Today would have been my older sister’s 50th birthday. She died three years ago, officially from her alcoholism, but, in my opinion, from her despair.
Cindy had a crappy life. As a child, she had severe asthma and was often hospitalized in Boston for weeks at a time. I remember many frantic late night rides to the doctor’s office when she couldn’t breathe. In those days, the doctor would actually get up out of bed to treat her. To me, as her four-year-younger brother sitting in the back seat, it was pretty frightening.
I don’t remember a lot about our younger years, except that we fought a lot, as brothers and sisters are wont to do. I was told stories as a child of how one time my sister dislocated my elbow trying to lift me, and another when she accidentally smothered me in baby powder. I also remember her hurling a TV Guide at me once and wounding me in the eye. These things aside, I think she really did appreciate me, as later years would bear out.
I can’t say that we were particularly close in the way some brothers and sisters are (there were only the two of us), but there was a bond there just the same. She moved away to Florida when I was in my late twenties, after the start of her drinking problem and long string of boyfriends who weren’t good for her. She had very damaged self esteem, something her and I shared, and I believe this was the root of most of her problems. She never overcame it. We would talk about it on the phone many times, always amazed at the many quirky similarities we shared. The difference was, I had the good fortune to enter therapy and stay there for twelve solid years. She didn’t have that luxury, so I shared with her what I could to try to help her. It ultimately wasn’t enough.
I visited her in Florida several times, and she always tried to make sure I had a good time. She even took me to see Neil Diamond once in Tampa, which is about the best thing anyone could do for me. She was supportive of my being gay, in spite of having been the one to out me to the family after putting two and two together after seeing me with a boyfriend. It was a conflicted relationship, ours was, but caring just the same. It was incredibly frustrating trying to help her during her alcoholism, including the times she pleaded with me for money.
She met someone in early 2003, and felt it was the first healthy, adult, balanced relationship in her life. She was very happy, staying sober, and had a very good job in which she was continually promoted. She finally seemed content. Then, as often happened for her, everything fell apart. She discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her, and since she and I never dealt well with hurt, disappointment or betrayal, she couldn’t handle it. Not sober anyway.
While working at my business a few days before Christmas in 2005, after not having communicated with Cindy for a good number of months, I got a phone call from a Pasco County Florida sheriff asking if I were her brother. While I tried to ring up a customer, he told me that they had found her dead in her home. She was 46. He wanted to know how to get in touch with my parents, which I asked him not to do until I had a chance to call and tell them myself. My initial reaction, aside from the shock, was to feel guilty for not having been in touch with her recently, and anger that she couldn’t do more to help herself – and that I couldn’t do more to help her.
I don’t think Cindy wanted to live any more, I think she was tired of life and of struggle. I can’t blame her for that, as I’ve been there like I have with so many of her other demons. She and I had one of those “at a distance” connections that they talk about in quantum physics, where two entities can be connected without being in physical contact, whether they be atoms or people. This may explain why, two years later when I was trying to give a speech at my parent’s 50th anniversary party and attempted to mention my sister, I burst into tears in front of a roomful of people.
I just opened my folder of Cindy’s emails, which I haven’t done since she died. The very last thing she said to me in her very last email was this: “Thank you for your words of wisdom the other day. They really helped. You are absolutely the most insightful person that I know, and I am very grateful that you’re my brother.”
There’s a song that makes me think of Cindy because of its lyrics. It’s called “Stones,” by Neil Diamond. It’s the only song that he refuses to sing in concert, saying it is too painful for him. Pretty painful for me to listen to these days, also.
Stones would play inside her head
and where she slept, they made her bed
and she would ache for love and get but stones
Lordy child, a good day’s comin’
and I’ll be there, to let the sun in
and being lost is worth the coming home
You and me, a time for planting
you and me, a harvest granting me
every prayer ever prayed
for just two wildflowers that grow
Rest in peace, Cindy. Happy Birthday.