Katie has finally come apart at the seams. Lest there be any doubt, she is sobbing, face down into the basement sofa. Her rib cage rises and falls, rises and falls. I cannot comfort her.
Brooke orbits the basement. She is frenetic.
She gathers the hammock swing in her hands and steps up on the arm of the couch opposite her sister’s. She pulls it as far as it can possibly go and then jumps with all the force available to her four foot, forty-five pound frame. At the very top of the arc, she throws her head back. I flinch as the swing sharply reverses course and her head narrowly misses the arm of the couch.
Katie finally agrees to talk. The words spill out – frustrated, angry, sad. I can only listen. She needs to purge; she’s not ready to hear.
“But, Mama,” she says, the echo of a sob caught in her chest, “I just want to DO something for her. That’s all. I’ve been trying all day. Really, I’ve been trying FOREVER.” I try not to smile at the perfection of ten year-old hyperbole. “Mama, she won’t let me DO anything with her,” she continues. “I just want to love her. That’s all. I just want to love her.” The tears begin to flow again.
Katie has been trying desperately to find a way to do something with her sister. Her attempts have been both flat-footed and ill-timed. Her latest went down in flames, topped off by a crack to the back of the head.
She tried to set up a fair in the basement – stations of ‘rides’ and games in which Brooke could win small prizes. She’d done it before with great success, but this was just not the time. Her sister was, and still is, in hyper-speed. There is no slowing down and certainly no stopping. I can’t, as Katie had so plaintively asked, “Just make her stop.”
Katie had decided that the first game she needed to set up simply HAD to be right under the swing. It was the only place in the entire basement that it could be. I don’t know how many times or how many different ways I said it. But she wouldn’t hear me. I watched in slow motion as she ducked directly into the swing’s trajectory. “Katie!” I shouted, just before it careened into her, knocking her to the ground.
I told her that I was sorry that she’d gotten hurt, but that it was hard to blame the train when one has walked onto its tracks.
Brooke propels herself around the basement now on the big blue exercise ball. I’ll never figure out how she manages to steer that thing as she bounces it around the room. But in the ball’s seemingly impossible movement she’s managed to find everything she needs. Speed, impact, movement, bounce, freedom.
Katie is letting it all out. How she feels like her sister never wants to be with her. How she wonders if she even likes her. How she just wants to show her that she loves her and she won’t let her.
We talk for a long time. I remind her that she often wants no part of her little sister either. How she too so often just wants to be alone. How sometimes, when you really love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is showing them love not in the way that you may prefer to deliver it, but in the way that they need to receive it. How that lesson has been the hardest for her mama to learn too. How sometimes space is the greatest gift of all. How her sister really does love her. How she shows it. How hard Brooke works too. Katie forgets. She’s not the only one who exerts energy to interact. She is somehow surprised to hear how hard her sister tries too.
Katie sobs and Brooke short-circuits. She lets out a tense laugh. Katie gets angry. “And now she’s laughing at me!”
God, we’ve been through this too many times. I feel like a recording. “Brooke, that’s not expected, honey. What do we do when we see someone crying?”
The words are rote. “Are you all right, Katie?”
I explain to Katie, for the thousandth time, that her sister’s laugh is not what it appears to be.
I walk Brooke through an apology. I walk Katie through an acceptance. The walls are closing in. I stand up to breathe.
Katie is pleading with me. “Please, Mama, just take me to the book store. I’ll buy her a present. At least it’s something. And I won’t give it to her until she’s feeling more sociable, OK? It won’t be a set-up. I’ll wait. But I’ll have it so that when she’s ready … please, Mama. Please.”
Her impotence is achingly familiar. Her desperation to just DO something. To connect. To love. I know it intimately.
As I contemplate getting her into the car, Brooke makes an announcement. “Katie, I will make you a picture.”
Katie and I sit and wait. She eventually picks up my laptop and finds her way to Girls Go Games. She falls into the comfort of a game she used to love, making a cake with Holly Hobby. She laughs when the game won’t let her mess with the ingredients. The fog is lifting.
Brooke returns clutching her drawing. She thrusts it out to her sister. “Here, Katie,” she says. “I made you a pink sock.”
Indeed she did. Katie takes her sister’s gift. “Why is it a pink sock, Brooke?” Brooke answers, “I don’t know.”
Katie looks at me and shrugs. Brooke points out the writing. “It says ‘Katie’.” And so it does. But it says a lot more.
Katie turns it over and finds more words on the back.
Sorry I coughd (sic)
As she reads, Brooke suddenly reaches out and hugs her. Katie looks at me with wide eyes, then closes them and rests her head on her sister’s shoulder. As quickly as she leaned in, Brooke gets up and returns to her ball.
I ask Katie what she thinks her sister meant about the coughing. She has no idea and couldn’t care less. I think I do, but I let it go.
Katie clutches the paper to her chest. “Mama,” she says. “I’m going to keep this forever.”
Yes sometimes, when you really love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is showing them love not in the way that you may prefer to deliver it, but in the way that they need to receive it.