Archive for November, 2015

Loving Faye

Katie Law Goodwin, 2015

There are moments that seem to occur outside of time, moments that ping my heart and curl and nurture the corners of my mind when I remember them.

One of these occurred when my daughter was two days’ old.  She was alone with me in my room at Lenox Hill Hospital on 77th Street.  The nurse had lifted her from her bassinette into my arms and I was attempting to breastfeed her.  My memory says she was a slippery little eel, naked and warm, but I am certain she was swaddled in some way on this bitter November day in New York City.  So it was not the slippery texture of her skin – or was it?  Was I attempting at that point to change her diaper?  At any rate, it was the twist of her head and the plaintive, high cry she made as I shifted her in my arms, either to the changing pad or to my other breast that bonded me to her forever.  Whatever happened, whatever the texture of her skin or clothing or hair or the smells I smelled, it was the cry she made which caused me to know severe and true love for the first time in my life.  Whatever it was, it overcame me, and I realized what I now call devotion, duty, love, fidelity and the vast overwhelm of a heart willing to die for another – all in that moment outside of time.  Something in me but not of me knew I was Cammie’s forever, and I have been hers for the last 25 years in the same powerful way.

We were in my sister’s kitchen in Florida, long before Cammie’s birth.  Her son, Balthazar, was a toddler.  I stood in the doorway as she cleaned up, watching her wipe down a countertop.  It was the power and fragility in her wrist in that moment that un-did me.  My heart leapt silently from my chest to join with hers’ in powerful cathexis; I was moved beyond words by the movement of her hand and wrist.  She was speaking.  What was she saying?  She was so tired.  Could she not feel the power and love sent as wave upon wave of sustaining energy from my mind and heart to her own?  Could she not feel the absolute love and joining in that moment outside of all time?  I wanted to give her all that I had; I would have laid down my very life for her, so great and all-consuming was this love.

I have previously written about the sustained safety and feeling of all-rightness in the presence of my meditation master.  I will not repeat that experience since it does not truly relate to the experiences I recount above.  But as I sit for long periods of time at the feet of my true master, I lose all sense of moment v. non-moment, time v. non-time.  There is no momentary “ah” of love – it is absolute and all-encompassing, complete and sure.

Faye has been gone for some time now.  Of course, no one is ever “gone.”   When I think of my sister, she is as present as she ever was.  I often see an image she sent me when she was in Africa in the 1970’s.  She is throwing a Frisbee, and her long blonde hair is swinging behind her.  Her jeans are rolled up and she is laughing, skinny and free.  The encumbrances and burdens which were to overtake her in the later years are non-evident in the freedom of her posture.  This is how I remember my sister.  I try not to think of the last twenty years of her addiction, which led her to scapegoat and target me as the split off projection of her own self-hatred.

Our own dear mother had done the same thing to me in the last years of her life.  She was beat down by the vicissitudes of Daddy’s gambling.  Oh, Daddy never “gambled,” really.  He was a classy stockbroker, but I grew up noticing great wealth then not-so-great wealth.  I do not know how a woman of Mama’s stature continued to keep her mouth shut when she noticed stockpiles of cash in the bank and then noticed that her money was gone.  Mama and Daddy seemed to always be living for “when we had plenty of money again” and it was Daddy who was going to make the money for them.  And make it he did.  But he couldn’t hold on to it, and he continued to invest in small, volatile stocks which sent their accounts plummeting, again and again.

When Daddy became ill with prostate cancer he sought out advice from me regarding his diet and his health.  Had Mama been stronger and in her right mind, she could have overcome her petty jealousies and welcomed the help my father wanted from me.  But she was threatened, as she was later to confess to me, so she treated me terribly when I visited, audibly mocking me and humiliating me in front of the rest of the family.  Faye had been banished from the household for some time due to one too many drunken tirades against Daddy; and Daddy, usually my greatest advocate, was too tired or sick to stand up for me.  And my brother, who I could usually count on when we were alone, also withdrew into the confusing and dysfunctional family system.  My brother, like the rest of us,  tumbled into the void of rage and helplessness pervading us all now too frequently.

Mama was relentlessly compensatory for my sister’s inadequacies, or those she perceived in my sister, apparently identifying, having been left in the cold by her own father at quite a young age. Had she been alive today, and had I been younger, and had we both been able to be more conscious, we would have obtained therapy.  Perhaps Mama would have been open to work through her difficult issues with me.  Perhaps she would see how she protected my sister at the expense of my own well-being and the certain guilt this caused in her.  Perhaps she would see how conflicted she was, admiring me, but now knowing what to do with me.  Perhaps she would see how she married her own father, and then got angry that her daughters also had a father to whom she was married.

And Daddy, who had previously and nobly been my champion, now looked the other way, or into his glass of bourbon, so I was left alone, to be humiliated and shamed wherever I cast my shadow.  Here I was, this meddlesome and unwanted daughter, the one Daddy loved.

And Faye? I would have liked to protect her when things were rough; when the cost of winning our parent’s approval and love often caused war and destruction.    Our sad and isolated family system had taught its’ members to compete for the one place in the family where one might survive, as if love had to  be earned, and if one were lucky enough to win that small piece of the love-pie left on the plate, one won the dubious gift of what? – seeing the others slaughtered, slighted, ignored, abandoned? Perhaps left with stories rolling off the educated tongue like the mint juleps which slipped down my throat when Grandfather made them for me as I sat on his lawn and watched the night disappear into my mind?  How different it would have been if I had been able to simply love my sister the way I do now, if I had been able to profess this love and proffer help and guidance and attention all through the years.  But opiates and alcohol were lethal to Faye – they took her to places in her mind which saw only her sister as the evil shadow she had disowned.  I was lost to her, and she whined victimhood and sorrow and despair to any and all who could tolerate her for long.

But she was not always like this.  When did it happen?  I had always loved her.  She was my right arm.  She was my very own self.  She was my sister.  There was no life without Faye.  Kaye and Faye.  We were inseparable.  It was not as if I thought about her.  I thought about her as little and as much as I thought about myself.  She was just there, just as I was just there.  It was just so.

But in retrospect, some insidious disease was lying incipient in her.  She constantly compared us.  She had a mirror taped to the inside of her books, and conned our teachers into believing she was reading and studying, when in fact she was looking at herself, hour upon hour.  She would ask me, “do I look like you?  Is my lip like yours’?  Are my eyes like yours?”  I could never understand, so I pretended it did not happen. We were identical twins.  I could not stand the discomfort this caused me, and the apparent agony it caused her.  I went into a deliberate form of dismissal and denial from most of which I believe I have never recovered.

Sometimes I fantasize about traveling to see my sister today.  We would sit before a fire and listen to one another, relishing our victories, saddened at our tragedies.  We would encourage, love and cherish one another, knowing we were the only ones left.   We would cluck and mock our childish, churlish younger brother and his sometimes silly wife.  We would refuse to perpetuate the family curse of isolation and dismissal; of estrangement and triangulation and negative bonding, one against another.

I miss Faye.  I miss her almost every day.  I miss the Frisbee girl from Africa, so free and enviable, so delighted in her own sense of ease and happiness.  She is who is with me today.  I love Faye, and no one will ever split us up again.  And though gone in bodily form, I speak to Mama and Daddy as much today as ever.  I know they are with me.  I listen to them and I speak to them.  But mostly I listen.

And at night, as my dreams take me wherever I command, I spend most of my dreamtime with Faye.   I forget the old stories of disappointment, heartache, betrayal, victimhood – all the vagaries and difficulties of a life I thought I led until I realized it could soon be over, all the ways I have told myself estrangement and loneliness are justified because I am right and they are wrong.

A decent regret for harms done, a day of memories kinder than a child’s laugh, a lovingkindness meditation offered at the foot of an altar; tender, soft- belly for what we call the past, this is loving my sister today.  Letting go of that which was formerly broken, unheard, judged, forged from old cravings and aversions:  these have now become the unconditioned experiences of what had been a conditioned and hardened mind.

Some ancient force is called forth today as hindrance after obstacle are removed without effort or intention.  Loving Faye has become the clear path back to My Original Face.


-gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhe swaha!-


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