She pulls me into the ancient bathroom and sits with me on the claw foot tub so we can “talk.” I hear the drip-drip of the leaky faucet and the sound of cars racing by on the street outside the window. Her light brown hair circles her pretty face like an angel’s halo. She grabs my hand. She holds it in her own.
“I’m getting married,” she says. “Do you know what that means?”
I nod. Of course I know what getting married means.
She watches me carefully, her blue eyes peering, perceptive. “It means I won’t be living here any more.”
I wonder: Why does she think I won’t understand? She and her boyfriend had gotten engaged. There was to be a wedding. I would be the flower girl. I knew all of this. Had known it for weeks now.
But I didn’t understand. Not really. Not in the deepest part of me that knew she was always available in a way my mother couldn’t be. With a smile. Or to bring me treats or small toys. To give me hugs or advice or whatever my little five-year-old heart needed at the moment.
It would only be later, much later, in the dead of night or in the ordinary humdrum of a day, the truth would come crashing in, bearing down on me with all the force of a locomotive steam engine. After I had thrown a temper tantrum at her wedding, my tears soaking the pink roses on my chiffon dress and small fists pounding the church floor. When I sat alone in our dark house and watched outside the kitchen window as my parents and older siblings spread manure on the garden amidst a first November snowfall. When I awakened at night, cold and shivering with the sheets steeped in my urine. That’s when the ugly truth of her leaving wormed its way into my young heart and made its home there.
My angel sister–the one who taught me to walk, who saved my first lock of hair when I cut it myself, who made me hand-sewn outfits and bought me my first Barbie–this dearly beloved sister was gone.
Oh not forever, of course. She was only a forty-minute drive. But my mother didn’t have a license. Visits were reserved for the occasional weekends my sister came to our house or the week I spent with her every summer.
A bone-crushing isolation descended on me like a claw, pinching and scraping the tender walls of my heart. At five years old, the long, solitary road of my existence stretched out in front of me like the barren railroad tracks that ran next to our house, the trains cranking out a lonely whistle every hour of the day.
In a reoccurring nightmare, my sister and I made our home in a tent in our yard. I begged her to run away with me. But my mother stood outside the house and called us in, her worn hand beckoning, like a priestly summons. In the dream, we could never ignore the call.
The funny thing about life? If we wait long enough, if we endure through painful moments, happiness has a way of breaking through the dark shrouds, reviving the dead parts.
Time passed. I learned how to live without her daily presence like a person without an arm. You always know it’s missing but can get around pretty well without it. This severing and learning to adapt was necessary. My sister was not my mom. She needed to move on with her life as a new wife and later, mother of two daughters. I needed to forge a stronger relationship with my mother.
Last Easter, my family and I paid my sister a visit in Arizona, where she lives with her husband. She pulled out all the stops–purchasing our favorite snacks, decorating for Easter and making beautiful flower cutout cookies, buying my daughter a birthday cake and present. Once again, I found myself basking in her unconditional love and caring.
My twelve-year-old daughter felt it, too. “I really like Auntie,” she told me. “She’s so kind. It’s like…she and I have a special bond. We like the same things. You know what I mean?”
For a moment, I am transported back in time. The sun peeks out from the clouds and shines down on us, its radiant heat nurturing, protective. “Yes,” I tell her. “I know just what you mean.”Via @AuAuthor, Rain or Shine, We're Sisters #amwriting Click To Tweet Via @AuAuthor Sisters are friends for life #amwriting #sisters Click To Tweet