"Listen to me," I said to my youngest sister, the one who almost died when she was three, but then I called my parents home from their New Year's Party next door and they arrived in time to put a spoon between her convulsing jaws and carry her blanketed to the hospital. I was ten then, and it was my job to take care of her while they were away. "Listen to me," I told her again. "I am an expert on not being loved. No one has even made a pretense of loving me. Not being loved does not make you unlovable."
My sister is crying because her three children have the Cox-sackie virus. But not really because of that. Because she has gone back to school and taken a double load and her ex-husband won't come help her through the illness, and now our aging mother cannot stay with her over Easter because she is 89 and vulnerable to viruses.
"I won't see anyone," she weeps to one of the sisters between us. "I should recuse myself because we are virused." (Why does she keep using that term? my other sister asks, irritated. Isn't that the term they use on juries?) "I keep asking him, how can you love someone and then stop loving them. I can't stop asking."
"You're not adding things properly," I analogize for my youngest sister.
"Are you telling me I am not good at math?" she sobs.
"No, you are taking 2 and 2 and 2 and multiplying instead of adding," I explain rationally, in that irritating way I have.
"It is not her who is multiplying," my other sister shouts in the phone. "It is the world that is doing it for her."
"What if you went to the store and decided not to buy pizza for dinner?" I say soothingly. "Does that mean there is something wrong with pizza?" It is a ridiculous example.
My younger sister finally laughs. I am exhausted and my ears are ringing. I keep getting bloody noses and migraines. I am exhausted from visiting my family, where everything you say is analzed and dissected and inspected for hidden meanings. I don't think I have any hidden meanings. I am too tired. Why can't I just stay in a hotel? Other people stay in hotels. My sister and her husband will stay in a hotel when we all drive to Boston which will be when she finishes the cake and the Easter egg dying, or her son goes to his Easter Egg hunt. I have lost track of so many people's social engagements. But when I tell them I would like to stay in a hotel my middle sister tells me I really don't want to do that, and that her son will be disappointed if I take my sons away from their cousin, her son, even though her son will be staying in a hotel.
Everybody's voice is echoing in my ears. "It is better just to go along with things," my sister advises, even though clearly I am not very good at going along with so many people's agendas, which is why I live across the ocean.
My mother is busy fixing my sister's childhood Raggedy Andy doll, which is missing an eye and whose shoes have torn and fallen off. In a minute I will set off for Walmart, because my younger son lost the shield for his 5 dollar Captain America, and wept all the way home from my half-sister's in Manhattan.
There are eight children, little mirror images, reproducing more mirror images, like an elaborate paper doll set, all connected at the mitts, but wavering separately in the wind. This is the thing about family. You can never totally disconnect, either your thoughts or your scissored outlines. And virus or no, echoing earlobes or no, we will travel now and be together for Easter and resurrection.