A Love So Deep It Required Scuba Gear
“No one could quiet the need for a laugh like she could. She made it so simple, so lean. Addicted to her humor, I needed more than most, and as long as she was at my side, I was fixed. She was my fix. Now she needs to be fixed. But with what? By whom? She steps forward in a shoe she doesn’t recognize—that doesn’t register on her foot. She feels exposed and swears she’s walking on broken glass (which, by the way, she’s made sure there’s plenty of). I swept that floor ‘til they had to pry the broom from my hands and lock it in a vault beneath the sea. And in just a few short weeks, I was contemplating scuba lessons.”
Turns out I couldn’t fix her, nor could she fix herself, but damn, did we try. My brilliant, intoxicating, funnier-than-thou sister, Diane Hope, with her over-the-top combination of OCD, PTSD, and anxiety disorder, passed away nine years ago due to liver failure from Hepatitis C. She repeatedly said that no matter how life-threatening the Hep C became, it was the OCD she couldn’t live with anymore. I understood, yet it was excruciating to let her go. As if I could’ve stopped her.
Diane and I were both scarred by our father’s sexual and emotional abuse, I less so, yet as time passed, I became nestled in our neuroses, unable to decipher mine from hers. And so it went in our world of zero boundaries and overgrown connective tissue, where our daily ritual was mistaken for deep healing rather than the application of a series of hilarious, coated band-aids (sugar-free at her request). She’d annoyingly end up in my soup and I’d have to say, “Diane! Get your own soup!” But sometimes she simply couldn’t.
Around 1996, clutching paper, pencils, paint—and for her, glitter—we started an incredible collaboration—not on a common piece, but purpose: to heal. For eight good years, we played with words, paint, miscellaneous debris, and each other. We wrote extensively, read to each other, praised each other up the ass, and laughed like we were dying from the joy of one another. As our storylines morphed into even funnier, more exaggerated parodies of us, up sprang Pondering Pool, my card line, with its odd, humorous characters who lovingly show us that being different isn’t a flaw but a blessing. Though I created the Pool, it overflows with Diane’s heart and muse.
As time went on and Diane grew more ill, we became even closer to one being, the boundaries far less distinguishable, and it was imperative I’d have to unlatch or go down. The unlatching was for my own good, said the family, and by then I hadn’t the strength to deny it. I had nothing left to give and she still needed a damned miracle.
When I unlatched, we both went down. Before I knew it, we were stuck in a quasi–tough love scenario. Diane, writhing with anger and hurt at my perceived desertion, refused to speak to me unless I maintained my role as her life support. We went from total immersion to zero contact for two looooong years. It was the worst pain I’d ever suffered. We’d always been there for each other. I quieted her in the throes of her obsessions, and she showed me strength: how one survives in spite of herself.
The estrangement felt like a cruel joke. She was dying and I couldn’t see her?! But she was so scared! And who knew how much time she had left! Why couldn’t I be strong enough to soothe her and still hold my form?
Seven months before she passed, we reunited. She’d left a shaky, handwritten note in her car where I was to deposit some items she needed: “Can you come in? I won’t bite.” I think my heart actually stopped for a bit. God, how long I’d prayed for this.
Our relationship never returned to so-called “normal.” We danced along the periphery, around the remaining distrust, anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and confusion, never honestly able to talk about it, but our otherworldly bond was still intact and we were together. Somehow I kept sight of that barely visible line between caring for myself and taking care of her. Watching her deteriorate, seeing her enormous spark diminish, was a whole different kind of pain. But her humor never abandoned her, and neither did I. Diane Hope passed July 31, 2008, with the family at her side.
“She came to me as a sack of bones tied with a strand of hope and a barely legible note written in longhand by her spirit. She wanted to know if I’d ever healed anyone like her before, with a body and soul so confused it agonizingly stretched in all directions, trying to reach symmetry.”
“She left me with accolades much larger than me, and as I stood within their vibration, they shook loose any misgivings I had that I wasn’t smart enough, creative enough, funny enough, loving enough, or deserving enough to receive them.”
Susan will be posting more about this story on her blog, Living In and Under the Playbox, https://www.ponderingpool.com/blog.
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