Saturday, April 4, 2009
You Can't Save Them All
Eleven years ago today, was the last time I talked to my mother. On the phone, her four, simple words cracked the air, “Your sister is dead.” Four decades of anger fueled her proclamation. I had three sisters, but we both knew which one she meant.
Only sixteen months apart, my sister and I had been like twins when we were younger. Later, we had our differences and I hadn’t spoken with her for a few years. My sister was a drug dealer and occasionally, a prostitute as need arose. She was forty-two when she died. To this day, her cause of death remains undetermined. But most of us who knew her had our suspicions that her life style choices were the reason, if not the cause. Just the same, she was my little sister.
I have a snap shot of us, the three oldest girls up in an apple tree. Our scrawny legs are dangling from red shorts my mother had sewed. That moment is where I stopped the memories of my sister.
Stunned and choked up, I asked my mother for details and tried to console her. But she wasn’t having any of that. I asked about Dad. She hung up. I called our only brother and the one sister who I still had contact with. Nobody knew anything. In a matter of hours my mother flew from Georgia to Maine like a witch on a broom. Her grief and rage must have cleaved the very sky. She had my sister cremated, then without word nor ceremony, she left for Georgia. There wasn’t a funeral or memorial service. None of us saw the body and it’s still hard to believe. I never heard from my mother again. I wish I could have helped her. I wish she would have let me. I wish I could have saved my sister.
My sister liked seals. Once, she gave me photographs she took of a pair from a boat. When I first saw this Harp seal on the beach, I assumed it was dead. When I walked up behind it, it reared up and roared fiercely. Its white fur made me think it was a baby, even though it had a mouth full of dangerous looking teeth. I found out later it was a year old, a juvenile. It scared the hell out of me! I backed off thinking it might come thrashing toward me like I had seen Sea lions do on the Discovery channel. My feet might have been sucked down into the mud; I’d fall backward, vainly fending it off with my huge camera lens, only to be devoured. I would be remembered like Phippsburg’s own Steve Irwin.
However, all it did was mew and groan and flap lamely. Occasionally, it roared. Suspecting it was ill, I decided to call Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR, Dept. of Marine Resources), but that meant I had to leave it behind. I hated to leave it; it seemed so pathetic. I wanted to do something for it, give it a blanket or at least, a cigarette, something. In the end, I had to leave it on the mud. The MMR biologists came and took it to a rehabilitation center. You can’t save all of them all of the time, but you can save some of them some of the time. I thought of my sister.