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I called my sister’s grown daughter yesterday, all the way across the country, and had such a good time. It sounds easy enough doesn’t it? But I have only done it once before because it is tricky. Afterward I thought, oh no, this is not good because it will mess up the relationship I have with my sister, that is, one of nothingness. It is actually frightening to think of disturbing that. It has taken me a long time to be able to accept the idea that my sister ran away and has never come back. That she doesn’t want to know me as if I did something wrong, when really I am pretty sure it is about our difficult past. It is much more likely about our problems of growing up in isolation and then having to figure out how to relate to others, than about her wanting to dismiss me personally for something I did. I tell myself this, and therefore the idea of disturbing that carefully crafted story of what happened to us is not welcome.

I loved talking to my niece, though, because she was open. She wanted to know what it was like for me as a young parent because she is approaching that period of life herself. She wanted to know what I do now and she wanted to know about me. I felt flattered that she shared her plans to move soon, to be with her boyfriend and start a new chapter in a distant city. I loved having a niece for a few minutes, one old enough to decide for herself if she wants to talk to me, and not feel guarded by issues of before. In the moments we were talking it was delightful.

Now, however, I worry that she will tell her mother about our conversation and that it will be ruined. My sister has shown signs of not wanting me and her daughter to be friends, just like my mother didn’t want me to be friends with my aunt, the aunt I eventually grew to love and trust. Lessons of before are hard to rearrange. But my niece was clear that she wishes for more contact with her relatives. And now she is old enough to choose for herself.

The point is, reaching out once a year to say happy birthday to my sisters and brothers and their children yields varying results. It would be nice to have more relatives and have contact with the younger generation, but do you see what I mean about it being a little tricky?