It is March and I am still watering my Christmas poinsettias faithfully. My aim is to keep them alive until Easter. I love seeing the brilliant red poinsettias sitting alongside the more delicate pink hyacinths and yellow daffodils that I bring into the house for the Easter season. They share the space on top of the long buffet cabinet in the dining area of my house and signal the transition from winter to spring in a floral tableau. I fell in love with the idea of Easter poinsettias when I was a little girl. My Polish granny had a corner grocery store at the end of a long row of houses on a steep city street. Upstairs she had a small apartment that she sometimes rented to temporary boarders to supplement her income. In her later years she stopped renting the rooms and used them for storage. My sister and I loved to play there on Sunday afternoons while the adults lingered around the lunch table with their whiskey and cigarettes. We would pretend that the apartment was our house, a place where we could make our own rules and imagine our someday grown up independence. At the rear of the house was a little sun porch warmed by the afternoon sun. That is where Granny kept her plants - African violets, begonias, cacti, and seedlings ready to set in her garden when the time was right. That is also where she kept her poinsettias after Christmas, letting them live as long as they cared to. It fascinated me that Christmas could linger on well past Easter and into summer, one happy season leading into the next. I loved visiting the poinsettias into their old age as their flowers faded and leaves turned yellow. It just seemed right and proper that they should have their full share of life. My grandmother was a practical woman who had no trouble cutting the head off a chicken when it was her time for the stew pot. There was no romantic reason for her to keep the poinsettias alive for so long. She had paid good money for them in November and she would keep on watering them until they shriveled up in the summer heat. I am the romantic who keeps the poinsettias alive to meet the daffodils, the aging child who can still feel the late afternoon sun pouring in through the paned glass, the air so thick and still, in the sun porch of my grandmother’s house on the hill.
It’s hard for me to believe that March 2018 marks the third anniversary of the publication of BEV: The Invisible Sister, which came a year after Bev’s death in February of 2015. Just before my book release I established this website to provide me with a public entity. Within this website is my blog, which I’ve been using primarily to report on my book signings and promotions. It’s time for that to change - it needs to be more than that. But one of the reasons that I haven’t written in this blog is that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say here.
BEV is a memoir centered around my intellectually disabled sister. My main purpose in writing the book was to come to terms with how my family and I dealt with her disability. There was so much I didn’t know about the whys and wherefores of her being sent to live at Pennhurst State School and Hospital as a child. A cloud of guilt and fear and shame hung over me when I thought about how we had let her become invisible, a shadow who lived in some sort of limbo between two worlds. I needed to understand how that happened and how that affected me personally. I had never been able to move beyond looking at my sister Bev through the eyes of a frightened child. I was a prisoner of my memories. Writing BEV was a breath of fresh air that blew through the past and let the truth shine through. It is said that the truth will set you free, and it does. Once I found out the truth I could let go of the guilt and let myself love Bev as a whole person in the here and now, not in the past.
BEV was a once in a lifetime book, and I will never write anything like it again. But now that I have written it, I want to keep writing. During the eight years I spent working on BEV, writing became a part of my life that I don’t want to let go. And so, I would like to use this blog to write about writing and creativity and late blooming. Though I will always be glad to talk about Bev and the book I wrote about her, I don’t want to do that in this space. I want to explore what I found in the process of writing her story. By writing that book I opened the door to my self expression. I became fearless in expressing myself and believing in what I have to say. Through my writing I hope to become true to myself and my own heart. I promise that what I write here will always be true.