Karen Is My Sister

Karen Is My Sister

I was blindsided by a memory the other day. It was profoundly bittersweet and made me cry.

I was on my deck absorbing a little sunshine to pacify the pandemic blues. I closed my eyes and turned my face up toward the sky. Suddenly, I wasn’t on my deck in the city anymore. The memory brought me back to a point in time when I lived a different life before my marriage and family were decimated by domestic violence; before I moved 3000 miles away from them and relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

In my mind, I was lying on a blanket at Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA with my sister. Her name is Karen. Yes, Karen, the slur used to typify an entitled woman demanding to see the manager because her wheatgrass smoothie tastes too grassy. But this essay isn’t about the politics of the so-called Karens of the world, it’s about my fractured memories since I became estranged from Karen…my sister.

This memory was so vivid that I could feel the sand shifting underneath my wet bathing suit as the sunshine heated my face. We were lying there, Karen and I, talking about who knows what; mom, our jobs, or most likely our kids. I could hear the waves crashing, smell the salty air, hear the seagulls and YES, feel free to insert every other insipid cliche about New England beaches. It was wonderful.

I could also hear our kids’ voices ringing in my ears like they were right next to me digging in the sand. They were laughing as Karen and I lounged on the shore, soaking up the lives we were so privileged to have…in that moment of time before everything went so wrong.

That moment triggered another seaside memory; this time it was of me and Karen having lunch at the Grog in Newburyport. As usual, we were bonding over a glass of wine and talking about our kids. We were sharing that motherhood thing, that physiologic response where we tighten our pelvic floor muscles and feel the milk let-down in our teats. It’s an uncomfortable sensation I’ve learned not to dwell on, as my kids no longer exist in my world. I remembered that after lunch, we went to Plum Island and stood on the beach for a few minutes to watch the waves break against the shoreline. It was a raw, drizzly fall afternoon, and the wind whipped the sand into our faces. I think Karen took a selfie of the two of us and posted it on Facebook.

Then I remembered that anguished feeling as I stood on the beach next to my sister, wishing I could stop time and just stay in that moment forever. I dreaded going home. My kids weren’t there, but I knew he would be soon. I didn’t tell her how I felt because I didn’t understand abuse. I only knew that there was a knot in my stomach when I considered what the evening had in store for me.

She is my big sister. And long ago, she made me feel safe and loved. I wanted to go home with Karen.

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