As Julie met Donna's sleep creased eyes in the half light of the church sanctuary, she could barely recognize her younger sister, co-survivor of their eighty proof upbringing. Julie had come home to bury daddy, twenty years after she had parachuted from his domain ruled by shot glasses, shouting, and shaking fists.
Now, with daddy finally gone, his failed liver having tossed him aside like so many "empties" strewn on the floor, Julie could read Donna's pain from every line on her face. Through the years, Donna had stayed, trying desperately to patch the family from her own flesh and bones. And now, as their eyes nearly touched, Julie could feel her sister's silent anguish. They were all gathering for daddy, but no one was grieving for Donna's wasted dreams.
As a child, Julie had navigated past her family with a swimmer's natural fear for the undertow. She feared her father, as a deer in season flees the weekend hunter. Sometimes she felt helpless, unable to shield mother and Donna from the explosive force of daddy's irrepressible rage. She gave comfort where she could, but inwardly resolved never to be caught beneath the wheel of daddy's drunkenness.
Over time, Julie found teachers and neighbors who felt her suffering and supported her hopes. Faced with desolation, Julie was choosing life: at 17 she made her escape, thanks to a scholarship to her dream college and the support of her family of friends.
But Donna was rapidly sinking. Feeling abandoned by her only ally, she surveyed the damage. Dad was drunk; mother was trembling, and Donna felt herself tumbling alone in an endless fall to oblivion. So at 15, she clutched her shredded possibilities and poured herself into her parents.
Julie had left, and as far as Donna could see, cared nothing for her plight. And despite Julie's frequent phone calls and letters, nothing could penetrate Donna's overriding resentment.
Julie wasn't washing daddy down after dragging him to bed. Julie wasn't awake half the night hearing mother's sobs and complaints about the horror of being married to their father. And Julie wasn't stumbling around trance-like living only for each day to end. Donna was rededicating herself to her parents, since no one else seemed to care, and she was not going to quit five minutes before the miracle.
But even though Julie's life, which now included a husband and a child, took her even further from home, she was never totally removed from the reaches of her father's drinking. Often, in the bleakness of the wee morning hours, the phone would ring with daddy's beer-drenched sobs and accusations.
And Julie would hang up, refusing to take his drunken abuse. Only when he would call, civil and sober, would she take the time to talk.
But Donna had run out of time. Now in her 30s, she had remained home without attending college, or making a career. And her only lovers breathed passion in the dog-eared copies of gothic romances stacked by her bedside. Gradually, her world had shrunk to her family's four walls and the sweets with which she coated her sorrows.
Heavier than she had ever been, Donna was consumed with hatred for all those who had found a future, and someone with whom to share it. A career, a lover, her life: all seemed trapped like a ship in an empty bottle of booze, covered by layers of dust.
And now, in the half light peering through the stained glass, Donna resisted her sister's imploring gaze, as she struggled to maintain her nearly lifelong wall of resentment. But Julie did not let go until the mortar melted, and the bricks quietly fell. And when they embraced, they began to bridge the chasm of their pain.