When you do not grow up within a cohesive family unit, you are doomed to search the world for comfort. Almost all of us have either been in a car accident or narrowly avoided one. Unfortunately, my sister was almost killed in a car accident recently. My middle sister was driving belted in with the older one unharnessed in the backseat. In the pre-dawn darkness they swerved to miss someone/something in the road and hit a tree. It gives me some comfort that they were together, but I have purposely distanced myself from the Cuban side so much so that no one informed me of the accident until twelve hours later. My sister- in- law emailed me from across the pond (London) because my father called them and not me. I live ten minutes from the hospital.
Numb and mentally still, I rushed to the hospital bracing for the worst. When I turned the corner to the hospital room, I braced myself. Pre-operative my sister looked banged up yet still recognizable. Her eyes were swollen shut and her legs shattered, one more than the other. Looking into my sibling’s distorted face, I saw echoes of my mother who died four days after 9/11 from liver cancer. I wished, more than usual, for my mother to still be alive to comfort my sister. There is something almost necessary about family members comforting one another during trying times. Instead of refuge within my bloodline, my aunt welcomed me as she cut my sister’s nails with one long purposeful look that I had no emotional urge to decode.
It made a hard situation much more difficult by adding subtext to words and glances. Now was not the time for her to try to exert emotional dominance over me or to be fussing over my sister’s nails when I was thanking Saint Jude for her life. In the surrealistic days that followed there was a twelve hour surgery that involved cadaver bones and metal rods to fix the shattered areas, a head shaving, and other gruesome acts of healing followed by quite a few days in the intensive care unit. My sister’s once wild nest of hair gave way to a Sinead O’Connoresque baldness that suited her. In what may be his first paternal act, my father kept her shorn hair in his pocket; it was the first sentimental moment I had ever witnessed.
I stayed with her the nights after her major surgery in the intensive care unit when I was no longer afraid of her breathing tubes, blood grenades, and vaguely familiar face. She would call out every three hours and I translated her needs to the nurses. When crept in, I would drive home and prepare for another day of teaching. I was cut off financially and psychologically by my father (with no support from any family member) at age twenty so it is ingrained in me to never miss work or I might not be able to eat. I returned to her bedside as soon I could. Sometimes I had company. My father made promises I did not trust him to keep when I could no longer avoid his presence.
One night he called me to confess that he realized how selfish he has always been and how he had only cared about his own convenience. I know it would have been great to believe he was evolving, but from experience I knew not to indulge my hopes. A crisis helps you accept broken bodies, lives, and families. I craved family comfort, but that was never going to happen within Miami city limits. A disaster can blind us into thinking people will change and fences can be mended. This is not always possible, especially not in my case. We sometimes have to accept situations keeping in mind while people can change, most do not want to and your needs will never outweigh their wants.