My sisters cannot be any more different from each other. My mom used to always say, the eldest (let’s call her Pam) thinks only with her heart. The middle (let’s call her Keri) thinks only with her brain. And I, the youngest, am lucky to be balanced with both. I must say, I’ve always appreciated that. But while my heart and brain communicate well with each other, my heart is usually the one that ones (there’s my laila 1 and laila A dilemma again).
My sisters are both significantly older than me, 13 and 10 years. So undoubtedly, they’ve lived a large portion of their lives without me, and only in snippets of information have I learned of the devastating experiences they have had. Yes, I feel I have had many of my own. But I cannot imagine what it would have been like to live in that household in the middle of the Iranian Revolution. From being chased down the street because they dared look at a member of the “secret police” sideways or because a ring of hair accidentally showed itself from underneath their head scarves. They were children and it must have been unbearably scary. They have memories of meeting neighbors in the basements of our buildings in the middle of the night, as the bomb sirens wailed overhead. When I was in high school, there was a few radio rap songs that came out with an air raid siren in the background. I turned it up on the radio one day. My mom got extremely upset and started crying. Pam just clamped both hands on her ears and started yelling at my mom to make me shut it off. I didn’t know why. Now I do. I feel bad.
Also unbearably scary, was my mother apparently. My older sister practically raised us. And Keri, although she’s quite private about the past, recently told me about an incident that happened shortly after we had fled Iran, and were staying in a hotel in Switzerland. My mother had a friend coming to visit, and she looked over the railing next to the hotel elevator to see Keri on the floor she needed to get to. Keri, being no more than 7 or 8 hit the elevator buttons, thinking she was helping. But it made the elevator take longer. When my mother finally got down to the floor, she reached out of the elevator, grabbed Keri by her hair, pulled her in and slammed her head against the elevator wall so hard, my sister remembers seeing stars. She came down with a crash and then was abruptly kicked by my mother’s fat, heavy leg. Of course, a great deal of yelling ensued. She then left her in the elevator, with orders to go straight back to our room, and walked out to the lobby to go get her friend. Keri was the mischievous one in the family – always getting into things she shouldn’t have, and as fearless as a little boy. But no amount of mischief deserves a beating. And I don’t know if it’s worse or better that it was in public.
Needless to say, they clearly went through a lot.
In London, Pam was very good to me. She saved me from my parent’s yelling. She played with me and taught me how to paint and be creative. In the middle of the night, we would meet in the kitchen, close the pocket door behind us so nobody could hear us sneak snacks from the cupboards and fridge. We would then sit in the middle of the kitchen floor, munch on goodies and giggle for hours. I loved her with all my heart and I knew she would do anything for me.
When we moved to the States, not much changed in our relationship. Keri was thin and trendy, and didn’t pay me much attention. Every once in a while, she would be nice, but for the most part, I was her bratty sister, and despite my constant efforts to be cool enough for her, I wasn’t. Deep down, I understood. I mean, she was older and I was her kid sister. I still looked up to her a great deal.
Pam was still the same nurturing person. She spent a great deal of time cleaning the house, covering for what my stay-at-home mom wasn’t doing it. I look back now and see that it was only to keep the peace. She couldn’t possibly have enjoyed doing it. She was slightly overweight, and certainly not as popular as Keri was. Overly sensitive and probably wise beyond her years, she was quiet and composed most of the time, content to practice her painting, learn new languages and listen to new age music.
During a summer day, in the home that my father eventually left us in, my sisters began fighting. I don’t know if it was over using the phone or what. But I’m almost positive it was something insignificant like that. The fighting got so bad, they were literally strangling each other in every room. My mother, ever irrational and unable to deal with conflict or stress, just kept screaming at them to stop. By a few hours later, they were both bleeding and were really getting to the point where it was getting vicious. At some point they were in the formal living room, next to the fireplace. One was in an oversized chair, and the other was on top of her, try to get in punches. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 at the time. I tried to get in the middle of them, but was flung off – by whom, I don’t know. What I do know, was that I was thrown into the fireplace poker set and was injured….poked in my bottom with the sharpest tool of the set. It’s come up a couple of times in my adulthood, and we nervously laugh about my injury, but never really talk about the rest. Perhaps because the day ended in Pam, having taken all of her clothes off, sitting in the foyer next to the front door, with her back against the wall, banging her head hard and repeatedly against the wall, with nonsense spewing out of her mouth and a haunted look on her face that I will never forget.
It took me a while to stop breathing hard after writing that last sentence. Wow. I haven’t really gone back to that time in so long. With all the issues I have remembering, I remember clearly the look on her face and how hard she was banging her head.
No amount of pleading with her was working. It was if she had just…snapped. My mother and Keri and I got dressed and went out the backyard. Keri climbed over the carport fence and unlocked it from the outside, and we got into our car and left. We basically snuck out. I don’t know why we did that. I don’t remember where we went.
I remember being home the next morning. And overhearing someone (my dad?), telling someone (my mom?) that my uncle was sent to the house (probably not really knowing exactly what was going on) only to find his 19 year old niece running around the house, stark naked and spewing nonsense. He pulled the comforter off her bed, and finally cornered her, covered her with the comforter, and spent a good deal of time calming her down and bringing her back to reality. He got her to put on some clothes, and drove her to my grandmother’s house.
My sister did not live with us for months. We’ve never really spoken about it since then. Who would?
At some point, Pam was engaged. She found herself a red-blooded, strong American man. A sheriff in fact, whose ways were incredibly foreign to me. In the few times I was able to go to his house, I was always amazed by the way Americans lived, with their schedules and their soccer games and their science projects. I wanted to be the nuclear American family. I felt out of place. Unfortunately, they broke up, and my sister spent a great deal of time crying. I didn’t know what happened at the time, but learned years later that he cheated on her. He also got the other woman pregnant. What a pig.
By the time my dad left a year or so later though, my sister was living with us again. About a month after he left, my sister went to take a shower, and screamed loudly when all that came out of the spigot was disgusting brown water. Our water had been shut off because the bill wasn’t paid. We learned quickly that nothing had been paid, including the mortgage. Thanks dad! If there’s one thing I can relate to in my sisters’ childhoods, it’s being responsible for rent and home expenses in your teens. We moved to a two bedroom apartment with my mom and I in the living room, Keri and Pam in the little room, and Pam’s best friend and her brother in the master bedroom. The brother moved out shortly thereafter. We had all gone through a great deal, and I don’t think my mom liked having him around. (Remember her issues with men and women and any potential attraction *oh my!*)
We lived there for several years and then moved to another apartment in a better neighborhood. My mom, disabled, managed to get a little money coming in, and my sisters worked hard at what I know realize was probably minimum wage jobs, just to keep a roof over our heads. We were still in a two-bedroom, and I shared a room with my mom. By that point, I think I was in junior high. More on that later. Suffice it to say, if you’re a mom whose forced to share a room with your pre-teen, don’t require that your hand be on their head when you go to bed at night. I felt like I couldn’t even dream without my mom knowing everything. Creepy.
Fast forward two decades….
Keri is married (husband #2) and has a beautiful daughter. The once horrendous older sister is now my best friend. She’s judgemental and can be cold-hearted, but she’s also incredibly sweet, thoughtful and sharp as a tack. I love her to pieces for so many reasons. Her husband is an idiot but he helped create my niece and he tries pretty hard sometimes, so I try cutting him a break.
Pam is….well….Pam. She moved away to the east coast years ago, with her long time partner. They have since split up, but she sees him regularly. I’d go as far as saying they remain the best of friends. But her and I go through years at a time where we don’t talk. She’s just become too mentally unstable, and I learned a long time ago that I don’t have to keep toxic people in my life….blood or otherwise. I feel bad for her. I know she’s incredibly lonely. She’s pushed most of us away. In fact, my sisters have never really been on speaking terms since the fight where I got poked in the butt. They talk now and again, and the niece has encouraged things a little simply by being cute and small. But they’ll never be close. My mother and Pam have a love/hate relationship. And when Pam’s ex comes into town, he always visits. He’s like my big brother, after all. And I can see how frustrated and lonely she is by the comments he makes. He also makes comments that make me really mad, and I know they are her words. Granted, they come from a place of pain, but they remind me of why I keep my distance from her.
We’re all so incredibly different. But one thing we do share….we all hate feet!