“I blinked my eyes
and in an instant,
decades had passed.”― John Mark Green, Taste the Wild Wonder: Poems
Today it dawned on me that it’s been over half a decade since I last had a polite, if not friendly, exchange of words with my half-sister Victoria after our mother’s death.
It wasn’t even a spoken exchange; by September of 2015 I had no desire to hear Vicky’s voice, so I stayed connected only via text. At the time, I was still hoping that I could fix up my mom’s old townhouse in East Wind Lake Village and make it my own once all of the legal wrangles over the estate were over, and I wasn’t yet ready to go the “No Contact Ever” route with my closest living blood relative.
I can’t remember exactly what we said to each other in those last “sort-of” friendly text chats: they were usually brief “Hope you are doing well today,” pleasantries, although every so often Vicky would sour my mood by sending queries like “When can I go to the house for more of Mom’s things?”
See, by the fall of 2015 I had decided that I did not want Vicky to set foot in what I considered my home, at least not when I was alone and without backup. After our mother died on July 19 of that year, my half-sister only went to the townhouse a couple of times before August, and then it was only to take stuff that she believed was rightfully hers even though we had not yet gone to the probate court in downtown Miami. The last time that she “visited” was to retrieve two sets of fine porcelain dinnerware, Mom’s and our maternal grandmother’s, although she was only supposed to take the former and leave the latter to me.
At no time between July 19 and early October of 2015 did my half-sister buy me a bag of groceries, inquire into my financial situation, or offer any help in fixing the house.
Instead, Vicky’s texts went something like this:
“Did your friend Nelson talk to the insurance company yet? When am I getting my check from Mami’s life insurance policy?”
“Can I go by and pick up more things from Mami’s room?”
And whenever I said, “You can’t come here unless one of my friends is here because I don’t want to be alone with you,” she would claim that the house was – theoretically – half hers. She felt entitled to drop in regardless of what I said.
Eventually, though, after one whiny text in which she asked, “Why can’t I go get more of Mom’s things?” I had enough of her grasping, greedy tone and simply replied, “I’ll send you Mom’s things, if that’s what you want, but I don’t want you to come here again until we settle the legal issues in court. And I want all of my house keys back. I don’t want you to send your friends to take things out of the house without my permission.”
Sometime before this last text exchange, I woke up one morning and noticed that Mom’s antique cuckoo clock and one of my Tchaikovsky CDs were gone from the dining room. The TV and other valuable electronics were still there, and there was no sign of forced entry, so it hadn’t been a random burglary. Mom had told me to change all the locks in the house within 24 hours of her not being there anymore, but I put it off, thinking I had bigger fish to fry at the time.
I still remember Vicky’s last text to me, even though I switched phones in 2016 and that text thread did not port over to my current phone. “Why are you doing this to me?” she asked.
I didn’t explain my reasons. I was too angry about her constant demands that Vicky be allowed into Mami’s house even though Mom was no longer there, as well as her cold indifference to my situation. I was dealing with loose ends that Mom had left behind, including the closing of her credit card accounts and making sure that all of her debts were paid off. Vicky had not shown any interest in any of that, nor did she – as I said earlier – offer any help, financial or otherwise.
Instead, I told Vicky that I wanted the security card that allowed her to open the gate to the condominium – the townhouse is in a gated community, and the homeowner’s association issued two cards to Mom and me. When Mom stopped driving in 2009, she gave Vicky hers. After Mom died, though, I felt unsafe knowing that Vicky could – and did – send any of her friends to take stuff out of the house while I slept or stepped out for a walk or a grocery shopping run to the nearby Winn Dixie.
“Oh, and please don’t call or text me again,” I said in closing.
By then, one of my classmates had changed all of the locks to the house, but I needed to assert myself firmly, so I let Vicky know through intermediaries that I wanted all the keys and the gate keycard back. She eventually sent them with her late cousin Juan Manuel, but she was obviously bitter and unpleasant about it.
I received two or three “let-the-phone-ring-and-hang-up” calls from Vicky – mostly to my landline – at Christmas and, after that, six days after my 53rd birthday – the last one I spent in Miami, as it turned out, I had Caller ID on the kitchen phone, so I knew it was her. She always did the same thing; she would call late at night, let the phone ring and ring, then hang up as soon as I picked up the handset and said, “Hello?”
Aside from that, though, the last time Vicky spoke to me was at our final face-to-face encounter outside now-retired Judge Bernard Shapiro’s chambers at the probate division of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida.
We had just left the hearing about Vicky’s petition for a “lost or destroyed will,” which she had filed because Mom’s executor had not filed her 2010 last will and testament with the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida on a prompt basis, and she had lost the case, pending the judge’s final ruling. She had shot me a few cold glares during the proceedings but otherwise kept her thoughts to herself.
I was standing in the dark and imposing vestibule outside the judge’s chambers, conferring briefly with my lawyer and one of the witnesses to my mom’s signing of the will, when – out of the corner of my eye – I saw Vicky break away from her “moral support team” (Juan Manuel and his wife Barbara) and stride purposely in my direction.
I know Vicky’s body language and facial expressions well, so I sensed by the way she was scowling and walking with her shoulders stooped and her head in an aggressive pose that she wasn’t going to offer me a friendly handshake and say “Let’s mend fences, Bro.”
She stopped cold about 10 feet away from where I stood and, using her manicured right index finger, made an imperious “Come here” gesture.
I shook my head in a way that clearly said, “No.”
Vicky glared at me, then strode toward me in what she hoped would be an intimidating way.
She pointed her index finger at me, then hissed, “Don’t call me or text me ever again.”
And before I could even come up with a clever retort, she spun on her heel and stormed out of the vestibule, flanked by Juan Manuel, Barbara, and her attorney, looking for all the world like a villain in Dallas, Dynasty, or one of those Latin American telenovelas that she is so fond of watching.