The Final Relationship

“We knew you got good grades, but we didn’t know you were smart.” So, that’s what they thought of me

How would I have known? Our relationship was formed biologically. My brothers and I were all but strangers.

We had grown from childhood to adulthood in the same house, but we never really knew each other. That was due to the shameful, secret relationship. All of us were enmeshed in it, but none of us mentioned it.

Our father was an alcoholic—a mean one. Each of us struggled alone to survive as best we could in that relationship. Actually, I should correct that.

Two of my brothers—Bill and Jim—probably talked about it. They cut lawns together. They played Little League together. They got part-time jobs together. They walked out of the house together and walked back in together. Of course, they would know each other and share in ways I did not.

Maybe I wasn’t included because they were born only ten months apart. Maybe because I was a girl. Maybe because I was the oldest.

But circumstances changed, and Bill and I were forced into a different relationship—a financial one. He held the power of attorney while I was the on-site advocate for our father in the nursing home. So, it was necessary for Bill and me, separated by 1500 miles, to talk about our father’s care.

One day, as we discussed what was best for him, I relayed how I had dealt with a problem. That’s when Bill blurted out, “We knew you got good grades, but we didn’t know you were smart.”

Then a new relationship surfaced. We had conversations about our children, our grandchildren, the past, people whose memory only Bill and I were alive to recall. What a discovery to find that we had a common interest in politics!

For the first time he sent me birthday cards. Through them our humor met and, now unmasked, recognized itself.

Finally, Bill and I had an open and honest relationship. Free to be ourselves together, we were no longer victims of shame. I’ll always hold in my heart the singing birthday card he sent me that symbolized our passage:

Do your boobs hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie ’em in a knot?
Can you tie ’em in a bow?
Can you throw ’em over your shoulder
like a Continental soldier?
Do your boobs hang low?

This past May, after a surprising, brief illness, Bill died.

And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
(Isaiah 53:11 ESV)

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