I’m not sure why I remembered a particular memory this evening. It just struck me. A few years ago, I read a book by Alexandra Fuller DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT. I know, a long title for a book. The book is a sort of memoir – a white girl growing up in Rhodesia.
There’s one event I thought of specifically. I remember reading the book and I may have thought of this similarity with an event that happened in my life. I just thought about it tonight. When I was 10 years old, I lost a sister. She was only 8 months old. She died in a house fire at my aunt’s house. I took care of my sister for most of the summer. Yes, I was only 1o years old but both my parents were working and someone had to take care of the baby. I remember this day. I went with my Dad, taking care of some official paperwork/shopping before school starts (mid-August). I remember the black smoke on the horizon as we approached our homestead. The horror when we got home. Intense heat. Red, yellow and black. Screams. Wailing. Unspeakable sight. My parents howling.
After the embers cooled and the Police took my sister’s remains, my parents took us (my siblings and I) in the vehicle and drove. I don’t think my parents knew where we were going. We ended up at a distant relative’s home. He was a respected spiritual leader and had medicine. He and his wife tried to console my parents. I don’t remember much after that. Being numb. Becoming invisible. Then the guilt settled in and remained my constant companion. Survivor’s guilt. Not that I suffered in the fire. Just that I survived my childhood and my sister didn’t. Guilt, that this was my punishment for resentment of having to babysit my sister while all the rest of the kids were free to enjoy their summer free time. This was my world for a very long time. Decades.
I read Alexandra Fuller’s book years ago. I tend to compartmentalize intense overwhelming feelings I can’t process. I tell myself, until I am better able to process my feelings. So years later, I’m able to sit here and write it down. Alexandra Fuller lost a baby sister (she lost several siblings) in an accidental drowning. The toddler wandered into a duck puddle and drowned when she was in the care of a neighbor while Alexandra was also there as well. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. No one deliberately set out to murder a child. After the child’s funeral, her parents packed up the family and went driving. No destination.
We expect parents to know what they’re doing. To know everything. The thing is that they don’t know everything. They couldn’t handle the reminders. They took took us away, because they were searching for their own answers. They were hoping to see something or someone who can make it better. Seeking solace and relief. Looking for some emotional balm to soothe their own chard souls.
I wonder now if I’m still on that road. Driving.