I haven’t had any contact with one of my sisters for a year to the day. What weirds me out is that I don’t feel all that bad about it. I’m not sure what kind of person that makes me.
You have a friend or relative like this. They’re the ones who say political opinions you find objectionable, and then defend their point-of-view in the nastiest way possible, using every fallacy in the book, and then pouncing on any admissions you make on the occasions they have a point and using this as a means of negating your entire argument. When you fight back against what they’re saying, they accuse you of trying to silence their opinions. In short, they are bullies.
I hate bullies. My Evil Sister is a bully. She is the kind of person who imagines herself telling “the truth to power” or some self-aggrandizing bullshit like that. I don’t even know if she believes what she says; it’s almost as if she is daring people to argue with her. Every time I would see a status update or a comment on one of mine, I would clench up a little. There came a point, however, when I decided that I needed to stop.
You see, thanks to the bravery and encouragement of my wife, I’ve learned to break off contact with people who make me uncomfortable. In the Facebook era of being “friends” with even with that lab partner from junior high, this is kind of difficult. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter your history—if you don’t like a person anymore, they’re not your friend. I cannot tell you how utterly liberating this is.
When I began doing this back in 2005, it was extremely difficult, so much so that I had to justify to myself why. The guy in question was my best friend throughout high school. In the past when I behaved like a drunk as a bipolar, going to highs, wherein I was a selfish-but-charming douchebag, to lows, where I was a self-pitying Eeyore, he stuck around because he knew I’d even out and be the person he enjoyed. And yet, as I got older, I couldn’t stand to be around him anymore. And then I was advised, by my wife and by my therapist that I didn’t have to.
My usual method on Facebook is this: I block offensive status updates in an attempt to ignore them. When the offender rudely attacks me for something I say on my wall, I defriend them. Evil Sister had hit the first stage, which is where I had intended to keep her (she is my immediate family and shouldn’t be disowned). However, thanks to the miracle of that wonderful Facebook sidebar that allows you to see who comments on stuff, I discovered something she said that was too much.
On September 11, 2001, a band of terrorists bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, using an otherwise innocuous device—i.e. the passenger airplane—as a weapon. Most Americans are still processing what this has meant to us and to our world.
Yes, I was there. But that doesn’t make my memories superior to others. On September 11, 2011, a friend in Albuquerque reflected movingly on his first trip to the USS Arizona in Hawaii, when he discovered that it was more than just a tourist destination—it was a tomb—and how that paralleled a reaming he received from a friend for requesting a jar of WTC ashes as a memorial. Another friend wrote an essay, entitled “My Narrative,” about the fear and isolation she’d felt in Colorado as the news barely trickled in over the sound of evacuations. I wrote a piece about how something as ordinary as a statue had been taken from me, using it as a metaphor for how my day-to-day life had been changed.
Evil Sister for her part, accused everyone—everyone—who shared their “narratives,” (she used the word narratives very specifically) of trying to exploit the occasion to make it all about them—“it doesn’t matter how close you were.” This was a pretty direct, passive-aggressive swipe at me. It was a passive-aggressive swipe against her friend who wrote “My Narrative*.” It was an indirect swipe against my wife, who frequently spends months in Afghanistan, her job being to prevent this from ever happening again. It’s a swipe against the friend I was visiting that very day, a New York firefighter who lost literally dozens of the colleagues who ran into a burning skyscraper when the rest of us ran away from it. When I responded, in the gentlest terms possible (“I am disappointed and saddened that you feel this way, and that this is how you chose to express it.”), her response to me was predictable, but infuriating (“Oh, I forgot, you’re the only one who’s allowed to have an opinion.”). I informed her privately that I would not speak to her unless she apologizes, and that I don’t anticipate this ever happening. She (as I was told later) cussed me out behind my back and told me that I “always had to be right,” and told me that she didn’t care if she never heard from me again**.
And so, after a year of stubborn silence, I’ve concluded that the only thing I’m pissed off about is how my family, who understandably don’t want to take sides, talks about the incident as if both of us are at fault. We are not equal here. I’m not perfect, but I am not an asshole. I do not treat people with disrespect and venom, nor do I expect my negativity to go unchallenged.
I don’t miss my sister. I miss what she used to be—my favorite play partner when I was a child. I also miss the teenage version of the friend I mentioned earlier who now thinks that women who use birth control are sluts. Time has marched on, and so have I.
But I still feel uneasy. I feel like I could have handled this differently. I wonder if maybe I am the asshole. I won’t discuss this with the people who witnessed this, because I don’t want to put them in an awkward position, so I feel alone. And yet, as I said, I don’t like bullies. I’ve dismissed at least five old friends, including my one-time best friend, for saying less.
My life, as a result, has much less negativity than it used to. It’s also missing my sister. I’m very confused. And I will be for a long, long time.
* On this particular friend’s birthday, Evil Sister complained in her status about how she hates it when, on friends’ birthdays, her feed gets clogged up by birthday wishes. As maid of honor at this friend’s wedding, Evil Sister accused her of being a “bridezilla,” because this friend wanted to go to a tanning booth to get rid of some of those lines that had built up over the summer, which would have ruined the aesthetic of her strapless dress. Evil Sister is not a very good person, is what I’m trying to say.
** There are a lot of complications, of course, regarding the parallel and perpendicular relationships my parents have with their siblings, as well as my relationship with my niece. I won’t go into these, because I have rambled long enough.