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.


  1. (hugs) "They" say it gets easier. What they don't say is that it never gets easy. I'm sorry Robin. I can't imagine.

  2. Dear Robin,
    Thinking about you and your family, I was reminded of a favorite quote from a novel by Renata Adler, "Sanity is the great moral option of our time." It's ambiguous,like life.
    And, you saved the seal.

  3. I think that is the most powerful thing you have ever written. It was perfect in every way. A true tribute to her finally and in the most thoughtful and spiritual way. Thank you for opening that window of feelings that go so deep it is almost impossible to put words to. I am struck by the complexity of pain in what you have written. The loss of your sister Piper multiplied by the rejection and emotional exclusion delivered by your mother.

  4. Goosebumps! Beautifully written.

    "Anonymous" Cousin Nance

  5. Whee-ew, Girl!
    You near to pushed me off the charts with that one!
    What, I ask you, is an aging, White Bread, WASP, Yankee man supposed to do with that?
    Maybe if I was Oprah I would give you a big hug... or say "I love you, girl"... or tell you about the gifts hidden under your seat, or something like that.
    As it is, I'll just have to read this over a few more times, considering the pain of others and how magnificently they deal with it.

    Best to you both,
    "Messed UP in D.C."

  6. I know others can never understand the depth of pain you feel about the estrangement of your parents. What saddens me most is knowing what an unbelievably wonderful, fun, creative and multi-talented woman they raised- and they will never get to enjoy! Truly a terrible loss on their part. Remember, we reap what we sow- I feel sure they have moments of despair at the fact that they raised children, but didn't care enough to know them as adults. What an incredible shame for them. Ms. Boo

  7. pretty powerful comment there...