by Jennifer on April 15, 2008

Today, I’m participating in another writing prompt from Weekly Anamnesis. My post will offer my version of an event that my sister Ducky* wrote about in her own response to the same prompt, the word: birthday.

Please read her story first, since her version of what happened is really the foundation for my own, then come back here, if you would.



My sister remembers more about that day than I do, as she should. After all, the event was attached to her birthday. Her confusion. Her pain.

I was there, and I remember where I stood in the room, in relation to the three other people. My sister does not remember my presence, though there are other things about our young lives that she remembers and I do not. (Like being left in the parking lot of a discount store, and that Sue told us before we left the house that it was her plan to leave us there.)

I remember where my father sat, in the black leather chair, and where Sue sat, in her brown recliner. In my memory of the scene, Sue held the birthday card addressed to my sister. The presence of the card, the very fact of it, was a thrill in itself, despite what it said or did not say. We were not often allowed to speak of our mother, let alone hold in our hands a thing that she had sent.

So one thing I remember of that day was seeing my mother’s handwriting for the first time in memory. If I saw it before that day (and I may have,) I don’t remember it.

In the years that followed, I did wonder why our mother had not signed the card “Love, Mother”. It’s hardly the point of the story, but it shouldn’t be ignored, either. It occurs to me now that if the nature of the card had been different, if it had been filled with loving words, or signed with just one loving word, my sister would probably not have ever seen it at all. Instead, it gave Sue and my father an opportunity to make a point that they had tried to drive home for years.

Today as I prepared to write this, I thought of those diagrams of the human body (there was one in our old encyclopedia), the ones with the plastic overlays that each illustrate a different system of the body. The bottom layer is the skeleton, and after that the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. When all the layers are in place, one over the other, the whole of the body takes shape.

It feels the same, with these stories, though there are only two of us to tell them. Her memory of that moment added to my memory, illustrates something closer to the whole of what took place. It would be interesting (though it’s unlikely) if our father could or would give an accounting of that day. I’m not sure he would even remember it now, though it was a painful moment in the life of his oldest daughter, his firstborn child.

Though I don’t remember my father asking why my sister was crying, or him holding her after, I do know that there are important days or moments that are pivotal and can change the future of a whole family.

And there are others, like this one, that did not.


*In case any of you are wondering, Ducky is a nickname that came about when my son was very young and couldn’t say her name well. Instead, it came out sounding like “Ducky.” My sister embraced it, and it has stuck ever since.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda April 15, 2008 at 4:59 am

Oh, I get angry all over again at their father over all of these posts, but I try to keep it down. I’m glad it’s evident to someone else, however, that the problem had some root in him.

As to the rest. Words cannot describe. One has to wonder WHY on so many levels.

Why would the mother send something at all? And since something moved her to do so, why that? Or maybe she had sent other things that had been withheld? Probably will never know on that one.

Why would Sue and the Father bother to do that to a child? I guess the answer to that lies with why did they do everything else that happened over time. I totally don’t “get” these people.


cce April 15, 2008 at 5:10 am

This kills me. For Ducky and for you, I hurt. Hopefully there’s something therapeutic in airing it here, a step toward healing.

Kellan April 15, 2008 at 6:15 am

I know these stories are hurtful to remember, but I do enjoy reading them – seeing into the past and feeling as though I was right there – that says a lot about your beautiful writing. I enjoyed seeing this story from your sister’s point of view and then yours – very cool. I’m sorry for the sadness – you know I am.

Take care – Kellan

HRH April 15, 2008 at 6:50 am

I loved your anatomy book explanation. I am so glad you guys have each other. If there had been just one of you, I shudder to think of the results. Like I said to Ducky, I don’t get how evil people can be and I so wish that Sue believed in hell…

Jennifer Harvey April 15, 2008 at 6:53 am

The next and final part in the series I’ve been writing will deal with my father. It’s about time, probably.

Treasia April 15, 2008 at 7:01 am

I wish I knew what words to say to make it better for both you and your sister.

Lisa Milton April 15, 2008 at 7:32 am

I’m always fascinated how memory shapes itself in families – who remembers what and why.

I appreciate your willingness to share, both of you. I hope being able to recall and work through these things together brings healing.

So sorry it had to happen at all.

Jenn @ Juggling Life April 15, 2008 at 10:55 am

You are taking your pain and making something important out of it. That’s important.

Crazycath April 15, 2008 at 2:30 pm

You are exorcising your demons and that is good, especially since you have the support of your sister and she supports you. As I wrote at Ducky’s, the testament to your strength is that you have become what you have become despite them all not because of them.

You know I feel for you and despite the pain you describe, I have to acknowledge both yours and Ducky’s ability to write in such a way that the pain is conveyed without bitterness, without judgement, and it shows me, I believe, a beautiful person who has risen above all this and refused to let it shape her. Thanks for sharing again.

JCK April 15, 2008 at 6:22 pm

It would be interesting to hear about your father, too. I’m sure you have that in mind at some point. 🙂

I love the name Ducky! And am so glad you two can support each other.

the mama bird diaries April 15, 2008 at 6:52 pm

You and Ducky have endured too much.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful post.

Landon April 15, 2008 at 7:12 pm

The images – your sister crying – the card – the pettiness… I ache for you all.

Ducky and Jennifer, you deserved better. If only life worked according to what people deserve…

Sandy (Momisodes) April 15, 2008 at 8:25 pm

“there are important days or moments that are pivotal and can change the future of a whole family.” -so true. Thank you for that reminder.

My heart goes out to both you and your sister. It was interesting to read about this event from different perspectives. I’m so glad you have each other.

Hatchet April 16, 2008 at 6:57 pm

I cannot get over how eeeeevil it was of your step-mother to do this to you and how awful it was of your father to be so utterly passive and apparently CLUELESS about how hurtful all of this was to your sister and you as well.

Also, the note from your mother was insane.

I hope your SM gets EXACTLY what is coming to her.

I’m so sorry you and Ducky experienced the childhood you did.

we_be_toys April 17, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Both of these stories are incredible in their power – something a little 10 year old girl doesn’t have. I can’t see any good reason to drive home some message of being unloved by your natural mother. I CAN see that action as being mean, spiteful , angry, venomous, evil, ugly, hateful…you get the point.

For someone who was always pushing the God stuff, Sue sure was an evil, venomous, nasty, black-hearted BITCH, who obviously didn’t get a word of Jesus’ message.

And yeah, I can’t help but want to hold your father responsible for a big part of this nightmare that was your childhood. I know dads back then didn’t get involved in the parenting thing as much, but damn! He had to know what a bitch that woman was. Do you think he allowed/looked the other way because he was angry with your real mother and Sue beating you was his way of getting some kind of vengeance on her?

Honey, never doubt you are a good mom – you have gone through a LOT and you actively seek to break that cycle of abuse.

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