Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sweet Pussy Cat Dreams

(This week's Search Engine Fiction prompt is 'Sweet Dreams' and it led me to writing this non-fiction piece)

I have three sisters; two older and one younger. At the time my parents were getting a divorce there was a lot of chaos and my eldest sister, who must have been about 15, managed to get herself, me (I was 8), my sister who was about 13, my little sister who was 2, and my almost newborn brother from an apartment in downtown Baltimore to the airport, on a plane to Wisconsin, and back to my father. When I think of it, I’m still astounded. I remember her announcing to my mentally ill mother that we were leaving and I remember the violent confrontation that followed.

From that point, my eldest sister for me was just someone who could do things. She was an adult in my eyes. A capable person. Since then depression, isolation, and the messed up psyches of some ill chosen friends have squeezed her into herself, forcing her strong capable self to run and hide, and instead the convenient, though soul-crushing, persona of victim has taken centre stage. I haven’t seen her like this; I only know it from talk, and honestly I’d like to keep it that way if I could. It is sad to see heroes crushed.

My little sister was too young to remember any of this. She knows more of our oldest sister the way she is now. So when she was visiting, I told her my memories of that time. The memories I thought I knew. I wanted her to know that 15 year old girl with such power.

When she returned to the States she related what I said to our other sister, the one just older than me. This sister, too, has taken a break from sanity, but unfortunately in a way that society finds acceptable, so they leave her to it. She told my younger sister that my memories were faulty, that our eldest sister wasn’t so powerful back then.

I suspect she is a bit of a revisionist, but I also know that my fiction mind plays havoc with my past, creating memories that are not quite true. So I don’t know. I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle, I still hope it is more on my side; I still believe that really.

So that experience sometimes has me questioning one of my few clear memories of my mother. My mother had a sister who she adored who died of leukaemia when she was a child. This event, like so many in my mother’s life, caused irreparable damage to her sensitive mind. She was desperately afraid that one of us would get leukaemia too. What she remembered of the disease was that her sister got big bruises on her arms.

So every night before going to bed, I was required to go to her and pull up my sleeves. She would check my arms thoroughly, any bruises had to be explained or she would very quickly jump to the conclusion that I was soon to be taken. If all clear, she would give me a hug and whisper, “Sweet pussy cat dreams”. It was a nightly ritual, whenever we were with her between her stays in various mental hospitals. Sometimes when she was not around, I would forgo the search for bruises but still whisper sweet pussy cat dreams to myself before falling asleep.

She’s dead now, having died a sad, tragic death after a short life of the same, but I sometimes wonder if she ever had any sweet pussy cat dreams of her own or, being the best mother that she was able to be, she saved them all for me.

11 comments:

Tania Hershman said...

Lauri,
thank you so much for sharing this with us, what must have been a deeply affecting experience, one of many, it sounds like. It's funny about not remembering your childhood, or remembering it but having siblings remember it differently. I have one brother and I rely on him to do the "remembering" for me. If there were more of us, I am sure we would disagree!

Selma said...

Lauri, you're not allowed to make me cry like this. Wishing someone 'sweet pussycat dreams' when you are less than likely to experience them yourself is just so moving. She loved you. There is no doubt. I just need to go out and sit in the sun for a moment, for some reason this story has really affected me. I am so grateful you shared this. So grateful.

Lauri said...

Tania- I'm lucky now that I have my daughter who has an extraordinary photographic memory and can put me right when my fiction mine is taking off again.

Selma- Thanks for your words. You know so many of us spend our lives blaming our parents but weren't they just people too? Maybe we see that when we are in those heavy shoes ourselves. Parents= Flawed people. Maybe it was easier for me since I learned that early on.

Lauri said...

...fiction mind.. of course. Why doesn't this thing have an edit option. Do they expect us to be perfect?

lissa said...

what a touching piece, I think I would prefer to keep the memory of a strong sister rather than let others change my mind about her, strange how we trend to see things differently especially the past that infects us so much, I do wonder if sometimes our unconscious mind decides to change memories for us or if we just remember it the wrong way

Cricket said...

How wonderful to have, and to allow, a good memory to override many sad ones. I too think you should remember your older sister in the way you want to remember her.

Kayt said...

Lovely piece - thanks for sharing it Lauri. I would guess that your memories are quite true form their own perspective - you saw things happening around you based on who you were then and your memories were recorded as such - I think in this way, there really are many truths of a particular situation, or so this is how I see it - my brother and I experienced our family quite differently, so we don't really remember the same things, neither of us is wrong - I would bet you really did experience your sister as strong and capable, so no fiction editing is likely required :-) - nice read, thanks again!

Lauri said...

Lissa- Perhaps you're right that our unconcious mind sorts out better memories for us. That's actually quite interesting to consider.

Cricket- Whatever the case, I do have adult memories of my oldest sister be the head of her work Union when she was still her powerful self. Those are close enough that I know they are true.

Kayt- You are so right, the truth is always from someone's perspective, filtered through that.

texasblu said...

This is so sad. I had tears come to my eyes - such pain. Very touching. Perhaps someday your sister's former self will emerge again. I hope so, as a resurrecting force myself.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lauri,

I'm going to play Devil's advocate. Yes, you have written a touching, moving personal essay-and it's not bad, in fact it's quite good. But a writer of your calibre can do much better. At present your piece reads like a very good outline, first draft of
much better piece that is yet to be written. I do hope you come back and do some editing and revising. Again, let me say that I like what you have written but think you have the talent and skill to do better. In short, your piece has not reached its fullest potential.
DavidM

Lauri said...

David- thanks for your honest helpful comments. Everything I write here, especially for SEF, is done in a rush so I think your comment could apply to most of what I've written on this blog. I'll definitely give it a serious rewrite if I decided to do anything with it.