My Sister Leslie
Just over three weeks ago, my beloved sister lost her balance getting up from putting wood in the wood-burning stove and her right arm was fried on the top of the stove. From her elbow all the way through each of her fingers. I have never seen anything like it. Third degree burns and the pain must be searing her soul over and over again each and every day. I am in awe of her strength. She doesn’t complain, although I’ve heard her cry more than in her entire life (she is not a crier). Through the pain, she is funny, circumspect, and her usual get-on-with-it self. She is a hero and courageous. I put out to the powers that be to take care of her. I can’t lose her.
We were not a close family, that band of five that moved fifteen times to ten states by the time I was sixteen. Actually, much of the time, we didn’t even like each other. Our fights were big, lacking only in physicality. We wouldn’t speak for years sometimes, one or another of us. Then, five short years ago, we started to diminish. First it was my mom, who died of lung cancer, and went out with more dignity and humor and calm than I would have mustered. I liked her a lot in the end. Then it was my dad, of a disease we didn’t know he even had until we read it on his death certificate. And then, a few years ago, my older sister left—ostensibly by cancer, but really, she was an alcoholic who everyone pretended wasn’t. The carnage she left behind was also swept under the rug of her power in the family. I’m told there is always one in a family who has that power to affect all others. It was her. The secrets of our family—there were so many—are not worth keeping anymore because they were all due to very human flaws and so why bother?
After our older sister died, I sent my sister Leslie an email that read “#AndThenThereWereTwo.”
It woke me with a start.
It took away all the anger of deeds done wrong both by me and to me. It put all of our goodness—our happiness—into the two of us, and somehow, I guess because diminished inventory means you treat what is left with much more care, all the things that used to drive me crazy, no longer do.
It’s like all the good from the original five became part of the two of us. And, all the bad things went somewhere else.
We started having brunch on Sundays and reminiscing about things. She is more kind than I when it comes to the deeds gone wrong, but I’m more honest about not pushing them under the rug and trying to see them for what they were so they no longer have power over us. Our combination could rule a nation. OK, that’s an exaggeration but you get the point.
I told her that when we moved to a house with enough bedrooms for us to no longer share, she was scared and I moved back into a bedroom with her. No matter, within a few months, we moved to the next place and then the separation began in earnest. I told her that she was the kindest of kids, befriending the elderly couple next door, who stayed alive just to see her face at the door each day. She was my mother’s favorite (and BFF), while my dad favored me, and now that they are both gone, each of us has answers to questions from the other that didn’t get asked during our parents’ lifetime. I really like her. I see her more clearly. I see myself and the dynamic of the band of five more clearly.
I look forward to driving to pick her up more than anything else I do in a week—and, I do some cool things.
I put this out to my readers because of the lessons learned. Maybe you can see and adjust your focus before you are reduced to two. With all the anger gone, I can see the loss as well: The times I could have called but just didn’t want to. The questions I didn’t ask. I wish I’d asked my dad more about his pitching days. What was it like to pitch a fast ball? I have seen the contract offered to him by the Boston Braves, which he turned down to go to Dun & Bradstreet, but I don’t know what it felt like on the mound. He once told me that he hated batting because back then, they tried to hit the pitcher on his pitching arm and it hurt like hell. “Hell” was a word he used a lot that I don’t hear anymore. I think I’m going to add it to my vernacular so I can keep him with me.
I know my sister will come through like a trouper. She is stronger than she knows. I honor her here with my words because when I say them on the phone, she shuffles them away the way we do when intimacy threatens to stifle our history.