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"Dead to Us"
by Susana Rosende copyright 1998

I was married, pregnant, and living in New Jersey when my mother called from Texas to say my sister was 'disowned.'

"She's a PUTA," my mother screamed into the phone. "Lily has ruined the family name. Your sister is dead to us."

I placed my hand on my belly as my baby kicked and turned inside me. My sister was "disowned"?! At 23 years of age for moving in with her boyfriend? My mother was disowning one of her children? Not only was she disowning her, she expected the rest of the family to cut off all contact as well.

In the months that followed, I continued to receive calls from my mother, to whom I responded mostly with silence. My mother was from another culture, and using American logic, like the fact my sister was of legal age and in love, could not persuade her, nor calm her. My mother even attacked my own moral fiber for not agreeing with her, calling me outdated names like "hippy."

I heard from Lily, as well. On the fateful day of her disowning, she'd stormed out of my parents' home with clothes hastily thrown in plastic garbage bags. My parents disapproved of her boyfriend, a fellow nurse, she said. They were making it impossible for them to date. She had no other choice but to move out.

Memories of my own dating nightmares came flooding back. I hadn't been allowed to date unless chaperoned by my brother. I was denied permission to attend the prom and many parties and dances as well, unless my brother Al, one year my junior, was present.

Most of the boys I dated were good-natured about the situation, others were not. My parents' customs were fodder for jokes and teenage rebellion. I was both mortified and angered by my parents' ways, which I saw as lack of trust.

Now, years later, I was married and with child, and desperately needing to re-bond with my mother as I bonded with my unborn child. My mother's reaction to Lily moving in with her boyfriend hurt me deeply, as if I were the one being rejected and cast away.

The hurt was deeper still because of my growing love for my unborn child, who I could never fathom rejecting.

Stories from the siblings remaining at home were just as unsettling. My mother had removed all Lily's photos from display. She'd thrown away everything Lily had left behind, including her nursing college text books.

She'd even torn up Lily's letters, including the invitation to her wedding.

From our side of the family, only Lily's high school friend, my husband, infant son, and I were in attendance at her wedding.

My husband walked her down the aisle.

(Below, is a 1987 photo of my sister Lily and me, with Brian on my lap, at Lily's bridal shower on the eve of her wedding. Lily put a gift-wrap bow on baby Brian's head.)

Though my parents and Lily reconciled as soon as she became pregnant -- they could not "reject a grandchild" -- their relationship and that of Lily to my younger brother Jorge (who blames her for the family turmoil that ensued when she left home) contains an undercurrent of strain.

Yet, the year or two of the "disowning" is never discussed. It was a painful time for the entire family. But, through it all, my parents never stopped loving Lily, nor she them.

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