I peered out the passenger seat window of my mother’s car. She shifted from second to third gear. “You want to be committed; I’ll commit you!” she spewed while the car lurched forward. My sister laid across the backseat in the fetal position, facing away and whimpering like a sick dog while my mother sped through the streets to the psychiatric in-patient facility at Johns Hopkins.
She is my only sister; the second oldest of the five of us. Over the years, she has babysat my children, lent me money, cosigned loans, and listened to me complain about my mother. My brothers and I have children, careers, and mortgages. My sister lives in a house with other Buddhists.
“She was the May Queen, you know,” my mother brags. “My sister is a Buddhist nun,” I say,
hoping to impress.
Every Christmas, after dinner, when we are sitting around the dining room table, reminiscing, my mother reminds us of how my sister would cry out from her playpen and my mother would scream, “Shut up!” She feels guilty, she says. My siblings and I roll our eyes; we’ve heard this before. My sister keeps washing the dinner dishes.
My mother is 83-year-old now. My sister watches old black and white movies with her, pays her bills, buys her Chinese carry-out and quietly kneads my moaning mother’s legs when she suffers one of her “leg attacks”. When my mother orders her around, drills her about the sexual abuse she may have suffered at the hands of my father, and begs her to let her hair grow out, “just this once,” my sister simply smiles.
And often, when the family is sitting around the dining room table, gossiping, someone will lean in and whisper, “So what do you think really happened to Betty?”