Friday, December 31, 2010

this is not goodbye; or, three memories, two of which appropriately enough (for us) take place in a car

My dear sister,

I want to tell you about three memories I have.

The first is from when our parents were still together, because they were both in the front seats of the car. You and I were in the back – you were in your car seat, and you were new, because I was torn between watching this thing squirming beside me and watching out the window, looking for the red tipped hat of the gnome who lived outside our car (I’ll explain the gnome-world another time). There you were, squirming and squinching and quite probably getting ready to start screaming again. I wasn’t really sure what to make of you, but there you were. The baby. Our baby, as I’d been told. And I wasn’t really considering what all this would mean – I was just watching you flail around a little bit – until you did something that explained it all to me. I reached out to touch you and you grabbed my finger. You wrapped your whole hand around my pointer finger and you held on, with warmth and softness and yes, strength. And it was then that I finally realized, without searching for it, “Oh – this baby changes everything.”

The second memory is also in a car, but this time our parents are divorced because Mama isn’t there. Dad is driving, and I am in the front seat next to him, and you are once again in your car seat in the back. You are little, because you still need a special seat and you still flail around a lot, but you are older too, because now your flails have a lot more kick to them. We are driving to Syracuse, I think, to spend Christmas with Dad’s sister. Dad and I are talking – about the ice on the trees, the cars on the road, maybe the meaning of Christmas or the legend of Santa Claus (I don’t remember when I knew it wasn’t real, but you know I don’t consider that to be synonymous with ceasing to believe). You started screaming. Well, maybe just fussing, but to my untrained four year-old ears, it all fell under the category of things-the-baby-does-that-I’m-not-allowed-to-do. Dad said you wanted your bottle. It was in the back next to you, but you couldn’t reach it. Dad looked around and said I should climb in the back to give it to you. I took the opportunity to point out the obvious flaw in this plan: with my seatbelt on it was physically impossible to climb into the back seat. Dad said I should take my seatbelt off. I stared at him. He was serious. Blinking with incredulous bewilderment, I broke all the rules of driving, unbuckled my seatbelt, climbed into the back so I could give you your bottle, and realized, “Well – the divorce changes everything.”

The last memory is much farther along in our lives. I had just gotten back from my college year abroad in France and, in the midst of dealing with much culture shock and a recent heartbreak, was at Shore St with you and the family. I had never lived so far away, for so long a time, with so little contact. True, you and I had grown up traveling from one family to the other and then back again, sometimes concurrently and sometimes like ships in the night. But this was different – this was a time spent away in a world whose only strings tying it to my previous life where those I could consciously make on my own. This was before gchat and Skype, remember, and when cell phones were carried in case of emergency and otherwise ignored. You had been to visit, once (with a recovering case of mono, you trouper) and so had some of the parentals and familial others. Still, in France I had known a new sense of individual separation that caused me to grow, and to learn, and to realize things about myself and the world and myself in the world and I was all the more shocked to discover that some aspects of this isolation, for better or for worse, had come home with me to New England. I was surrounded by the family I knew and loved but had no idea of how to fit back in. We were in the kitchen – there was some kind of chaos going on – and I thought, “Well, finally. This is where I fit in: I know how to do this, to solve these problems in this way.” And while I was thinking this, you picked up the phone, called the appropriate people, and re-set the gears moving in their own clunky-but-greased kind of way. And so I realized, “Well – everything has changed, once again.”

I give you these memories not to wax nostalgic on the eve of my departure nor to transfer any amount of responsibility, burden, or sense of necessity onto your shoulders. I simply wanted to tell you that everything will be alright. First, we are joined as sisters in a way that no distance, no time, and no boys can undo. (Sorry boys, but it’s true.) Second, while it is true that for every bond that is made in this world another is broken, this is not to suggest that the things that end can cause nothing but hardship. Sometimes we learn from them. Sometimes it is the only way things can get better. (Sometimes it means we get to break some well-established safety rules.) And sometimes the things that fall apart end up drawing us closer together.

Finally, thirdly, with as much support as I’ve given you over the years and as much as I’d like to take credit for all the good aspects of your development into a unique, creative, caring, wonderful human being (I’ll leave the blame for all the other aspects to someone else, because this is our blog and I can do that here), I know that you will always be ok without me. I know this because sometimes you have shouted it with your actions, and sometimes you have whispered it with your eyes. I know this because you have, somewhat stubbornly and at times defiantly, always insisted on forging your own path. I know this because you have nonetheless always had the strength, the persistence, and the love to make sure that this path, your own path, was nevertheless never too disconnected from mine.

I am going far away. For a while now our shared memories will have to be built over the phone, over this blog, over Skype. All this new-fangled technology we never had as kids, growing up in separate households, catching glimpses of each other on the weekends, sharing secrets and stories and advice and putting our two separate worlds together to try and re-achieve that one, elusive, coherent whole. I am going now to explore a little bit more of the world, to build more of my own separate sphere, but always, and forever, to share it with you.

your more-afraid-of-flying-than-of-bears sister

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