Friday, June 4, 2021

Stories


I’m eating rhubarb pie on the patio, watching a pair of chickadees hover over the wet lawn, listening to the cool wind rustle through the tree boughs, and thinking about the stories we tell ourselves.

Our minds are fueled by story. Stories unite us, warn us, soothe us, infuse us with courage. We use them to transmit our values, to slip truth into dangerous places, to remember, to escape, to fight, to heal, to find each other.

Story is what humans do. Consciously or not, we are constantly building stories to make sense of the world around us. Stories cushion the mind--keeping the brain from breaking every time the heart does.

Over the last year, reeling as loss chased after loss, we’ve needed story as much as ever. 


My sister should have turned 25 this week.
Her ashes have been in a jar for three months.  


Painting the day after I heard.



It wasn’t like we hadn’t braced for bad news.

Still, it came out of nowhere. She’d just recovered from Covid after all. Quarantined, gone back to work. She had work, again, despite the closures, despite everything else. 

Scattered from coast to coast, what else could we siblings do but begin piecing together a story? What happened to her? When and how and why? In an instinctive expression of human grief, we shared memories, pooling our knowledge of Glory Anna's life so we would remember. We all knew her so differently; we even call her by different names.

I mostly recall her infancy—she was born into chaos and conflict. I left home the next year; we only shared a roof for two years of her first five. I listened to stories from the years after: stories that infuriated me, stories that made me proud, stories that broke my tired heart.

I could tell Glory’s story a dozen different ways, each version with a different villain to despise but always the same abrupt ending. (How does the math work? Am I still the oldest of 11? Does our baby sister move up to tenth place? What do we do with the gap?)

The true story? It’s all of them. The story that soothes me is that, though we’d never met as adults—distanced by twenty years and a thousand miles, in the weeks before her death Glory told me the stories she needed me to know. Those are the things I want most to remember. Our parents will include none of them in their stories, as they don’t fit their criteria for remembrance. We tell ourselves the stories that bring us comfort, after all. My bedtime reading is their nightmare, and vice versa.

Religions offer prepackaged story sets that remain popular in part because they claim, to varying degrees, they can keep the weight of the universe from crushing our little minds. Some achieve this by locking the mind in an airtight box while others leave room for add-on stories, or let you choose your own adventure. Stories gave me flight; stories keep my parents trapped and sad.

As a child, Glory was a storyteller. She saw power in stories, a means of escape from small minds and small hearts. When she got older, she tried other escapes.

I hesitate to speak of her death—my neighbors don’t know, nor my in-laws—because I resent hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” when news headlines remind me daily that the world doesn’t actually care. If I was a child, or poor, or black, or gay; addicted, homeless, pregnant, stalked by an ex; Asian, African, Jewish, born in Palestine? The world wouldn’t give a damn about my loss. Ohio didn’t care enough to give Glory unemployment. Michigan saddled her with medical bills. No one checked on us to be sure we were getting an education and healthcare and not just whippings and whooping cough.

When therapy is inaccessible and street drugs easier to obtain than prescription ones, “I’m sorry” feels…offensive. I resent hearing “I’m sorry” while millions of Americans mourn 600,000 Covid dead while being told we just need to “get back to normal” capitalism. People lost spouses, providers, children, teachers. Disease stole parents from 40,000 kids in this country alone. We’re losing our planet, our democracy, and our humanity, but, yeah, enjoy that normalcy. 

I resent hearing it from people who can’t grasp that my loss is just the same as hers: a safe childhood, education matched to our potential, parents who loved us more than their sadistic sex-obsessed god. I lost Glory when she was a toddler and I moved far, far away, crying at my therapist’s because I had my own kids now but still worried over the babies I’d left behind. I lost her again when she was 16, when my own escape and healing meant estrangement from our parents. I never expected it to be permanent. As my recovery progressed, I slowly reconnected with five other sisters, but I never saw Glory again.

I am angry that Glory had to fight so hard just to live in this unfair world. Her loss was far greater than mine because when I left that world at 24, I found the support to heal and build a new one, while she had to support herself however she could, forgoing the education she could have excelled at. She was winsome, brave, intelligent, resourceful, and kind. There is comfort in knowing she can’t be hurt anymore.

Glory tried so hard to live on her own terms; I wish she could still be exercising that privilege today. 

Tonight her siblings will remember her on her birthday. We will tell the best stories and stay away from the sad ones. We may comfort ourselves by weaving tales of dreams, ghosts, dandelions, or mermaids. Because Glory, who refused to be limited to a tangible world, would like that. 


Glory and me a decade ago.

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