Monday, 15 August 2016
The summer of the fire signs
It was sunset on an August evening fourteen years ago, and I was perched on the rocks below Dallas Road, weeping in the aftermath of what I came to call The Big Blowout, when my sister, the Double Leo, ripped into me over a chance remark about a slice of pizza in front of my bewildered and terrified daughters, then aged ten and six, and her three-year-old son.
It wasn't about the pizza, of course. I sat on my stony seat (literally - I hadn't accepted the kind offer of a toke), gazing out at the darkening Juan de Fuca Strait, with that ghastly feeling you have when you know the injury is serious, and you don't know how to staunch the bleeding.
I thought about the years of pussy-footing, of being cowed and intimidated, and I wearily decided that I couldn't sustain a lifetime of emotionally supporting my daughters (particularly one on the autism spectrum), my aging mother, and use up my precious empathy reserves on my high-maintenance sister.
This is by way of an explanation for the following tale of tizziness, because the scenario emerging this summer of 2016 was eerily and ominously similar to that of 2002: my sister and her family turning up unexpectedly and moving into the guest suite of my mother's condo for a few perilous days. Back then, in the growing shadow of the Olympic Mountains, I came to the conclusion that my sister and I can't be under the same roof for more than twenty-four hours, not without a mis-step on the minefield that is my sister's psyche.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that fourteen years later I was impulsively treating myself to lunch at Il Terrazzo after beginning art lessons offered by a friend. I ate a lovely risotto in the cool patio of my favourite restaurant in Victoria, then, lugging bags of art supplies, dropped by a stationer's to pick up birthday cards for the various fire signs in my life. I was rather dreading a two-day visit to my mother by my sister and her family scheduled for the following week, inadvertently overlapping with my stay, and had quietly made arrangements with my art teacher friend to stay in her basement for two nights, for the reasons described above. My friend had made it clear that she would need plenty of notice.
I came home in the mid-afternoon, worn out. Demeter was out for most of the day for a special meeting of her book club, but her walker, which she uses for ferrying laundry downstairs, was planted in the hallway, laden with towels and sheets. Had I not been so tired, I might have wondered more about this, but I squeezed past, sank into a chair, and drifted in and out of a doze.
I was awake and finishing something on my laptop when Demeter returned and informed me that Double Leo Sister and her family were turning up that evening and staying for three days. My niece had picked up some sort of bug which involved symptoms that didn't adapt well to a campsite.
I suggested my giving up the spare room, and when my mother vigorously refused, stifled my panic and offered to set up the guest suite, texting the Resident Fan Boy in Hades, who advised me to get out. He remembers 2002 all too well.
I was scheduled to meet my friend the Choir Singer at a folk concert in Beacon Hill Park that evening. Double-Leo Sister et famille hadn't shown up when Choir Singer picked me up and, seeing my agitation, took me for ice cream therapy before proceeding to the Cameron Band Shell. While a Stevie-Nicks/Lindsay-Buckingham-type duo from Sooke sang standards, I retreated to the springy plantations near the public washrooms, and in desperation, called the hostess of our largely fallen-through house-sit, who had offered their guest-room at any time.
The offer was still good. Ironically, she's a Leo, too.
I returned to the bench, and vacillating between relief and trepidation, enjoyed the rest of the concert. Choir Singer friend drove me to the empty apartment. Evidently the unexpected guests had arrived and gone out to dinner with Demeter. My friend waited while I threw all my belongings into my suitcase and hastily scribbled a note: I've done the math: Four people in the guest suite - one bathroom; two people in the apartment - two bathrooms. . . .
Of course, Demeter walked in, just as I was wheeling my suitcase towards the door. As expected, she looked disappointed and weary. Jolly-Not-Green-Giant-Brother-in-Law (another fire sign -- he's an Aries) soon followed, declaring that my evacuation was unnecessary, along with my niece (another fire sign) and nephew (an earth sign, like me, poor kid). Double Leo Sister was downstairs in the guest suite, but we kept missing each other in the running between floors. I pleaded that Choir Singer Friend was waiting to drive me, pointed out that I would be back in the daytime, and fled to the guest room of yet another Leo where I spent the next three nights, being very polite.
I also spent the next three days being very polite -- and making myself scarce whenever possible.
In short, I kept careful control of how much time I spent with anyone. When you're surrounded by control freaks (and fire signs are, no matter how you feel about astrology), fences are the best defence.
Still waiting for this summer to ease up. What do you suppose my chances are?