Both Scrivener and jo(e) have beautiful posts about their brothers. They are full of love and compassion and longing and loss. I was planning to write this anyway, just not here, but jo(e) and David inspired me with their stories. This is the story of my sister.
I viewed my sister as a friend the minute she was born. I asked my mother if she could work puzzles with me when she got home from the hospital. There are pictures of me standing next to her bassinet or crib with a great big grin on my face as if I had something to do with creating this creature. When she got beyond the fragile stage, I remember climbing into the crib with her and making spit bubbles together.
My fondest memories of her come from our time on Inglewood Drive, a street that is the epitome of middle-class, suburban America in the late 60s and early 70s. The street was lined with ranch houses surrounded by spacious yards. Kids ran all around without a care. There were afternoon kickball games. We played HORSE at my house and caught roly-poly’s at the Ross’s. The Jennings’ always drummed up a game of kick the can just before dusk on summer nights. And afterwards, we chased lighting bugs in our bare feet, blades of grass sticking to our feet and ankles.
Though I had plenty of friends in the neighborhood, my sister became my closest friend. She was always available and for now, always willing, to play along. We set up a market in the back yard. We had “bananas” of long skinny leaves, green beans from a tree that produced pods of some kind, and we made elaborate mud pies in aluminum foil pans. We also made the chocolate milk factory at the end of the driveway. During or after a good rain, a nice deep puddle formed at the end of the driveway. We would push my bike out there and position it so that the training wheels straddled the puddle. Then I would get on the bike and pedal, which stirred the “milk.” My sister would gather more dirt and other ingredients to add to the puddle. By the time the milk was the perfect shade of brown, so were we.
Our adventures were not limited to the outdoors. We also turned the carpeted stairs to the basement into a slide by using the living room couch pillows to slide down them. I remember the feeling of bumping along the 15 or so stairs. We’d open our mouths and let out an “ahhh” the whole way down so we could hear and feel the rhythmic “ah-ah-ah” as we hit each bump. On Saturday mornings we padded down to the basement, turned on the little electric heater and watched Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo until lunch time. There’s a picture of us in this position, sitting cross-legged in front of the tv and I have my arm around my sister. I am about 8. She is 4.
Our relationship was not always perfect. I still got angry with her or tested her loyalty. Once, I convinced her to walk around the carport with a stocking cap pull down over her face. She did and proceed to ram right into one of the decorative iron posts. That landed her in the emergency room for stitches in her lip. That minor accident didn’t deter me and not too long afterwards, I talked her into hitting the dog while he was eating. Predictably, the dog bit her. I got in trouble for that one.
After we left Inglewood Drive, our relationship continued to be close, though it had many more ups and downs as we both grew up. For a brief time, we still had the adventures we had had on Inglewood, turning our back yard maple, for example, into a spaceship. But she made other friends and I made other friends and we grew up and became young women. There were fights over bathroom space and eventually over whether she could come with me when I went out with friends, a dilemma she solved by dating one of them. There were still nights when she slept in my bed and we still did many things together: working puzzles over Christmas break together, tackling the slopes on ski trips, surfing the waves on beach trips. I had to admit that she had grown into a beautiful young woman. She was tall, athletic, and had a knack for fashion and makeup–all qualities I did not have.
When I went off to college, we became even closer. She had her own phone line and many times I called her. She saw me through breakups, homework difficulties, homesickness, and feeling rejected by friends. When my parents split, these phone calls became ever more important as she shared the drama that was going on at home, being stronger than I thought possible for a 16-year-old. I was secretly glad I wasn’t there to watch my mother melt down. My sister was basically the only grown up in the house.
The summer after my parents split, some friends from my hometown came by to visit on their trip across the country. They would be back through town on their way back in early August. They wanted to know if I wanted to come back with them to our hometown and celebrate my sister’s birthday. I had a job I couldn’t get away from, so I declined, sending a large bouquet of flowers instead.
That fall, I was waked in the early morning hours in my boyfriend’s dorm room. It was my father calling to tell me there’d been an accident. My sister’s neck had broken; she had not survived.
My sister would have been 35 this summer. I can’t even imagine what she might have been. She was interested in drama, but not particularly ambitious. She had wanted to come to the same school I attended just to escape the drama at home and to be near family. She might have married, had kids. She might. She might.