Updated: Apr 12
I wish you had never been born,
she hears, when she dares to take herself there.
She won't stay, she won't lay herself bare
And she finds herself lost again, torn.
And she closes the lid on the toy attic box,
on an overly tidy shelf.
With angry words in lipstick and pen,
from Mike and her and me -
that careful rinsing will not clean.
And she swears
not to go there again.
Just as Michael at 5 and 10 and 15 is always there when I see Mike at 43, so I look at Shairen, 44, and see also my little sister at 6 and 11 and 16. And she makes me sad.
Shairen finds love difficult. At least some love. I know she loves me. She knows I love her. Some might say middle child, but there's much more to it. And anyway, Mike would have to be a girl, or Shairen and I would both have to be boys, apparently, to be a true 'middle child'.
We are in the toy attic - a great place, actually, our great place to make a noise, to make a mess. We lived in a messy, cluttered household with soap-corners and teabags piling up beside sinks. Marmalade and soup trails snake down cupboard doors, and hair grips that have been used to de-wax ears sit side by side with random pills, half candles and waiting-to-be-washed odd socks. Our mess on top of this was not something our ship-shape submariner father desired (nor the teabags, nor the marmalade) and so it was a good idea to turn loft space into a home for lego, cindies, pippas, car racing tracks and Girl's World heads. We liked the toy attic and we used it mostly to play 'lost kittens' (Mike was a cat called Purr Purr and we three had adventures) but it didn't stop us defacing it (Mike must have been around 7, Shairen 8 ) with angry words. Mum hates us, we hate mum - a pretty standard, childish act of rebellion, retaliation after an argument or a punishment. I wish you'd never been born, I wish you'd never been born, I wish you you'd never been born. I wish you'd never been born, I wish you'd never been born, 'redrum' style in lipstick.
'I wish you had never been born' was sandwiched for Shairen between 'your father doesn't love you' and 'he only loves Suzanne.' That is harsh. That is harsh and that is divisive. And it divided.
When you go to Shairen's house, it is always immaculate. Shairen cleans as you walk through her house. Mike, because he has an easy relationship with her, sometimes drops a crumb on the floor and points it out, waiting to see how long she can bear not to pick it up. Dishes are washed between courses and walls are white. No teabags in sight.
I am going to call it running away. Mum ran away. She wasn't coping and she ran away for months at a time. Dad already gone, we were the party house, come and stay. Come for a day, come for a week. My friends. Shairen's friends. Michael's friends. Friends of friends. Let's smoke. Let's drink. Let's do handstands. Let's play piano at 5 o'clock in the morning. Let's try banana skins because apparently they might be hallucinogenic.
We spent far too many months together as teenagers, pretending to be grown-ups. Taking blank, sent, signed cheques to FineFare for food and toilet rolls. 18 is not grown up. 19 is not grown up enough for teenage rebellion from a sibling who already distrusts you. That relationship teenage girls often have with their mothers, angsty, emotionally wrought, kicking against the pricks. When your brother is spiraling out of control and you need to get some attention yourself. I understand why you walked to school one day in your tights without a skirt. I know why you ate into your rum and vodka glass. I know why you went on a date with the first boy I loved. You pushed against me as the sibling who got the love. With an absent motherfigure, I was also the prick. And how you kicked.
I can't make you unhear things. There are so many words I wish you could unhear.
You carry these thrown-in-anger words with you. They have stuck and they have you stuck. They have you fighting for control, fighting off dirt, fighting off the unknown, fighting off love, in fact. You love, but you are scared of it. Scared to bring down all the boxes.
Mike asked his most loved ones, a couple of years ago, to design him a hexagon for his tattooed sleeve. We all put a great deal of thought into our designs, about how we fit into Mike's life, what would work. He let us go whichever way we wanted, and would pull them altogether with his geometric shape designs in between them. Mike did his own hexagon with the Asperger's symbol; Elsa, with intertwined Virgo and Aquarius symbols; I put some piano keys around the edge of a Celtic knot. Shairen designed a tree using hearts for the foliage part. I really like her idea that the three parts growing out of it are Mike and her and me.
Some relationships fall effortlessly into place, with easy banter about difficult things. Some relationships never get there, shoulders rubbing the wrong way. Some others are somewhere in between and require work. We have always had to work at our relationship, our branches on the tree touching, but not quite linked in the way we are with Mike. But you know that doesn't mean I love you less.
I love you, Shairen, and I have to say, because I love you, that you have to find a way of sorting out those boxes.