Reply Tue 1 Aug, 2006 07:53 am
Sisters (for my sister Catherine)

I was the big sister, but in some ways, you were always ahead of me. You were born a month before my third birthday. Your birth was a difficult one and our mother had to stay in the hospital for a couple of weeks following it.

My first conscious memory is of sitting on a strange bed, in a strange bedroom, my back against the wall and crying as Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (from our church) tried to comfort me enough to get me into the bathtub so I could get ready for bed. Their daughter, Sheila, and I were friends from church. Our father had had to return to his demanding job, and with Mom in the hospital, us younger kids had been farmed out. I don't know where you were - maybe still in the hospital with Mom- but I wasn't happy where I was. I remember Dad would come to visit and I would run to him with such a sense of relief and happiness. I'd let him bathe and dress me and put me to bed. And then I'd listen as he talked softly to the Bishops for a while and then I'd hear the front door open and close. I'd tense as I'd hear his footsteps on the walk, the car door opening and closing softly and the motor starting. And then I'd cry again. Mrs. Bishop would come and ask me what my favorite song was. I remember I always said, "Away in the Manger." She'd sing it softly to Sheila and I- Sheila was in the other twin bed- and then "Jesus Loves Me" and then she'd lean down and hug me. She was lovely and soft and smelled nice, but she wasn't Mom. Sighing, she'd turn out the big light, leaving a small night light burning. I'd cry through the whole thing.

But then Mom came home and that's when I remember meeting you. You were a gorgeous baby. Silky auburn hair, porcelain complexion, cute little chicklet teeth that winked at me when you smiled. And you smiled a lot. I was entranced. You were small-boned and petite so I could hold you and even try to carry you around. Mom found you in my baby-doll carriage once. I'd put my doll cradle pillow in the bottom of it and had you covered with blankets. She'd been taking a shower and getting dressed, had settled us in front of Romper Room or Captain Kangaroo and had told me not to answer the phone or the door. I didn't do either of those things, but I had taken the opportunity to take you outside. (I told her you were "fussy"). She found you and I walking up and down the front sidewalk, me talking to you a mile a minute as you stared up at me from the stroller. She was frantic, but I told her, "Don't worry, I'm taking care of her." She still tells that story. But it wasn't prophetic at all. You mostly ended up taking care of me.

You've always had a feminine and pretty face, but at the age of eight or nine, you were scrawny and skinny and had your hair cut short. People always thought you were a boy. I remember walking into the women's bathhouse at Crystal Springs and this girl looked you right in the eye and said, "The boy's is on the other side." Your face just crumpled. I took your hand and walked you over to her. "She's wearing a two-piece you idiot. Are you blind or what?" And then I took you out to the snack bar and got you some of those crinkle cut French fries you liked and a cherry ice pop. We'd spend all afternoon having races out to the raft and I'd try to teach you to dive off of it. You never did learn. At 5:00, we'd head over to the Hole, which was where all the older kids swam, no life guards, no ropes, no rules. Laura, who was supposed to have been "watching" us would have met some guy- always cute - always in cut-offs. We'd hang out by the bikes, waiting for her to ride us home. She'd come back and say, "Look, you'll be alright. Tell Mom I'm at Kim's house." We'd be happy. When she rode with us, she'd make us go as the crow flew, straight up the main road. When we were by ourselves we could take the long way through the woods.
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Reply Tue 1 Aug, 2006 07:55 am
You were an enigma. Just a little fire-brand on one hand (that red hair), but on the other hand, so afraid of so many things- bugs, heights, the dark.. Some of the older boys had built this tree house in the woods. It was pretty high up, maybe about fifteen or twenty feet. There was a ladder, but I had perfected the art of climbing up and down without it. I was trying to teach you how. You could make it up, but not down- I think looking down made you panic. I showed you over and over again, "Put your hand here, put this foot there." You refused to try. So one time after you'd climbed up and I was down on the ground, I removed the ladder and started walking away.
"Bluke, what are you doing?" you yelled.
"You can do it Cath - I know you can. But you're never gonna try with that ladder there."
"Come on Bluke - don't do this to me. So what if I can't climb down without the ladder, who cares?"
"But you can, I know you can. Please try, just once."
I was about ten feet away from the base of the tree and had turned to watch you come down. You hesitantly put one foot over the side and then the other. Then your hands promptly slipped and you slid almost all the way down the trunk of the tree and landed in a pile at the bottom. You'd hit your head on something. The hair on the back of your head was matted with blood.
"Oh ****- oh God- are you alright?" I ran over to you. You just looked at me.
"You idiot - I told you I couldn't do it."
You had to get stitches in the back of your head. Mom asked what happened. You looked me right in the eye as you told her your hands had slipped when you were on the rope swing and you fell off and hit the back of your head on a rock.
Sometimes even now when we're watching tv or a movie together, you put your head in my lap and I massage your head. You've always liked that. My fingers know exactly where that little scar is. Though your eyes are closed, you always smile when I find it, and so do I.

Your boyish phase didn't last long. You were a stunning adolescent. You were taller than me and more long limbed. You had the most beautiful shade of auburn curls, nice features, cute little button nose with freckles, but not too many. You didn't have that pale, milky skin a lot of red-heads have. Your skin was golden - you never really burned. I always did.
For a skinny girl, you "developed nicely on top" as Mom put it. You needed a bra before I did. I was jealous. But you always tried to build me up. Listing all of my attributes, kindly and consistently ignoring my faults. But you were never dishonest- you always told the truth.
"You're gonna wear that pink shirt with that black skirt?" you asked once.
"Why, what's wrong with it," I asked hesitantly. You always had the better fashion sense.
"Nothing, if you want to look like Elvis Costello's girl friend," you said innocently and then laughed. I laughed too- and I changed my top.

You were always trying to help me with my hair. You knew your way around with a blow drier and hot rollers. I on the other hand, had no clue. Our hair was almost the same texture though you had more curl and I had more wave. But you could get your hair as smooth and satiny as Asian hair. You tried to show me how, but I didn't have the patience to stand there with the blow drier and diffuser for what seemed like hours. One day you invited this friend of yours over to the house to do your hair. He was handsome, flippant and very personable. I was sitting in a chair in my bathrobe and glasses reading a book. "Who's this?" he asked you.
"My sister," you answered.
"Your sister - no way ," he sounded incredulous. Then he bent down and took a closer look. "No, yeah, I can see it now," he said, grasping my chin and tilting my face to the light.
"Jesus, what I could do with that", he said gesturing at my head, "if she'd let me get my hands on it. Does she care enough what she looks like to let me, do you think?" he asked you, winking at me.
I stuck my tongue out at him, but he was funny and I ended up putting my book down and watching him do your hair. He was a master. It was mesmerizing. So I let him do mine. My hair looked great- shiny, glossy, and straight for the first time in my life. But I looked like a different person. I was polite enough to thank him and wait until he left before I went upstairs and washed it and let it air dry back to normal. You threw a fit.
"I don't understand you," you said.
"What's to understand? I want to look like me, not like someone else."
"But you could look like you, just a prettier you," you said. "Don't you want to?"
"Not really," I told you, but secretly I did and I knew you knew it. I was always good at pretending I didn't care. You were the only one who saw through it.
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Reply Tue 1 Aug, 2006 07:56 am
You started seeing Patrick who was my age when you were fifteen and he and I were juniors in high school. Patrick was (and is- he's now your husband and my brother-in-law) an extremely handsome man. He was kind of a big name on campus at our highschool, well-known and popular -and I wasn't. One day you brought his slam book home.
"Your name is in it," you said holding it behind your back. "Do you want to see it?"
"You know what's in it. Do you think I want to see it?" I asked.
"I think you do. Surprisingly enough, it's contains some good advice."
You handed it to me. I turned to the page with my name at the top.
"Smart" "Nice" "Quiet" were the majority of the comments repeated over and over. Then at the bottom of the page someone had written, "Cute face, nice pair of knockers. Interesting to talk to but weird sometimes. Shouldn't read so many books."
You watched my face as I read and laughed with me when I started to laugh.
"Nice pair of knockers, huh? Finally - I mean I am practically an adult," I said.
"I knew you'd like that part, you said. "Patrick says it's weird. He doesn't think of you as that pretty around here when he sees you all the time, but he says when he sees you out somewhere, he's always surprised and he thinks you're pretty."
"Wow, yeah, hey- well, make sure you tell Patrick thanks," I said.
"Whatever, don't get all mad. But you should put away some of those books sometimes. It gives people the wrong impression about you."
I laughed again, "And what impression is that?"
"That you're a geek. Or an intellectual snob. I mean, what's that you're reading right now?"
I showed her. I was reading Camus- The Stranger.
"See, that's what I mean- who the hell reads stuff like that?" she asked in a disgusted tone.
I'm reading it for my French class, and I'm reading a translation. If I were an intellectual snob, I'd be reading the original. It's an assignment."
"And who really does assignments?" she asked. "Okay, read if you have to, I know you like to, but just don't carry the books around at school so much."
"You're so full of crap. You like to read. What are you reading right now?"
The Wolf and the Dove, by Kathleen Woodiwiss. You should read something like that. It's so romantic. I'm naming my first daughter Aislinn," you said. "It means beautiful vision or dream."
I snickered.
"What's wrong with that? What are you naming your children?"
"Joseph or Mary," I said.
"Jesus, Bluke - you might as well check yourself into the convent right now."
But you didn't name your daughter Aislinn.

And that summer it all changed. We met Eugene and Vernon. They were brothers, transplanted southerners from the mountains of Tennessee and they had the drawls to prove it. Eugene was my age, tall and skinny and a bad ass. Vernon was a year younger, a little shorter, stockier with a powerful upper body and legs. He was nothing short of a perfect physical specimen.
Eugene was smarter, but Vernon was handsomer. Eugene was funnier, but Vernon was nicer. You went for Eugene. So I went for Vernon.

Eugene had been down in Tennessee visiting relatives for part of the summer. It was there he'd had sex for the first time. We used to sit around at Holmdale State Park under the pines, smoking joints, sniffing amyl nitrate and telling stories. Andy (my best friend since I was eight years old) would always come with us. He supplied the music and the pot.
So Eugene's telling us all about his first time. "It's incredible. It's like this explosion that just builds and builds and then…" he shook his head, "I can't explain it- you have to experience it. Bluke, you'd love it."
"Me? What's that supposed to mean? Why do you think I'd love it?"
"You just would, trust me," he said.
I watched your face darkening with jealousy and hurt. He saw me looking at you and backtracked. "I just mean, you know, you're older. You're getting to that age, girl! You can't hold onto it forever."
Andy broke in. "I had sex this summer." The four us snapped our heads around like we'd been whiplashed.
"What? When? With who?" I asked. I thought I knew everything about Andy. I'd been hanging out with him since his mother'd been my Brownie leader and I had sneaked off to his room to see his pet turtles when I was eight years old. We were buds, smoked our first joint together, went to our first Stone's concert together, called ourselves the Glimmer Twins and even wrote songs together.
"Last week. My sister-in-law."
"Get out of here," I exploded laughing incredulously. " I know your sister-in-law. She wouldn't do that."
"I swear to God. I was babysitting for her because she had to go somewhere and my brother was working. She came home - kid was in bed - and boom- it happened."
"OH **** ANDY!" No, no, no, tell me you didn't do that. What about Phil?" (his brother).
"Well, all I got to say is this. The name "Philip" means "horse lover", and now I know he was aptly named. I have an excuse though. I was stoned. What's his?"
We all got it at the same time.
"Let's just say my first experience was not as earthshattering as Eugene's, and that specific experience is not something I'm planning on repeating." He went back to rolling his joint.
I was speechless. And I could never look his sister-in-law in the eye again.

And then you took off with Eugene and disappeared into the trees. I tried to keep an eye on you, but I got distracted with Vernon. Andy just fell asleep under the trees.
A short while later you returned, your face streaked with tears.
"What happened, what did you do?" I asked holding you by the shoulders and looking directly into your eyes.
"What did I do? Nothing. Eugene's an asshole. He kept asking me to have sex and I said "no." After about ten minutes of pleading, he said, "then get the hell off of me, I gotta take a piss."
When Eugene sauntered back into the clearing, I threw a beer can at him. You started laughing when he yelped, and Andy woke up and vomited. Then we all went home. Remember that?

When we got home it was just getting dark. You walked in the living room where Mom and Dad were watching "Gunsmoke" or "Little House on the Prairie" or something and you just started yapping. "You guys should see Gigi (the next door neighbor's dog). She's outside and she's so cute. She's got this string of spaghetti hanging out of her mouth and she looks like this little French dog with a cigarette - all she needs is a beret."
They were looking at you quizzically. Then they started looking at me.
"What'd ya'll do today? Where've you been?" Dad asked.
"Nowhere special. Just the park."
As I pulled you upstairs I said, "We're tired. We've been out in the sun all day. We're going to bed."
"Well, sweeties, I'm glad you had a nice time," I remember Mom saying. I felt kind of guilty, but you just laughed. And you were the one who had to call them from the Baptist retreat center a few weeks later when we got kicked out for smoking pot. I was crying too hard to talk.

And now over twenty years later here we still are. I called you the other day and we were talking.
"Remember that guy Larry you used to love?" you said, still making fun of me.
"Of course I do - I mean- I loved him. How could I not remember him?"
"But Bluke - how could you love him? He was such a nerd."
"Whatever. He was really smart and really nice…."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah" you said.
"I googled him the other day," I told you.
"What?! Did you find him?"
"Yep. He's a professor at a school in Louisiana. He's the head of the Computer Science department. Remember how he used to make computers out of old tv screens? I guess all that nerdiness payed off."
She laughed. "I'm googling him, hang on a minute.... oh my god, he looks exactly the same! There's an e-mail address here. Did you e-mail him?"
"NO- and I'm not going to. He's married," I said."
"So what. Just touch base as a friend. He's probably curious to know how we all turned out- us crazy K_____ girls," you said.
"No, it was so long ago…"
"I'm gonna e-mail him and pretend it's you…." you said.
"Cath, don't"
"Bluke, yes…"

It'll never end.
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