My sister has been gone for 10 years. That still doesn’t seem possible. How can she be dead? How could it already have been a decade?
Recently I read a book called The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket. It is a chapter book for young readers. I am surprised it didn’t make me breakdown in tears, and stay in bed for a week. But maybe I didn’t because I didn’t initially connect all of the dots.
In the book, Barnaby Brocket is born flying. He refuses to obey the laws of gravity. His doctors are stumped and send Barnaby home with his parents. Everyone hopes it is just a phase. Barnaby’s father goes out and buys three mattresses and nails them to the ceiling in an effort to keep Barnaby from injuring himself. Of course, Barnaby’s parents are all about fitting in and being normal. Barnaby has an older brother and sister, both of whom are able to fit into the world.
Time passes and Barnaby is sent off to school. Eventually his mother figures out that she can weight his knapsack down with sandbags to keep Barnaby from floating away. But then through no fault of his own, his class goes on a field trip, and Barnaby gets the attention of the local news. Barnaby is now 8-years old, and his parents feel enough is enough. They devise a plan.
As soon as the news vans drive off, Barnaby’s father heads back to the office and his siblings back to school. His mother then takes Barnaby on a walk with the family dog where she cuts holes in her son’s backpack so that he goes floating off. She truly believes that she is doing the right thing. She gives a truly eloquent speech about the people who came to Australia with nothing and made lives for themselves. It reminded me of my mom’s talks about discovering America or how the mother bird flicks the baby bird from the nest. Barnaby’s mother believes that letting her son go is the best thing for him. Really you could have taken those scissors she uses and stabbed me with them straight through the heart, although part of me believes she is right.
You see, when my sister was 14-years old, my mother sent her to live with our paternal grandmother. We took my sister to the airport, and dropped her off at the gate (this was back when you could do that). She thought she was only spending winter break back east. I knew she wasn’t coming back. I knew this because it was almost a package deal, and I pleaded my case, but couldn’t save Alice.
A part of me has always wondered if this was the best thing for my sister. Is this what she needed? Is it what she deserved?
I really should have been sobbing hysterically when Barnaby gets rescued by two women in a hot air balloon. They are named Ethel and Marjorie – those are the names of my paternal grandmother and my maternal great-aunt who lived upstairs from her. What a random and bizarre coincidence.
My grandmother was a recent widow. My mother thought that my sister might be a good move for the both of them. Well, really for all of us. I still don’t know, beyond that there were benefits to Alice being gone.
It is such a hard thing to explain to people that my sister was essentially disowned by my mother. It was like she vanished. I cleaned out her room. We mailed her the things that made sense to send to her, and threw away the rest. She rarely came up in conversation again. We moved a few months later and it felt like all traces of her had been erased.
In the book, that seems to be what also happens. Barnaby’s brother and sister ask about him, but it becomes clear that they are better off not asking questions. They want to believe the story their parents told them (although it is a lie, and not a very good one at that).
While Barnaby’s siblings go about their normal lives, Barnaby embarks on quite an adventure. I wish the same could be said for my sister. Things just seemed to spiral out of control. Alice didn’t have Barnaby’s luck.
At the end of the book, Barnaby is reunited with his family. But then he has to decide between being who he is, or being normal. He chooses the former, and the reader is left wondering how things will turn out, although I suspect most feel he made the right choice.
I don’t know what the right choice could have been for my sister. I don’t know what would have happened if she had stayed with us. I don’t believe that would have saved her either. There aren’t any easy answers. And there isn’t anything I can do to change things. She is gone.