Girl Interrupted


Sheila’s Rose

Today would have been my sister’s sixty-third birthday.

She used to be a stranger to me, but now I see her everyday. Her ashes are in a small box that sits on a shelf behind me. To many, that may seem macabre. But I take comfort in knowing that finally, at last and for always, she is in a safe place that’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and blessedly free from pain or fear.

She was like me, but not like me.

We shared many things, including a bedroom that was not much larger than a shoebox. We had the same eye color, the same hair color, the same quirky and irreverent sense of humor—and the same love for snow, sauerkraut, and songs by Fontella Bass. I lived the first ten years of my life within arm’s reach of her…literally. But still, in all the ways that really should have mattered, I didn’t know her at all—and I could never really reach her.

That’s because, in my family, you didn’t talk about the things that happened after the lights went out, and you retreated to your dark silo beneath a shroud of silence. Maybe if we had been able to give voice to the other things we shared—the fears, the terrors, and the vulnerabilities—she would have found a way out of her bleak, narrow world, where things had to happen to someone else to be bearable.

But that never came to pass. And not because we didn’t choose it—but because it wasn’t a possibility for us. It wasn’t a possibility in the same ways it’s not a possibility for my cat, Max, to drive a car (although I’m sure he thinks he could give Toonces a run for his money).

Dashiell Hammett is purported to have told the great playwright, Lillian Hellmann, that it was time for her to stop mourning the death of her beloved friend, Julia.

“She was and isn’t,” he said. “That’s it.”

My sister was and isn’t. But that’s not it. And, although she now is free from her prison of fear and delusion, it won’t ever be “it.” Not as long as we all remember her.

Today, I remember.

And I still miss you, Sheila.


February 1, 1950—July 23, 2011

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  1. Ann,
    I would pick this as my first post to read on your blog! Go figure!
    It strikes a cord because my sister’s name is Sheela and we also grew up in a situation where we shared everything but nothing at the same time. Our silences have been broken slowly over the years of living in a culture that supports therapy and self-care. I am grateful for the opportunity to still have her to process with. Thank you for the reminder. Hugs for the ache of missing someone. K

    • fran on February 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm
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    “Things had to happen to someone else to be bearable” So sad, so poignant. So happy not part of my growing up yet so glad your writing makes me realise how lucky I was and how unlucky others are…. I can and must help, I didn’t know her but as you say, that must never be it for as long as there are others.

    • Lynn on February 2, 2013 at 10:55 pm
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    I totally understand what you are saying. I’m missing a brother from 1979 & a cousin in March 2007 that was someone that the whole family couldn’t reach & we all tried endlessly. She couldn’t. Get passed those demons. I hope our rose makes it through the winter in it’s pot to the farm. Don’t. Blame yourself for your passing of brothers & sisters nor fathers just look within & go on with the best memorys that you have of them & help someone else along the way to make it pass hard times. I is the hardest lesson that I have ever had to endor. With love & peace. Lynn

  2. This was simply lovely. I have two sisters and we grew up in the same room but different worlds in an era of wrong reasons, too. Thankfully, we became close in our 20’s and remain so. I can’t imagine them otherwise, so I feel for your loss as if it was mine. And my mom sits on my workstation. You write well. It makes reading you pleasurable. Thanks for that.

  3. Thank you for sharing this moment with your “other” family. Good thoughts and warm hugs, my friend. B

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