Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
Open Borders
 

This past weekend, I gave a speech at the Montgomery County Community College Writer’s Conference on telling the truth in writing. It was a fabulous conference. Lots of great information—and fun.

And now, here I sit, riveted to a blank page, trying to figure out how to tell the truth of something that’s happening in my own life without offending those involved—something a few of my students asked about and I promptly and theoretically answered. You have to make choices, I said.

And that’s true.

So here’s my choice—in practice. To walk my own talk, and show my students (if you’re reading, hey hey) one way it can be done.

See, I have a situation with one of my husband’s older daughters. And it’s weighing heavily on us—especially me since, as a writer, I am compelled to purge in words. And as a blogger, well, to the public.

You can see my quandary.

Now, I could avoid it altogether and write around a few other things on my mind (like why do all my married friends schedule sex with their spouses on Sunday mornings and why does my father spend most of his free time at Costco?). But that would only be postponing the inevitable—like a pap smear or a root canal.

Besides, I’m the kind of person who’s got to get it out. So mindful of not telling another person’s story (which you should never do) and staying focused on my own, here’s it is: My stepdaughter, for the sake of a religion that has its followers shun those who are not followers, has chosen to cut me, her father, and her step-sister out of her life.

(Hello? Are you still with me? Are you breathing? Oh wait, I’m talking to myself here.)

Now, I suspect, if you ask her if it’s true, she will deny it. That’s why I’ll make it my subjective, but I’m pretty sure fairly accurate, truth. At least according to the circumstantial evidence that we have not heard from her since she told us she was going back to said religion (which, as a former member, she was asked to leave a while back). She also told us she’d never stop talking to us because she loved and respected us too much.

That was almost a month ago. Well, maybe a little past three weeks, to be safe.

Let me stop and say that if she reads this (which I doubt she ever will), she may say it’s not true. That we brought it on ourselves—you know, the “shunning.” That I put the nail in my own coffin by calling her up angry after her father told me she was returning to the religion that already had claims on his other three children. Who, as result, don’t have anything to do with him.

She told him over the phone while he was on I-276 driving east towards home from his job in Exton. Since he’d already had his suspicions, he wasn’t totally shocked. But, like a big want-to-believe-the-best-of-people, I was.

And so it’s true. I did call her slightly emotional. Hit the digits on the receiver in anger. Dan said, “Honey, be careful what you say.” But I didn’t. I burst into the conversation with how-dare-you-what-are-you-thinking hostility. And I don’t relieve myself of that responsibility. I’m not afraid of accepting some blame. Blame is part of life, as is forgiveness.

Still, I was mad. Human mad. I hated the way she told my husband–and how she had been lying to us about it for months. (Since I had asked her a few times point blank if she had plans to go back —and she doth protested.) And something else she had done—or was doing—that I won’t get into here. (Note the choices, students.)

And yet, in my defense, who doesn’t get angry when they learn that a person they love is about to leave them. Whether they themselves are ready to be real about it or not.

Now, I can imagine her reading this (although, again, I doubt she ever will), shaking her head, dropping her jaw, “I can’t believe HER. I can’t believe she said that! Or that!”

And then repeating what she said during our second phone call–the one I made the next morning to tell her how badly I felt about the first. “You are a child. I am the grownup!” My attempts at reconciliation met with a hostile residue.

In that moment, I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine how someone calling with the message of love and support could remain so rebuked. So offended. And yet, when I shared my desire to talk more about it, she basically told me we couldn’t.

Evidently, ever.

Because, I guess, I am a child. Me. The “She.” The “HER.”

Me. The woman who bought for her, listened to her, rubbed her feet when she was in the hospital preparing to give birth. Gave her a baby shower, unconditional love, and several pairs of my favorite earrings and flip flops. Handed over lip gloss, clothes, and comfort like they were cash owed for services.

Me. The woman who stepped in as a surrogate when I said, “I do” and she said she was struggling to relate to her biological mother, in the religion also.

Me. The woman who encouraged her to accept her mom for all she can offer and move forward. None of us are perfect, after all.

And I’d tell her: I’m just paying it forward, when she’d say “You’re so good to me. You LOVE me.” Yes, I do. Why not? You are infinitely lovable. Besides, I have a good mom. She did all these things for me. Somebody should do them for you. So I did. And now, well…

Anyway, as I said before, we have not heard from her in weeks. Her father, my husband, has been through his paces health wise, having had a dicey and invasive surgical procedure to eliminate heart disease (which, thankfully, at 50 he has the heart of a 30-year-old, and I’m sure he’ll be fine with me telling you this).

And then a full-body rash that had us spending Halloween in the emergency room. His candy was three intravenous rounds of Benedryl and a week-long course of Prednisone. (I’m not sure how he’ll feel about me sharing that, but what the heck.)

Mine was a midnight round of the 800 Hershey’s Kisses we weren’t home to give out.

And yet, no phone call from his daughter—my stepdaughter. No nothing.

Sadly, having grown up in this religion and then leaving it when he was of legal age to do so, he’s all too accustomed to losing family members for reasons other than death. He’s lost practically all of them to this religion—mom, dad, brothers, sisters, children. (Sorry, his story.)

In fact, I suspect, losing them to death might be easier since at least it probably hurts less to think that people are no longer part of your life because it’s difficult to make a phone call when you’re dead.

And, now, apparently, when you’re alive, but in a certain religion as well.

And that’s the truth. At least, mine.

And so, to my students: Yes, the people involved in this tale know who they are. But hopefully, the rest of the world doesn’t. Wouldn’t know my stepdaughter if she rang their doorbell with a copy of The Watchtower and some extras for sharing.

Wouldn’t know my husband if he showed up at their doorstep asking for directions back to Doylestown.

And in the truth-telling business, that’s the best we can hope for, save the players in our stories getting amnesia and forgetting altogether. Which I can say from experience, rarely happens.

Until next time.
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3 Comments »

  1. Did you actually tell us what the issue was…somehow I got lost in all the banter? What are you actually saying?

    Comment by l — November 25, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. And yes, I did convey the issue–my stepdaughter leaving us for a religion. But I can clearly see how it’d get lost in the muck. This is one of the challenges of telling a hard truth and I’ve fallen prey to it. So thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    In that spirit, I’ve tried to rewrite/reorganize it a bit to make it clearer to those of who you know nothing about the situation at all (unlike my mother and husband, my faithful readers :) ).

    I’ve had a precious 15 minutes to tackle it since we have my other stepdaughter clamoring for breakfast, my husband glued to a loud football game, and the dogs licking my toes in a desperate attempt to get fed. I hope this helps to clarify at least somewhat.

    THANK YOU for your comment, again, and for reading. And as always, I invite everybody to join in on the discussion.

    All the best,
    Jill

    Comment by Jill — November 25, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  3. Thank you so much for this piece. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for my dear friend who, 10 years younger than me, died in her sleep in the early hours of thanksgiving day. It has been hell on wheels for all of us who loved her (and there are many); yet my friend had, among other things, a great sense of humor, so she would really appreciate the line you wrote that made me laugh out loud – “you can’t make a phone call when you’re dead”. To others of certain religious persuasions that might be sacriligious, but to me (and my friend, who was one of the most honest and loving of women, with a very dry sense of humor) your comment about phone calls and dead people causing me to laugh for the first time in a week has helped begin the healing process. Thank you for being the voice Michelle no longer has. I know she is laughing with me as I write this through my tears.

    Comment by Marion — November 29, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

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