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I hate this day.

For the past seven years, September 5th has brought nothing but pain and grief.

This year, it's exacerbated by other, unrelated issues. But the reminder of the day is always the same. Nothing changes, because nothing can change. It's too late for that.

It's just yet another annual reminder of loss, of anger, of hatred, of a family's further disintegration in ways that cannot be fixed.

Today is the seventh anniversary of my other sister's death.

Hers was not a murder. It was not even a suicide, in any commonly accepted sense of the term.

But it was nothing if not purposeful.

I'll call her Anne, which was not her first name, but her in-laws' (if in-laws they actually were) politics are not mine, nor would we agree on anything else, so there's no point in being any more specific.

For that matter, her politics were not mine, either. She changed drastically in middle age - or so it seemed. Knowing what I know now, I rather suspect that the nods in the general direction of "liberalism" were the veneer, and the vicious conservatism that marked her later years was the unvarnished version.

I grieved Kaye's loss terribly. I still do. And at the time, I thought that grief for the truly beloved was the hardest of all.

I was wrong.

Grief is harder when you cannot grieve the loss of the person — only the loss of potentiality, of what might have, could have, should have been.

When all you have are regrets.

She had a hard life. Of that, I have no doubt. What I don't know anymore is how many of the things that I believed to be true actually were.

Because when I had to go and clean up the mess she left behind, I discovered that she had lied. And lied. And lied.

About everything.

And it called into question everything I ever thought I knew or believed.

I did learn one thing, though.

She hated me.

She was the youngest until I came along. But she was just enough older that, ordinarily, my birth would have been nothing more than a momentary blip of resentment. Of course, when it came to grudges and hatreds, our family was anything but ordinary.

Apparently, she was still nursing feelings of displacement at her death at the age of 53. I took what was supposed to be her life. So she said. I took her father away from her, too. So she said.

Their relationship was always disquieting, not something I wanted, nor ever would have wanted.

But she lied. About everything. But especially about me. And, I would learn, in a way that actually put me at risk of physical assault, since the couple, friends of hers, who picked me up at the airport when I arrived to tie up her effects, such as they were, were only too happy to inform me that the husband was "ready to punch [me] in the face" the moment I stepped off the airplane.

That was an eye-opening moment: to have a middle-aged white man look me in the eye and tell me with no small degree of satisfaction that he wanted to punch me in the face because of things  someone else said about me, a person he'd never even met. Things which, he had learned already, were wholly false.

I still flinch at the thought.

I spent two weeks immersed in her toxic anger and hatred.

I had to use her car while I was there, and then drive it back home. I dumped the overflowing ashtray, and cleaned out the six-inch pile of used butts that soiled the transmission hump and both front floorboards. I had to clean the gray film of cigarette smoke, thick enough to scratch with a knife, from the interior windows just so I could see to drive. I threw out the seat covers and the mats and all the other detritus, and smudged it inside and out — the dash, the seats, under the seats, in the glove compartment, in the trunk. And still her rage, a free-floating miasma, survived it all, threatening to suffocate me.

I cleaned up the cat shit that was everywhere in her apartment. I boxed and bagged and sorted and scrubbed and threw away endless piles of crap. I hauled all the hidden bottles out of the cabinets and the back of the sideboard and the deepest recesses of the refrigerator, dumped them, and took ridiculous pleasure in smashing them. I dragged my mother away from useless disputes with her in-laws, because I knew by now that, while they were perfectly capable of doing all Anne had accused them of and more, there was no way I could rely on anything she'd ever told us about them as having any sort of veracity.

Her funeral, such as it was, was a grim affair.  At Kaye's, I delivered her eulogy. The night before, I'd knelt at her casket for hours, placed my hand in the groove of her bandaged forehead where the shotgun blast had ripped through it, sobbed hopelessly and helplessly.

At Anne's, I met with the funeral home rent-a-preacher. Since, of course, he'd never met her, he needed some nice things to say about her. I gave him what he wanted. But he wanted me to speak after his sermon.

I couldn't do it.

I couldn't touch her, either.

I couldn't really even cry.

Numb. After years of verbal and psychological abuse, after years of enduring her barbed hatred for our aging parents' sake, after all the dysfunction and the drama and the lies, I felt . . . nothing. Just numb.

The one odd moment in the entire mess had occurred days earlier — the day she died, to be exact.

I had been down to see Mom and take care of some things, and left about 4:30 in the morning to come back up this way. About an hour out, as dawn was breaking, I saw something I'd never seen before: in the sky to the east, as I drove north, a white rainbow. Not a sunbow; very much a rainbow, but with all of the colors of the spectrum merged into a uniform, all-white whole.

And a mile or so on, a second one.

Then a third.

Then a fourth.

It felt like a message.

I had no cell signal until I hit Santa Fe. The message was waiting on my voice-mail, telling me that she was dead, and that it had happened at roughly the time of the first bow's appearance. It was her stepson-in-law who found her, and having seen her earlier that morning, he could pinpoint time of death with some precision.

I hoped that it was a message, that she was telling me that finally and for once, she was at peace.

I hung onto that until I got back to Michigan, where reality, if not her friend's fist, did punch me squarely in the face. In the gut. In the soul.

I know depression intimately. I know illness. I know addiction from the ravages it has inflicted on those close to me, and on those no longer close.

I also know that some behaviors cannot simply be excused on those grounds. And I know that I am not to blame.

"Knowing" makes no difference.

Meanwhile, our family's always-fragile foundation was dynamited yet again.

In the crumbling ruins, the ghosts appear. They haunt me and taunt me with what might have, could have, should have been.

Originally posted to Aji on Thu Sep 05, 2013 at 11:43 AM PDT.

Also republished by House of LIGHTS.

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