Ellen says, “I wish we had been close all our lives.” She squeezes my hand and smooths my hair. We are on her bed. She is breathing okay if she doesn’t move much. She says, “It’s hard to get up from the toilet. My arms are weak or maybe it’s my quads.” I say, “Try using your abdominals.” She says, “Mom kept us apart.” I say, “She did and she didn’t.” Ellen says, “She needed to be the center.” Our mother talked to me about books and to Ellen about family. My sister got married at 21, moved to New Jersey, and had her first baby nine months later. I was 15. In the hospital, my father smiled as if she had invented fire. The year before the family shrink, André, had taken me into his bed and touched me. I had stopped him from going further and told no one. I remember looking through the window at Ellen’s baby, pretending to be happy. Ellen says, “I fought with Mom. You left.” Neither of us wishes we had had the other’s life.
Ellen says, “We are connected by strands of DNA. I can see them, squiggling in different colors, like electricity.” I worshipped her as a child. She was beautiful and slender. Everyone loved her. I can see how my mother found her easier to be with. In a recent interview I told the writer I was a wolf and gave this example: “If there is a pie with unequal pieces, I will take the biggest, even if I don’t want to eat it all.”
I say to Ellen, “You were interested in having children. I have given more thought to friendship than family, and I’m as confused as ever.” We joined forces 13 years ago when our mother became ill. Our mother needed the care of aides all the time, and Ellen and I never fell out. I say, “Maybe we needed to become friends before we could become family again.” She says, “You said something that still bothers me. You said, ‘If Mom leaves all her money to you, will you share it with me?’ How could you think I would take it all?” I say, “I thought I should put it out there. She was capable of anything.” Ellen says, “She was a shit, but she could laugh at herself.”
I say, “Richard says there are waves moving in all the time, and then there are tides. Tides are longer periods. You move out and away. The land and sea part but are still in touch. This is when our tide is coming in.”
She says, “The first six months I saw André, I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t say anything. It was a tug of war to see who would speak first.” She was 18, going to therapy five times a week at $50 a session. She was attending NYU and Parson’s School of Design, and she would see André after her classes. Four months later, our mother began seeing him, too. Two years later, I began. At the time, André was also treating my father’s brother, his wife, and their two daughters. It would turn out he was having sex with dozens of women and female children. On the phone, Richard says to me, “What did you think you were going for?” I say, “I was going to meet André. His name was on everyone’s lips, like the Wizard of Oz.” He says, “But it was therapy. You must have organized a problem.” I say, “I was going to enter the fold. It was bathed in a gold light. Or maybe a green light. The green light of money.”
Ellen says, “After I was married, André would call me. I had one or two kids by then. Someone had cancelled an appointment, and he would say, ’Don’t you have $50?’ I thought, ‘He doesn’t care about me. He cares about money.’” I say, “I think it was both.” I prop myself higher on a pillow and say, “Supposing everyone felt alone and trapped, and they were all carrying around this secret. Supposing they were all as secretly unhappy as André, and everyone was pretending things were fine. This thing they were doing. This man they were trusting they didn’t really trust. He was the manifestation of the way the world can be dark and chaotic and wish to destroy hope.” She says, “I did not cry when he died.” I say, “I wish I knew more about his life.” She says, “He was born in Russia and had nine sisters.” I say, “I wish I could ask what he was thinking.”