I’ve mentioned before that I am a “late baby” or an “oops baby”, however you want to look at it. It’s a peculiar position to be in, and I’ve been misunderstood before when I’ve tried to explain why I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Something happened very recently to inspire me to take another shot at it, and this time, I’m employing a lesson learned from Sampiro (and before him, Wang-Ka): If you want people to fully understand, you simply have to tell the entire story.
Background: My oldest sister was 17 when I was born. Call her Marcia. (I’ve called her Cindy in other posts, but while composing this, I realized Marcia was more appropriate. The middle sister is Jan; she was 12 when I was born. That makes me Cindy, of course, but I’m going to continue to call myself Rilchie in this.
To establish the scene, our house was on a rural road. Very few neighbors, and no way to walk to anywhere beyond the nearest houses. No kids my age in those houses, either. Yes, I had friends at school, but in the summer, I was pretty much on my own, except for Annie.
Anyway. I was born in March of 1970, and in May of that same year, Marcia got pregnant, classically on prom night. She married her boyfriend, the father, and moved out. Long story short, she and her daughter moved in with us when I was…3? 4? I can’t remember exactly. Anyway, “Annie”, my niece, and I got to be likethis. Marcia and Jan, however, did not get along well. I don’t want to get into those details, but suffice to say, unlike my mom, I don’t think everything was Jan’s fault.
Flash forward again to when I was 5. Jan moved out with her boyfriend. I was sorry to see her go, but my parents had given her an ultimatum. I think they were actually surprised when she chose “ship out” rather than “shape up”. Anyway, Annie moved in with her paternal grandparents, and Marcia got her own apartment, a job, and a relationship with a guy I will call Charlie because that was his name. It was great for a while. Annie and I visited back and forth, with and without Marcia (Annie accepted Charlie as a friend; he was a really cool guy!) and having Marcia to visit was always fun.
Forward yet again to when I was 8. Marcia and Charlie broke up. I don’t know the details, and when I asked her a few years ago, she still didn’t want to tell me. She took off for Port Allegheny, PA, and the next thing I knew, my parents and I were at her house, meeting her new husband “Hank” and the new baby, “Brad”. (I was 9 by now.)
Marcia wasn’t quite her old self. I mean, she was for the most part, but she’d developed a tendency to be snappish at times. Also, this marked the first stirrings of a pattern of her and my mom being condescending towards me, and even at times making fun of me.
And now we’re getting to the heart of the story. It was summer. I was 11. Marcia came to visit, and I was overjoyed to hear of this. More fool I. What I didn’t know at the time was that Marcia was separating from Hank. I had picked up, more or less from osmosis, that he was an alcoholic, but I didn’t realize she was leaving him for good.
She wasn’t looking for a job, though, and she didn’t seem to be moving in permanently; she was just hanging out. I don’t know what the agreement was between her and my mom; whether a week turned into months, or if it was an open-ended offer, or what. At any rate, she was there throughout the summer, and well into the fall. She didn’t leave until shortly after Halloween, and by then…
Well, the first thing that knocked me for a loop was that suddenly, Annie was not to be mentioned. No, I wasn’t going to be visiting her. No, she wasn’t going to be coming here. No, you can’t call her. She, uh…she went away to horse camp. She didn’t tell you? Well, her dad sprung it on her at the last minute; she didn’t think she was going to be able to go, that’s why she didn’t tell you. Oh, shut up.
So. I’d already been eager to spend time with my mom and Marcia, and now I really…yes, I’m going to say it…needed them. I mean, they were my family, right? I had serious envy of friends and classmates who had siblings, and up to now, my consolation had been that I had a sister who was a grown-up, and that was way cooler than one who was just a few years older or younger.
At least, it had used to be. Back when Marcia would actually talk to me, and spend time with me. Or when it was her and me and my mom. Not now, though. From the very start, I was persona non grata.
And I mean completely. Never a friendly word. No time for me at all. (Except for one occasion, which I’ll get to in a moment.) They didn’t care what I did, as long as I did it away from them.
Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking. “But Rilch, she was going through a divorce! She had a lot on her mind, and didn’t feel like hanging out!” That would have made a certain amount of sense…but that’s not the way it was.
Marcia and my mom immediately became a two-woman sorority. Drinking, watching TV, shopping, gossiping, playing cards, and more drinking. Marcia wasn’t depressed or preoccupied; she was having a high old time. (Well, most of the time, but again, I’ll get to that in a moment.) And I was always excluded. Always.
I’ll just give a few examples. Marcia and my mom had been watching TV; “Three’s Company”, to be exact. Marcia had said something about John Ritter, and since I was nearby, I had the nerve to ask, “What’d you say? Who was his father?”
“JOHN RITTER’S FATHER WAS TEX RITTER!!! GOD, I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EXPLAIN ALL THESE THINGS TO YOU!!”
Mom: “Yes, Rilchie; we’re having a conversation. Why don’t you go to your room. And don’t wake up Brad.”
I’m not going to recount each and every instance of this. I’ll just repeat: it was always like that. I wasn’t allowed to participate in even the most impersonal conversation. I mean, I could understand if they’d been talking about Marcia’s separation from Hank, or something too complicated, personal or adult for me to be involved in. But that was nothing, what I just told you. They were talking about an actor, for crissakes. And what neither of them took into account was that this was my home. They made me an outsider in my own home.
And no, it didn’t take too many such instances for me to catch on. But remember, I was eleven. And that’s a hard thing to accept at that age: always having to check yourself and remember that you can’t bake cookies because They are in the kitchen, sipping their vodkas at the table, and they’ll just complain about the noise. Or, when school started, that no one was going to say hello when I came home, or that if I’d finished my history report, no one was going to want to look at it. I basically had to curb every natural instinct to be gregarious, and at the same time, avoid being accused of “sulking”.
And there was also their charming habit of making fun of me, talking about me as if I wasn’t in the room, or both. Now let me just say here, I know that younger siblings get a lot of crap from their older siblings. But it is one thing to have your three-years-older sister say, “Jeez, you have a big butt.” It is quite another to be in the same room with your mom and your adult sister and hear this exchange:
“Wow, look at her butt.”
“When did she start developing?”
“Well, she started getting boobs when she was nine, and I finally had to get her a bra when she was ten.”
“You should get her a better one, though. I saw her coming down the stairs this morning, and she was flopping around all over the place.”