As I was going through some boxes that have been packed up for some time, I came across a bundle of letters. There were nine of them. They were all dated throughout the year of 1993.
I had just left college in Tennessee and moved to Washington State. I was in a foreign culture and in varying states of emotional trauma. I was pregnant with my youngest son and had a four year old child to care for. I felt alone and scared. Morning sickness was rocking my body. I was in deep need of support. The life I had imagined I was moving to was not as I had pictured.
I sat cross legged on my bed the other night, excited to read the letters. I couldn’t remember their context so they were new to me. During that time was the first that my sister and I had been separated by miles, since we’d left the cult. She was now married and off living her life.
I must have been writing to her about the despair I was in, based on her responses. The first couple of letters from her contained the average “Hi! How are you doing? I am fine.” generic theme.
Then I read on and became internally disturbed. My first irritation rose at her continual referring to my unborn child as “Shanaynay“, due to he/she (the gender of my infant unknown then) is a multicultural child. Every letter had the same line in it at some point.
“So how’s Shanaynay doing?”
I cringed every time I read it.
I opened the sixth letter.
“Hey Bitch! Relationship this! Relationship that! Don’t you have anything else to write about other than your fucking relationship?”
No, I thought. I didn’t. I was alone in a strange city. I had left my whole life, family and friends in Tennessee. I was in cultural trauma. I was having panic attacks. I was arguing with my partner. Things weren’t as they were supposed to be. I was rocked to my core. I had no one to talk to except her.
Letter eight made me wince even more. It bothered me when she called my unborn child Shanaynay. This reference felt intentional and racist. I had obviously expressed this to her at one point.
“So how’s Shanaynay? (Does that still bother you?)”
I sat reading all of the different jobs her husband was going to have.
“Refinery. We’ll be in the money!”
Job after job, fake happiness after fake happiness, to the point that she had to continually say it in the midst of my own churning hurtful life.
“I am so happy with my husband.”
I sat with the letters in my lap. Twenty five years would pass by. She would call me panicked, vomiting out the years of verbal abuse she had taken from him. She would leave and go back. She would ghost everyone who ever fought for her. She would do it in the same coldness from which she had written these letters.
I sat on my bed realizing why I had held my family at bay in those later years, always feeling different, set apart, standing in the shadows of my own broken heart. She had chosen the other spectrum; the one filled with things that make people feel they have worth, and I chose to face the hurt.
I am wistful for dreams we had of lounging on beaches with drinks. I hurt for the cruel words thrown out in spite and the loss of a sibling who is still alive.
I have come to live in acceptance. I keep my spirit attached to my tribe, growing, healing and expanding. Yet, when she drifts my mind, I wince a bit. The cult broke her into pieces, and she walks behind a mask, unable to gather the shreds of her own greatness.
And I hope. I always hope, that she will return to who she was before they stripped us and tore our family apart.