that close again.

But even if we never speak again, that’s how I’ll choose to remember you.

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