Sulky Sue

For my mother

He called me Sulky Sue. We were both -- my oldest brother and I -- now adults and talking about a time long ago when I was quiet and shy and apparently, an enigma to my brothers, especially the three oldest. Enigma did sound a little exotic, however, something mysterious and enigmatic. It almost sounded quite glamorous and the reality was far from glamorous. Yes, I was a bit of a mystery, always keeping to myself, withdrawn, hidden away in my bedroom for most of my teen years whenever I was at home. I went to school and had friends of my own but I wasn't a social butterfly and was more of a homebody.

The subject matter which triggered the conversation was an old piece of footage which he had taken when he was sixteen and I was twelve. It was our family's home movies, something that I thought was lost forever but our third brother had salvaged and converted it into a cd-rom for the rest of the family to enjoy.

Earlier on, while I was watching the film (which was mostly about a family vacation in another country), I did notice that I was hardly featured, and when the camera did focus on me, even though it was true that I didn't smile very much, there were times when I did smile. I was an awkward twelve-year-old. What did he expect? I remembered that time. I remembered that I felt unattractive and shy. My oldest brother must have watched the same piece of film and thus remembered our younger days when I hardly smiled or interacted with the rest of the family. Somewhere in that conversation, he added that if the goth look had been around at the time, I would most certainly have embraced it. Internally, I disagreed, and merely listened to what he had to say, also realising at the same time that his words amused some of the others who were listening as well.

I remembered that vacation in particular because it was before I shut down. No, it wasn't that dramatic but I used those words to describe that period when I was oh, so very shy, when I stayed away from my father, unable to trust him anymore. The trust was no longer there. Why did that have to happen?

As the conversation with my brother continued, I knew that it wasn't the time nor the place to elaborate why I was -- in his words -- this other person called Sulky Sue, and tried to defend myself. For some reason, I felt attacked although I knew that I was not being attacked. It felt very personal, almost humiliating. And I felt like that young girl of twelve again. Family reunions were a wonderful thing but we were outdoors in a public place, in a setting that wasn't conducive to airing family secrets. When family members get together, sometimes things happen, or are said, that take us completely by surprise. That incident was one of them. Something was happening but I wasn't sure what it was. I wanted to tell him then -- to tell the rest of my brothers -- what my father had done.

Perhaps Sulky Sue emerged because I was going through puberty, transforming from a child into a young woman, on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Perhaps Sulky Sue also emerged because she was intentionally hiding, felt she had to hide, for reasons she couldn't tell them at the time. And perhaps my oldest brother had missed his little sister all those years ago, wondering why she would only emerge from the privacy (the safety?) of her bedroom for meals and then retreated again, back to her daydreams, music, reading, writing and her own little creative endeavours. And before he knew it, another year had passed and I was a year older. I was shy, I told him. He said I was sullen. And perhaps I was -- even though I still disagreed -- now that I can look back upon those years through an adult's eyes and with a mind that has managed to mature somewhat since then. I could certainly understand how I could have been perceived as sullen and moody.

It was true that I wasn't very happy as a teenager. It was also true that I felt estranged from my father during those years. And maybe Sulky Sue took my place for a while because she had to. Were those wasted years? When I look back now, I think ... yes. The relationships that I could have forged with my older brothers ... I miss that ... I miss that even more now that I am an older woman, wishing that she could relive the past differently but knowing that it can never happen for life doesn't happen that way.

I had to be Sulky Sue and he had to remind me of it thirty years later. Oh, joy. Perhaps it wasn't only me who regretted those sullen, somewhat painful, teen years. No doubt my oldest brother wished that things had been different as well. But they weren't. And I can't go back and change any of it.

Why did my oldest brother say the things he said? Why did I feel as if I was being accused of something? Why did I respond the way that I did? It was sudden, unprepared. And perhaps we're all also constantly growing in the moment.

I found out from my mother that my second oldest brother had commented that I was hardly featured in the home movies. During that same visit -- before conversing with my oldest brother -- I felt my second brother's hand flick playfully behind my ear, announcing his arrival. It was a little thing, affectionate in its own way, and yet it wasn't so little to me. I adored my second oldest brother when we were children. He was -- and still is -- a differently personality from my other brothers. Outgoing and independent from young, and yet private. It was hard to categorise him. It was hard to categorise all of them. Whilst sharing the home movie with my husband, I remarked that my younger brother was either always laughing or crying (in the family home movie, he was almost always laughing, obviously loving life, even though he encountered his own heartache and stumbling blocks in his adult years) and my third brother, being the middle child, was a most amiable chap. None of my brothers were shy. And if they weren't shy, how could they have possibly understood their sister who was socially crippled by her own shyness? When my parents were shown together, my mother was usually holding on to my father's arm. Yes, she loved him.

I have since watched that same piece of family footage a few more times. My oldest brother was hardly featured also as he was usually the one behind the camera. My parents are featured as well and I remember my father all over again. There is one scene which intrigues me, for some reason. I walk past my parents and my father reaches out to pat my shoulder. I'm saying something to them. I don't remember that incident but now something in me wishes that I did. Why? Just because my father had reached out to pat me on the shoulder? Yes. And it's captured there on film. All the better. It's little things such as that particular scene that I treasure for it's all that I have.

Perhaps that earlier conversation with my oldest brother took place to prepare the setting for the time when I would finally tell him what had happened between my father and I. Really? I don't know. Then why did it happen? All of us are maturing with each passing year and remembering our childhood more and more, perhaps. Children look forward to the future, to growing older. Older adults remember the past and reminiesce. And one, in my case, accused his younger sister of being this other persona called Sulky Sue.

Will I ever tell them? The truth will set you free. And yet it didn't feel very freeing as I sat there, defending myself, wondering if this was the right time to tell him. And I told him that I remembered him as being judgemental and critical. I didn't really know my older brothers during our teen years. And it wasn't the right time nor the right place to talk about the reasons behind it. And even if it had been, something inside told me that perhaps I would make things worse. Yes, we were all growing up together and we were all different. But I wanted to explain, you see, why I was withdrawn, sullen even. Why I was shy and stayed in my room so much. Why I wished I had reached out to my older brothers but didn't or couldn't. Why I remembered my childhood and especially my teen years so differently. Would telling my oldest brother, or even the rest of my brothers, make things worse? I don't know. I'm hoping it won't but I think I'm also afraid to find out. Something in me is afraid that they will see me as tainted ... blemished ... that infamous, or even notorious, black dot on a white sheet of paper.

I didn't -- couldn't -- feel free just yet as I hadn't told my oldest brother what our father had done ... to me ... to his little sister. Sometimes it still seemed unbelievable, that it had hardly happened. Or that it wasn't worth telling at all.

Wanting to tell, on the verge of telling, is not the same as actually telling. And telling -- revealing the truth of what had happened -- was perhaps the hardest thing of all. My mother is still alive and well, thank God. But after she is gone, there are only my brothers. They are still my family. They are still a part of me. And whatever they think of their sister (there seems to be stronger bond between my younger brother and I), however they feel about me, I know that I will always -- always -- hold them close to my heart.

This page took a long time to write. I needed to write it but the words wouldn't come. Or they couldn't. Not yet. I kept telling myself that perhaps there was no need to tell, after all. Or was there?

It is still very unsettling, even now that we've parted ways and living in different parts of the world once again. That rare family reunion had come and gone. And that feeling of needing to distance -- to separate -- myself from my brothers comes over me again. I know it won't last long because I know that deep inside, I miss and love them and wish that things could be different.

And why would I still feel so unsettled? Maybe because I know that it's still unfinished.


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