Of Gossip and Defenses and Protection and Love

My well-loved copy of Anne of Green Gables

I always loved Anne of Green Gables as a kid. I read it over and over, imagining myself in all the magical places Anne imagined.

The last time I read it was when I was around 14 years old. My younger brother, who would have been 13 at the time, wanted something from me. He had (and probably still has) sociopathic tendencies.

Later in life, when we were both adults, he admitted to me – with pride – that he enjoys finding someone’s breaking point, their raw nerves, and needling them until they’re pushed past the breaking point. When he proudly admitted this to me, he was in the process of pushing my buttons, and I indeed lashed out after he needled me past my breaking point. I hit him on the shoulder when he pushed me to anger. In response, he kicked me in the stomach and sent me flying across the basement to crash into some cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. I was more stunned than hurt in that moment.

Back when we were teenagers, he grabbed my book, my beloved Anne of Green Gables, from my hands. He threatened to tear it up, page by page, if I did not do what he wanted. I stood my ground, sitting on the couch. He tore out one page, at which point I yelled. What happened next is vague, but I think my mother stopped it then and scolded him for ruining a book.

The page my brother tore out, taped back in by my other younger brother.
The edge of the book. The page wasn't set back in exactly evenly, and I could never bear to look at the book again.

I’m watching Anne with an E on Netflix now. I started watching it when it was first released, but the first episode was too dark and sad for me. Now I came across it again in my recommendations, and I decided to give it another shot. It is still dark and sad, but I feel dark and sad just now. The show is gorgeous and brilliantly made – true, it comes across as darker and more mature than the book, but it does great things by making obvious the abuse that Anne endured.

Image result for anne with an e

Watching Marilla Cuthbert standing up for Anne in Season 1, Episode 3 – when Anne sees Prissy Andrews, an older girl in school, getting intimate with the teacher and Diana tells everyone but Anne is blamed – reminded me viscerally of something that happened when I was about 8 years old.

It was summer, which meant that my family was in the bungalow colony in the Catskills. We had our permanent rental, 40R, the rear part of 40F. My father, as usual, spent the weeks working in the city and came up to join us on the weekends. My days were filled with daycamp up the dirt road, pooltime, and running free with friends.

During Bunk Day in daycamp. Each age group performed on the stage in the shul. The theme this year was "Super Snacks," and my bunk was "Pizza Wheels."
Crafts with friends at the picnic table near our bungalow.
During a break in daycamp schedule, my sister and her friend organized color-war for us.
At the pool.
Carefree days, getting ice-pops from the grocery store and putting it on our parents' tabs. As close as we could get to running wild.
Braid-trains with my sister and her friend. My younger brother peeks in from the side.

I became close friends with the girl my age from 40F. Let’s call her Michal. She had an overactive imagination – much like Anne – but she wasn’t as generous as Anne was. She told me fictions as if they were truths, and I swallowed them, wide-eyed and thirsty for more. She painted a picture of the mansion they used to have in Israel (her parents still spoke wit an Israeli accent), with balconies overlooking pools of purple water. I worshiped her.

My older sister was at a point in her life when she was condescending to everyone. She was a bored teenage far too early. Thankfully, she grew out of that. But I was caught in the effects of her derision many times. Back home in our bedroom in the city, she used to make me list all my classmates, and she would pronounce each one “cute” or “nebby.” My friends, of course, were all “nebby.”

One of the girls from 40F was her age, and she spent some time with her. Not in daycamp – they were too old for that. But my sister wasn’t friends with the girl her age – let’s call her Avigail – the way I was friends with Michal. They spent time together out of necessity. There was also one older sister in that family, who spent most of her time alone because most of the girls her age went to camp rather than coming to the bungalow colony with their families.

One time, late at night, my sister and I lay in bed and gossiped. Or, more accurately, my sister gossiped and I listened. In the course of her commentary on everyone and everything in the bungalow colony, she mentioned Avigail and called her “weird.” I protested, saying she seems normal to me, and lots of fun.

My sister dismissed that. “What do you know? You’re friends with Michal.”

“Michal’s nice,” I responded. “I like her. She’s not weird.”

“Of all the people in that family,” my sister pronounced, “Michal is the least weird. But that whole family is weird.”

To this day, I cannot understand why I did what I did the next day. I meant no malice, of that I’m sure. I think I told Michal what my sister had said because I disagreed so strongly with it. Also perhaps because I had been called weird my whole life, and while I didn’t quite wear it a badge of pride yet, I did dismiss it. I did not expect Michal to be hurt by my sister’s pronouncement, and I was right.

I told her, “My sister said your whole family is weird, but you’re the least weird.” She laughed, and told me more about the mansion with the balcony overlooking the pool of purple water.

But she told her mother about what my sister had said, and her mother didn’t laugh it off as Michal had done.

Dinnertime in the bungalow colony.

Later that evening, while my mother was serving dinner to all the children gathered around the kitchen table, Michal’s mother came up onto our porch and knocked on the screen door. Her eyes were red. She asked my mother to step outside with her. We kids got a little quiet, knowing something was wrong.

When Mommy came back inside, her eyes were red too.

“Dainy,” she said, “why would you say something like that? Why would you tell Michal your sister thinks her family is weird? Don’t you know that words have consequences? That’s rechilus.”

I was puzzled as to why my sister wasn’t being rebuked for saying that in the first place, and I was confused about the whole ordeal. I didn’t understand anything of what had happened. I had been innocent and trusting, and I had not realized that words could be so mean.

I’ve thought about this incident often as I grew up. Watching Marilla stand up to Prissy Andrews’s mother – apologize for the hurt caused but also defend Anne – made my heart ache with what I realized my mother should have done for me.

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