Another haunting

Synchronicity is a gateway to faith and if not faith, then at least to the recognition that the world is more mysterious than we know, and isn’t that recognition a lot like faith?

Synchronicity can show up as a haunting or a miracle. Sometimes it’s funny. It’s always worthy of attention.

I’ve had three synchronous moments lately — one a haunting, one a sly joke, and one a gracious note from the dead (which of course is not the same as a haunting).

Today, I’ll relate the haunting. It’s about my sister. Of course it’s about my sister.

For our holiday meal, rather than clean up a half-finished jigsaw puzzle, we brought in a small oak table from the garage. This table has history. It was where my family sat and ate dinner for years — on Glen Terrace, Cypress Drive, Glory Drive, and Whitman Road. After my mother remarried, she brought it south with her to Lighthouse Point and then back north to Essex.

In the early years, my parents occupied either end. Sometimes the table was up against a wall, sometimes centered in a dining space. Either way, my sister sat on one of the long sides while my brother and I occupied the side opposite. I think it was probably this seating arrangement that inspired Noreen to learn how to pinch with her toes. Don’t laugh! She could really inflict some pain.

It’s also where my father used humor to drive home the difference between can I and may I. If you were to say, for instance, can I have the ketchup, he’d deadpan with yes you can or I don’t know, can you, and keep eating. He managed to make it funny. And we learned.

After my mother died, the table went to my sister. When my sister died, it came to me.

I didn’t think I was sentimental about the table until I was scraping off mold and cleaning the disgusting, nearly black gunk from between its center seams. Both gross. To look at the burns and stains scattered on its surface was to see my sister’s dysfunction made plain. Again. I found myself wondering what, exactly, prevented her from performing the simple tasks that make up a life. Was it so hard to wipe the table clean once in a while or slip a plate under a plant? For her, yes it was too much.

Or was it? Maybe it was just what she told herself. With Noreen it was impossible to tell and in the end, I realized it didn’t matter. The result was the same. A disordered life. A stained, ruined table.

Anyway, I managed to get a sliver. The sliver was almost impossible to see and took a magnifying glass and some real wrangling to remove. There were moments I thought I imagined it. This is when I said, Hello Noreen. The sliver might’ve been a bristle from a toothbrush I used to clean the tarry seams or it might’ve been a piece of the table itself.

Either way, my pinky got infected. It hurt. It turned bright red. For days, even after the splinter was out, I had to apply hot compresses, soak it in salty water and hydrogen peroxide and once, use a sterilized pin to poke out a blob of puss.

Not to belabor the point, but this is a pretty apt metaphor for being in relationship with my sister. Working hard to clean up one of her messes, a job I never signed up for, by the way, only to get shafted. Having to deal with the emotional wreckage after a visit for days. And even that hallucinatory quality — is this real or am I making it up — speaks to how convincing she could be with her narratives of blame. Maybe I was, in fact, a complete shit. Maybe I wickedly shortchanged her.

That inner dialogue occurred even as I knew that nothing was ever gonna be enough for my sister and even though I knew that withholding was a critical form of self-protection. She was forceful. She pinched me under the table with her toes.

So that’s the haunting. I’ll save the other two incidents for the next post. This is long enough.

By the way, in my sister’s papers I found reports from elementary school. Elementary school! One was a report about Alaska, another about bats. Around Halloween this year, I made a spooky paper collage and then digitally double-exposed it with the cover of her bat report. That’s one version, above. Another version, sans bats, is below.

14 thoughts on “Another haunting

  1. Nancy

    Oh the stories of this table! Synchronicity has always fascinated me and there has been times in my life where it is non-stop (perhaps when I have been most open to the seeing of it?). At any rate, Synchronicity, most welcome. I read your sister stories with such admiration and pain, really, at the way you stuck with it, with her…I can feel the disequilibrium, the frustration, the anger at being gaslit, once again…the sheer amount of feelings and energy. But, you stuck by, caring for/about her. I can only hope for you that some of the more negative feelings will fade away over time.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I would love to hear your stories of synchronicity. They don’t necessarily stick in memory. It helps, for me anyway, to write them down.

  2. RainSluice

    She pinched me once. I have never forgotten it.
    She was Something Else! I’m kinda laughing and kinda not. Some of us do get really horrid siblings.There’s no escape from the damage. Mine did not take out their ire on me, and I am so very grateful for that. Is “ire” from the Gaelic?
    Hey, I’d be happy to hypnotize you sometime and maybe we could just take care of all the pain somehow. The thing is, I’m not very good at it anymore, so it would probably be a mistake – the two of us might never return from the other side?? yeah, never mind. lol. You are so good at telling these stories, Dee. I just wish they were fiction.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Oh it’s so funny she pinched you! She pinched K too. He just remembers being terrified of her. It IS all kind of funny too. That’s what time and distance will do. But I hope she’s done with these “visits.”

  3. Ginny

    Mallon siblings. Sheeze. Sorry she is still haunting you. I’m glad I don’t see mine! And will be pisses if any turn up after crossing over! Nor was out and about this weekend. I think she may have tossed me a tarot reading on Saturday. The eight of cups, temperance reversed, the emperor. It made perfect sense actually. The message as clear as a pinch. Now I’m super curious for your other 2 stories. 🧡

    1. deemallon Post author

      I knew that was Noreen’s deck you were referring to. Of course the Tarot operates always by synchronicity. That, and its powerful images. Seems like a three card pull about transition ?

  4. deb

    That fuschia scarf you gave me (was it hers?) had gone missing since the days of driving Charlie to pre-k. It turned up in a suitcase yesterday, still soft. Still loud.

  5. Liz A

    I am haunted by my still-with-the-living younger brother … who has a habit of disappearing for years at a time, while I keep up correspondence with his wife (who has been a very decent sister-in-law over the years) … after my parents died, he proposed giving me their financial assets while taking all the real property (which included a house on Shelter Island, complete with lots of art and a Tiffany lamp or two) … he jiggered the numbers to make it look like it was an equal trade … it wasn’t, but I just wanted out, so I agreed … fast forward to now and he calls to say he thinks he has ALS, is selling the house, and do I want anything? … then, after I named three things, he gave each of them to other people … his kind of pinch … someday I’ll learn to just say no

  6. Marti

    Haunting wounds: my sister and I, so together as children, were very much estranged over the years and I have written about this before here so not going to get into it again BUT while there occurred a hurtful wound,,not from my sister, although there were some over the years, there also occurred a healing wound and here is the story:

    A year before she died, my sister and her partner, female. and I note that because it has always been my belief that we women hold bigger hearts but that too, is not always true…anyway, we three got together for a weekend. It was the first time that I met my sister’s partner, who I will not name because I simply won’t give her that honor. It soon became clear clear that her partner was not that thrilled to see how my sister and I just danced into our old ways of telling stories, dancing on the beach, hugging, laughing, at times, lapsing into Spanish. She could not understand how we could go for years without seeing each other and when we did, it was if we had never left each others side.

    When my sister died, her partner informed me that she had been cremated and that a simple service had already been held. She did not notify me. I found my sister’s obit on line and was shocked to see that there was no mention of me or my family as next of kin. I emailed her partner who replied that this was how my sister wanted her obit…Stunned, I cried but I also questioned it…pulling myself together, my family and had 100 trees planted all over the US through the Arbor Foundation. Ysabel, my sister, I called her Ysi, loved spending time hiking and fishing in the forest, had lived in the Olympic peninsula, working with forest rangers in WA, had worked as the Native American tutorial coordinator at Humboldt State College in CA and had moved from Sacramento to northern CA after retiring..

    Several years ago, I was visiting my girls and grand kids in CA and we had gone to Muir Woods. As I walked the trails, marveling at the majestic Redwoods trees, breathing in the scent of the Douglas fir trees, I felt a presence and when I turned, my sister appeared, wearing her favorite old rumply hat and vest. Her arms were outstretched and she was smiling; she said “Nene, I am always here whenever you come to the woods, wherever they may be.” Nene was her nickname for me and in that moment of her beautiful appearance, a benevolent haunting, if you will, I knew that all was well and that the obit that neglected to mention us, was not of her doing and it never really had the power to take away the love and connection we shared. Her partner never understood the love/hate/love sister tango but we did…

    1. deemallon Post author

      I’m glad that you had that moment in the woods after such an upsetting departure. As always, I feel privileged to be offered a window into your world, this time your past.

      PS I laughed when you said you refused to name the partner, not out of respect for her privacy, but to deny her that honor. She sounds like a piece of work.

  7. ravenandsparrow

    Your stories about Noreen always fascinate me, but also make me sad and frightened. They remind me of the fragility of families, although your refusal to abandon her points to real strength. The underlying question of “what made her like that?” reflects back onto my own family and I am conscious, again, of the tensions that swirl beneath even an outwardly placid relationship with my siblings. I have two sisters and four brothers and much is made of our mutual love, but covid forced a reckoning with our political differences that has yet to close over. I can tell that family unity is a bedrock issue for me and your stories make my tectonic plates tremble.

    1. deemallon Post author

      I didn’t realize you came from such a large family. Just yesterday in a zoom call, politics came up as a deal-breaker in relationship. It didn’t necessarily used to be. It’s something else the awful former guy gave us.


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