I am sitting in the dim light of my office in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida surrounded by posters from The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux, two of my favorite Charlie Chaplin movies My wall décor brings me comfort and calm counteracting the claustrophobia threatening to bubble up as I sit in a windowless room that could be mistaken for a closet if it weren’t for the three desks, two bookshelves, and mini-refrigerator. I am writing an autoethnography for a term paper for my health communication course about the benefits and pitfalls of forgiving healthcare providers for maltreatment when I receive an alert from my open Facebook page.
“You have a friend request.” I open my notifications to see the face of my foster sibling/cousin, Sonny. I haven’t spoken to Sonny in at least 10 years. Seeing her face brings back too many memories of a past I work hard to forget. A woman who has not, in my opinion, thrived and grew in positive ways resulting in me breaking away from her for many years. The alert from Facebook, her “friend request,” felt like I was being watched, like someone was tapping on my shoulder to say “hi,” someone I did not want to see. I felt her hovering in the doorway, knocking at my slightly ajar door.
I freeze in my tracks. My heart is pumping so hard I mistake the sound for an actual knock., Chills run up and down my spine. I am petrified. I stare at the request, not knowing what I will do.
In an autoethnography, written for an academic conference which took place in Chicago in 2014, I explored the cultural issue of sexual bullying, drawing from my own experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault as well as the stories of others who have experienced the same things. Though the story primarily focused on me, I found myself slowly remembering times in my life that included Sonny, that involved extreme and relentless abuse. Cruelties like repeated belt beatings for hours, screwless drilling into our sensitive anuses, and some being made to stand while eating night after night. Remembering these memories was never my intention and that made me feel uneasy. I do not think I had been blocking out these remembrances, but perhaps for the first time I was able to give those recollections words. For me, without the words put down on paper, it did not happen.
Richardson describes narrative writing as intentional, as well as our moral responsibility. In my case, I am intentionally writing the story of my estrangement from my foster cousin/sibling, Sonny, along with all the ethical implications that come with it, because I know I have a moral responsibility to do so. And through that act I am given the opportunity to write my story, intentionally and responsibly. Ellis teaches us about “relational ethics.” This requires that we as writers “act from our hearts and minds, acknowledge our interpersonal bonds to others, and take responsibility for actions and their consequences.” I reflect on my bond with Sonny. I discover some ‘relational regrets’ and ‘relational desires’ I have with her. I worry intensely of the possibility that I may be exploiting her. However, Richardson’s words echo in my mind, and I decide if I do not tell our story, no one would. I feel it is my moral responsibility to understand the bond I had with her. As well as the consequences of storying her. I do not have an answer for that. All I can say is ‘ethics [can be] violence to a story’ and I will no longer allow it to inflict violence on ours. Writing is a privilege, and that privilege carries with it the ethical imperative to write the stories of others. And sometimes those narratives are of those we love. This process can emphasize and elevate connection, as well as reveal relational regrets. These can culminate to an opportunity for reconciliation between the storyteller and the other or can ultimately lead to permanent estrangement.
Finally, after a year of being Sonny’s scribe, and without her knowledge, I began to fear that perhaps I was using her. Using her and our story to get ahead academically. The guilt from that possibility prompted me to vow that I would never story her again, at any time, for any reason after this piece. I want you to know her. More importantly, I want to know her. I want to hold her hand and comfort her as she endured severe abuses in foster home after foster home, including our home. I want to learn from her as we run, playing outside together in the sun day by day, wide eyed, and excited for our future, before our abuser took that enthusiasm from us. And most of all, I want back in the small, cramped, and damp room we would commune in, and have the talks I should have had with her and look at her the way I should have, with love and curiosity, to know her as much as I wish I did now before my ultimate hard choice to estrange from her, possibly forever.
I run up the cinderblock steps and trip and fall on the torn up linoleum floor damaged years ago after the toilet clogged causing water to seep into the kitchen in gallons. I get a glimpse of my step-father sitting on our sunken in faded flowered green couch, his gangly, sun burned arms stretched out across three cushions. He’s in his standard old tighty whities with a puff of sandy blond pubic hair bursting from his crotch, a small bush of chest hair right in the center between his nipples. He takes a long drag of a cigarette, eyeballs me then blows the smoke toward the ceiling where it hangs and rolls and drifts, its shapes and swirls amplified by the sunbeams shining through the front window. I like to stare at it, following the waves, cutting through the dust floating in the heat that you can slice through as you walk.
My step-father, Sonny’s uncle and foster father, is a sociopathic alcoholic and while drinking both his oozing pores and rancid breath would stench of cheap, unsophisticated, and factory made beer. He would often use sexual language and emotional and mental control, such as routinely talking about his daily masturbation activities and making us feel less than intelligent by telling us we would not make anything of ourselves, drop out of high school and become teen moms. This was pierced into our young brains daily. His main form of control was what my mom referred to as ‘terrorism.’ Using his hands, words, tone, and facial expressions to keep us in a perpetual state of fear of what he may do next. Even if he had nothing planned, we were always in fight or flight mode, constantly ready, and at the same time never prepared.
Sonny came to live with us when we were both five years old. Our birthdays are within a couple weeks of each other. Her birth mother, my second cousin on my mother’s side, had lost Sonny due to excessive drug use and child neglect for the umpteenth time and this time Sonny came to live with us. Sonny and I shared a small room. Furnished with a bunk bed, real wooden floors that you can see each and every crack, white chipped paint, a small window air conditioning unit, and a Snow White poster always just about to fall off the wall. Both of us had our own shelf in the brown wooden bookcase for our worlds to live. I had the top, and Sonny the second, all our consignment, and church donated shoes with all their soles missing, and holey existence, tucked underneath. At that time in our lives we felt fancy in the dress shoes donated to us and did not care or even understand the significance of them being donated to a poor family in their congregation. Each shelf gave a glimpse into the life of each child, our passions and desires, our biases, and our triumphs. While mine was filled with Goosebumps books, antique trinkets given to me by my step-grandmother like a wooden horse standing up on its hind legs, and porcelain dolls given to me by my maternal grandmother, with frilly, lacy dresses and thick curly hair, Sonny preferred baby dolls. The kind that sleep when you lay them down, or the one where the hair is made of yarn allowing to be crimped and braided. And the doll to rule all dolls, a potty-training doll.
The doll is filled with water that goes in the mouth by way of a bottle and comes out the bottom end into a makeshift potty chair. A simple idea and design but to a child, this was pure magic. But we knew what magic really was. Magic was a form of control, a way to terrorize children. If you spank a child too often they build up a tolerance to the pain and embarrassment and more and harsher punishment is needed, often leading to those headlines you see about discipline going too far, crossing the line into the legal definition of child abuse. We both had built up that tolerance, after a lifetime of being hit with a belt on our bare bottoms day after day. We did not care anymore. Our behavior never got better, as has been proven, physical discipline does not work, but in the eyes of my step-father psychological torture, his own magic, might.
Possessions are an integral part of identity. Having them, loving them, being taken from us, all influence who we are in the present moment. The homeless keep old, broken, and dirty objects that have no use to them, simply to maintain a self-actualization beyond their circumstance. The same is true for abused children. Something as simple as a doll that pees in a bucket can be a barrier between comfort and suicide. Somehow, though uneducated, a high school drop-out, my step-father knew this, thus convincing us he was able to turn toys into thick, stretchy rubber bands.
We whisper to each other in those few moments where we think we are alone whether we thought his magic was possible. I would say, ‘of course not!’ covering my own inner monologue of anxiety, knowing with my wisdom that this was an entirely new level of manipulation. After our short-lived pep talks, we would continue our normal routine, consisting of setting up the room as a library, Disney and Dr. Seuss books propped up on the beds and my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles recliner, or a highway rest stop complete with maps, restrooms, and security we learned from our recent trip to Alabama to visit maternal family my mother soon would estrange from herself. We set up these scenes to get away from the world we existed in. I am convinced of this, as an active participant, I put myself deep into that world for hours, and days. I WAS a studious librarian, and the next day a talented map maker for the local truck stop, and I was joyful to be somewhere of my own choosing. I cannot speak for Sonny but memories of those moments flash to my mind only giggles, smiles, and cooperation.
I did not sleep well as a child. I would lay for hours staring upward listening to Sonny snore slowly, softly on her top bunk bed. Laying under a grayish blue wool blanket, with circular cigarette burns and sides lined with what I would have described as silk, I see the brown wooden door open by the hands of my bumbling, drunk step-father. The yellow light from the living room hit my eyes and I squint to see, but also pretend to be asleep knowing that I would be smacked swiftly if I were not. He stumbles, without a hint of grace toward our bookshelf, and then again out the door, and I wait a few moments.
I know when my parents head off to bed, that is before my mom began sleeping on the reclining chair in the living room every night due to her growing absolute disgust at the idea of lying next to a disgusting drunk every night. The blinding light in the living room would go out and the persistent shouting would stop. I could hear more precisely the fish tank bubbling and the familiar white light from the tank contrasting the yellow would shine through the crack in the door. Knowing the consequence, a startling scream, demanding I get back into bed, I flip my wool blanket to the end of the bed, get up to move in slow motion, on my tip toes toward the shelf. I can feel my pink faux silk Little Mermaid night gown brush against my shins and though I had never seen the movie I loved the feeling against my skin, it meant eight hours in my own little world of peace and a relaxing darkness.
I hobble in the direction of the top shelf where I saw him linger for a moment, and peering in I squint to see a thick, beige rubber band sitting in the place of my foster sibling/cousin, Sonny’s potty doll. The magic is real. I moved my hand toward it, it is shaking like a small leaf, imagining the rubber band blowing up in my face or miraculously waking up my step-father just upon a soft touch of my finger-tips. I flick it with the back of my right index finger and seeing it move, I jump back to shuffle to Sonny’s bunk bed, shake her awake, and putting my index finger to my lips to signal her to stay quiet, I escorted her to the bookshelf. We stand staring, no words, until she mumbles, “What did I do?” Starting to whimper, she turns, climbs up the ladder to fall asleep, exhausted, defeated.
The next day he does not address what we both know, that he used his mystical, omnipresent magic to change Sonny’s doll into a rubber band. We suspect he does this on purpose as he never forgets. There was no library that day, no rest stop, no map making, just two little girls, sitting, waiting, petrified. We come to a consensus that we would not leave the room no matter how much we wanted to play our rigorous games outside or how desperately we needed to use the bathroom. We would stay together until the day ended and tomorrow, this will all be over. Our plan would foil at dinner time as we scuffled toward our designated spots at the table, me sitting up on my knees, on the hard floor, Sonny made to stand and eat only lima beans, as per orders, this was dinner every night. We scarf down our food in an attempt to get to our room before he finished his and we almost succeed. Sonny was asked to stay and I am instructed to go to bed, without anything to drink as Sonny was always the one who advocated to get us a drink after our dinner, but she has no voice tonight.
I sleep on the opposite end of my bed as to be able to look out over the top of our sawed in half door he cut in order to always be able to observe what we are doing. I need to see his magic for myself. Mary’s long and thin pure blond hair flies backward gracefully as she screams, begging him to stop pulling the rubber band back as far has his filthy hands could, snapping her, with what is to her, still her potty doll in disguise as a weapon of torture to break her. All without ever telling her why. I always thought her hair was so soft, and as I watch it fly back, I imagine my fingers running through it, comforting her through my own kind of magic. I care for her in these moments as my teeth chatter and my body shakes all over, my heart pounds waiting for my turn.
What strikes me the most while writing this story is not the abuse I lived, or the abuse Sonny endured, but the stark difference between what she went through, and what I was in some ways exempt from. As a child I believed I was better “behaved.” That if she was getting harsher punishments that must mean she deserved it, and that I was a better child. The older I got however the more I realized that often times, what happened to her would not be classified as discipline or punishment, but maybe just something my step-father does when he is drunk, and he had his favorite child to torture. I was never snapped dozens of times with a thick rubber band in the arms and neck. I was never made to stand in the middle of the room at dinner being served only lima beans for days. My naked body did not have to be inspected by child services twice a month. These were things that I always viewed as “experiences” but upon writing I now understand myself to be a witness to moments of child abuse that sit on the outskirts of my own narrative, making me both an insider and an outsider in my own sibling stories.
I feel guilt upon imagining Sonny’s thin blond hair bouncing back, as I wish my fingers were running through it as she cried. Guilt because I never did that. I have no memory of comforting her, only memories of times when I threw her under the bus to save myself, because I knew if I said she did something, I would be believed. I was not exempt completely, however. When I think back on the ways in which I avoided certain painful situations at home I realize, what often got me out of it was my ability to think critically. I was the only of my siblings that had four years of life (my first four years), without extreme abuse or neglect. The most important years of a child’s life, I spent reading, learning to write, playing outside with toy instruments, going to museums, and being allowed to roam, cry, laugh, and smile freely. This is because my mother did not meet and marry my step-father until I was four years old. Sonny spent the first four years of her life in conditions of incest, being tied to potty chairs, being cramped into a crib too small for her, and left for hours without being touched.
I scramble to think of a time when I had helped her. A moment when I made her situation just a bit better. I recall a time, sitting on the living room couch, the two of us squeezed in watching tv. We were being “too loud” and told by my step-father to put our hands under our small buttocks and painfully and instantly hold our breath until instructed otherwise. We took in a massive gulp of air, and in typical kid fashion, allowed it to rest in our cheeks, bubbling them up largely until our skin stretched, showing the blue veins underneath our soft skin. He did this to us often and rarely remembered to tell us to breathe again, so I knew how to pretend to be holding my breath, by slowly breathing through my nose and leaving that large gulp of air in my cheeks. Sonny, however, did not know this, she could not put those connections together, and sat in agony. He got up to go to the bathroom, and when she took in her gasps of relief, I chastised her for not just breathing through her nose. How could she possibly not know this, I thought? So, I taught her. I taught her how to breathe when she was told she was not allowed to. That was my contribution.
The privileges I was afforded as a child are what give me the privileges and platform I now have as a writer and professsor. The ability to write my stories in eloquent ways to a readership of people who care what I have to say. I believe the first four years of basic calmness and freedom I was allotted, that Sonny was not, made me able to excel academically, in ways she cannot. I was a graduate student. She did not graduate high school in the traditional sense, with a high school diploma. And though I am here writing to you my survivor’s guilt, I am still here, writing. On most days I think about my own struggles to obtain even just a bachelor’s degree, such as living with three severe mental illnesses, bipolar 1 disorder, schizophrenia, and generalized anxiety disorder, that manifested due to the excessive abuse I endured by the hands of my step-father. Such as not being able to hold a job because of such illnesses, relational difficulties that left me without those I loved the most, and a lack of a home on more than one occasion. All this was before much needed treatment and medication I had the privilege to receive in my early 20s.
Life is not easy for me. But it is easier than hers and with every accomplishment I make, academically and otherwise, I know where that ability comes from, and I hesitate to tell people outside my friend circle. I don’t want others to think I do not know that my career was built on the back of my foster sibling/cousin, Sonny, who took the brunt of the abuse for me and continues to do so through the telling and retelling of her story. It is my hope that where there are certain wounds I cannot heal, the work I can do in telling our intersecting stories can draw attention to the communicative practices of abuse, healing, and the tough decisions we have to make regarding those connections. This is why I am writing these fragmented stories, in layered ways, and what I hope they will do.
I am sitting all alone comfortably on my boyfriend’s mother’s couch in her quaintly decorated living room, a large window to my right, the room lit only by the sun. The sun is beginning to set in the west and I feel the rays on my right cheek. I am watching Top Chef, a show that I am obsessed with though I am not sure why because I never cook, nor do I even know how to. I begin to hear the sound of a beloved song from one of my favorite movies, Monsieur Verdoux, streaming from my pink flip phone sitting on the glass table in front of me that my feet are resting on. The sound slowing growing louder and louder, the vibration startles me up from a slouched position. I push myself up, using the grey roughly textured pillow as leverage, grab the remote to mute the television, pick up the phone to open it and check to see what the caller I.D. says. Who is calling me? As a millennial I am so used to texting that the sound of my ring tone is quite unusual.
“Calling: Sonny.” I see that my foster sibling/cousin is calling for the first time in many months and I wonder if I am in the mood to answer. She and I have very little in common besides our shared history of violence and that I am not willing, currently, to talk about. Feeling guilty, I decide that it is best to answer because I know that if I do not she will continue to call me obsessively until I do answer her.
I answer the phone, begrudgingly, “Hello, Sonny.”
“Hey! Guess what!” She says this with so much excitement that I am admittedly sucked into the conversation.
“Holy moly, what??” I ask her this with genuine curiosity as she is rarely in a good mood when she and I have a conversation.
She exclaims, to my utter surprise, “I’m getting married!”
This is Sonny’s second marriage. Though I never met her first husband, I was appalled and angered by the way he treated her and her four children, beating all five of them regularly, proudly and with no regret. I worry for her instantly, that she may be getting into a similar situation as the last.
I ask her to tell me about him, and instead of telling me all the attributes about him that she loves, she begins with his criminal record. I am perplexed but I wonder if maybe this is a concern of hers and she wants my opinion, though she never asks for it. She immediately says bluntly, “They say he a child molester,” someone who has repeatedly abused young children in disgusting and abhorrent ways. Knowing she has four children of her own, I feel revulsion and intense disappointment. I am terrified for her children and I wonder if she is, too. Is she?
My maternal side, the side Sonny is from as well, is rife with disturbing and persistent sexual abuse and incest and Sonny experienced this both inside the family, as well as outside it in a myriad of different foster homes throughout her childhood. It is a disease of the family my mother kept me away from by getting me out the family at a very young age and estranging from them altogether soon after, while Sonny remained in it for far too long. That could have been me, but I was lucky and escaped by the skin of my teeth.
I see her marrying these types of men in adulthood, putting her children in the same situations she was in as a child, and I just simply do not understand, however, it is said that someone who was sexually abused as a child will then continue the abuse as an adult with their own children. I do not see this as an excuse but a reason for this behavior. Behavior I cannot continue to see. My connection with Sonny is beginning to wear down. At this point, I am questioning her place in my life.
During my first ever semester teaching Introduction to Communication at St. Petersburg College my students and I discuss family communication and forgiveness. These are topics that I have always taught in my four years of teaching at the college level as they are important ways for my students to understand the course content through personal experience and evocative storytelling with the use of papers and large and small group dialogue about largely contested issues that affect their daily lives. I ask the large group,
“Are we obligated to forgive family members for atrocities they inflict on us?”
Jorge, a duel enrollment high school student who participates often and enthusiastically in class every week, without raising his hand, quickly answers,
“Yes! Family is the most important thing in our lives. They are all we have, and they are the only people we can truly trust for a lifetime.”
Another student, Emma, in her yellow sunflower dress with bright reddish/orange hair as she sits up as straight as an arrow in her seat, affirms Jorge by exclaiming,
“Mmhm. That’s right! Blood is thicker than water.”
Though I feel as though I disagree with them on this disputed matter, I keep it to myself because at this time, as a new and quite novice professor, I do not yet have the skills to combat certain answers with my own logic and opinion. I allow them to sit and dwell in how they are feeling without judgement or pushback, which in and of itself has sound pedagogical merit. I then move on with my next probing question to continue the dialogue on family communication and forgiveness.
This prompts me to contemplate my relationships with certain family members. Although I have, with no hesitation, estranged from my step-father because of his incessant abuse and alcoholism, as well as my entire maternal family, with no guilt whatsoever, due to the prevalence of incest and sex offender sympathizers who plagued the family for decades, I had also estranged from my cousin/sibling, Sonny. Someone I am related to by blood. Someone who I have shared terrifying moments with, moments where we clung to each other for solace and protection. Though she had never committed an atrocity toward me as the question clearly proclaimed, she has caused me tremendous emotional pain. The pain I feel when learning and seeing her actions and the way she lives her life. However, in this moment, after hearing the consensus of my students, that blood is thicker than water, that family is the most important thing in a person’s life, I do not know if this is a significant enough reason to estrange from her the way I did. I then begin to feel immense guilt, shame, confusion, and doubt at what I have done, feelings that often accompany the act of estranging from family members.
She lives in a shack complete with a rusted tin roof and barn door type entrance. The house is made up of termites and flaking wood that has never been sanded, so it gives me a splinter that I need to draw out with hot water and Epsom salt. A wooden dinosaur hangs just outside the front door, from the worn out timber roof of her front porch, next to the entrance to the run down rat infested cottage she lives in with reckless abandon. I walk in the barn door and to the right were walls of VHS tapes stacked, all with stickers indicating their titles as most of the films were recorded straight from the television, because she could not afford to buy new movies or DVDs. Unemployed, she lives off credit as well as other family members. Moving from couch to couch and shelter to shelter after not being able to pay her rent.
I get a glimpse of Sonny smoking, a cloud of smoke just above eye level being amplified by the evening sun shining through the front window, a cloud of smoke reminiscent of our childhood home. Due to lack of central air conditioning I have been privileged enough to be accustomed to it is so hot that there are beads of sweat falling from Sonny, mine, and her four childrens’ brow. It is twilight out and a dozen termites are drawn to the ceiling fan light and flutter around the light bulbs causing a rapid flicking noise as their tear drop shaped wings hit the glass bowls that protected the bulbs. It sounds like tissue paper being shredded over and over until the childrens’ bed time when the ceiling light is turned off and the termites return to their homes. This leaves us with just a dim lamp on the side table next to the blue couch, with the fabric torn from the cushions, revealing the spongy softness underneath.
I later follow her into her room to fetch a box of old photographs. She was acutely excited to show me pictures of her children she had taken with a cheap disposable camera she bought at Walgreens with her most recent tax refund. The floor was completely covered with refuse from the doorway to the window and a few feet above the baseboards. She slept on top of a tall pile of slimy garbage crawling with both small and large cockroaches and I could smell the stench of rotting food and body odor in the air. I see out of the corner of my eye what resembled human feces near her blankets and urine stains on her mattress, prompting me to whip my head to my left to take a look. The smell of the body excrement wafted up toward my face causing me to grab my nose. As I confronted her about what I had found, Sonny’s response was “I had to shit and didn’t feel like getting up.” She shrugged her sturdy shoulders with indifference.
Being in Sonny’s tiny cottage brings to me memories of the home I once lived in as a very young girl living with my maternal grandparents, before my mother estranged from my biological family and moved me into a modest, wooden shack that she kept as clean as she possibly could. She did not want to become her family. A family of filthy, unkept people who did not care about cleanliness or hygiene. I sometimes, in anger and disgust, refer to them as animals. It is difficult, sometimes, to see them as civilized people because of the terrible things they do to children and the deplorable way they live their lives. As stated, Sonny grew up in that type of household the years she was not living with me, my mother, and my step father. A series of households that mirrored this very one I just described. I am reminded of the same fact I am always reminded of when seeing her life and decisions, that that could have been me under different circumstances. I also feel extreme emotional turmoil seeing someone I have learned to love as more than just a cousin, but a sister, living in such conditions as this and feeling as though helping her would deplete me too much emotionally, mentally, and financially. I begin to question further, whether or not Sonny is someone I should keep in my life, because of my own wellbeing and mental health.
There was a time long ago when Sonny and I were connected on social media. It was there that I saw her life play out in real time regardless of whether or not I felt comfortable seeing it. It was constantly right in front of my face, bombarding me with her hardships that I was so heartbroken to see her survive through. It was there I was made aware of her inability to keep a steady paying job that would keep her and her children out of cold and unforgiving homeless shelters. One Facebook status read,
“I can’t believe that asshole fired me! It is not my fault that customer picked a fight with me! What was a supposed to do but slap that bitch!?”
Though I do not know the circumstances of that squabble with the customer, I do know that this was a common theme in regards to her job situations. There was always an excuse as to why she was continuously fired by her employers and unable to maintain any sort of employment. I decide to attempt to connect with her in these moments, not necessarily literally through telephone or a visit because at this point I was slowly moving away from my relationship with her, but emotionally from afar. I do this by thinking about those times my mental illnesses kept me from steady employment. There was a time I too was unable to keep a job, though for very different reasons than Sonny. I still saw it as similar, and in this way, I was able to understand her. However, the emotions I would feel while reading the social media posts would be twofold. I would be reminded of the hardships I once went through that were comparable and once again about the person I could have become had I not had the privileges I do now, such as access to healthcare and a support system, and I also have that familiar sting of seeing a loved one struggle so immensely that she does not see it herself. It is these continuous reminders, as well as my visits and phone calls, that cause me to decide ultimately to estrange from Sonny indefinitely.
Sonny seems to be stuck in a narrative. A narrative of abuse, neglect, and loss. One big difference between me and Sonny is that she spent time in other foster homes where she was severely abused in ways I cannot imagine. I had a rough childhood, but the way I see it, hers was much worse. She suffered extreme physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of people she was supposed to be able to trust. She never had respite and because of this, never left that mindset. Because of that she currently lives in a narrative that holds her in limbo where no matter how hard she may try to break free she is attached. Attached to a story that I too once lived but was able to reframe. I reframed my story into one of triumph and determination. She was never able to reframe her story, and though rational thought tells me that is not my fault, I cannot help but to blame myself. I could have made life easier for her. My contribution, teaching her to breathe when she was not allowed, just was not enough. This causes me even more guilt for choosing to cut ties and estrange from her once our relationship began to become toxic. Seeing her on social media, making choices that were detrimental to her wellbeing and her children, ending up in homeless shelters, losing her children to child services, marrying a known and convicted child molester, all of which caused me great distress to witness. In the end, after years of being a spectator to her disastrous circumstances, I had to say goodbye. I did not even tell her, I just unfriended and stopped answering her calls. A clean break seemed to be best for all involved. I had officially estranged from one of the only blood related family members I had left.
I sit staring at the friend request questioning what is the right thing to do both for her, but also myself. I assume she is sending this request to reconnect though I am not sure why after all this time she would feel the need to do this. I have to make a choice, a hard one. I begin thinking about our past together and the results of the shared history of violence. My identity has changed from that of victim to survivor. I am no longer that story and wonder what would happen to me and my identity if I reconnect to a sibling that is still in that space of violence and uncertainty. After much thought I make the decision to decline the request feeling concern that I have inflicted more violence on her.