She always walked ahead. Born seven years my senior, and my only sibling, that was her destiny. Our parents always compared me to her. What she had done successfully, I should do. What she couldn’t do, I shouldn’t try. I always begrudged her being first. She seemed to be the chosen one; the much anticipated one. I was the afterthought, unexpected, an interruption.
As I grew older, she showed me the way, both right and wrong, even when I wasn’t really paying attention. She married early, became a mother, took a job, and lived frugally, planning for a better future. She took care to pay attention to our parents. She learned to cook, and learned arts and crafts. She became a participating member in her church and her community. I truly don’t remember much about her as my sister. What I do remember is her beautiful hair, her laugh, her smile, and her stubbornness. She wanted so much to be “away” - away from our growing up places; away from our family rules and many restrictions; away so she could be what she wanted to be instead of what was expected of her.
At night, she lay dreaming on her bed, tracing paths on a world map pinned to the wall. I knew she wasn’t in the least bit interested in geography. I think she was tracing escape routes to her dream places in the world. To everyone’s surprise, but not mine, she did escape at an early age. Too early, some would say, still a baby, still unformed. She took a route she thought would take her to exotic places. But, that never happened. In the end, she stayed close, not quite home, but close enough to say it was so. She built her life around compromise. A life that was so un-extraordinary as to not even be remarked upon. A mother of three, a wife, and an employee, she became exactly what she wanted to escape from when she was young.
When she became aware of her disease, she denied it, first to herself, then to those closest to her. She didn’t even share her suspicions with anyone until it was too late to do anything about it. By that time, she had escaped again, and in the only way she could. She built a little dream house on the lake, moved away with her husband and her cat, and stayed secluded as much as she could. When she was forced to be social, she invited family or friends on her terms. She told them when they could come, and when they had to leave. Nothing was ever shared of her lost hopes, her disappointments, her dreams now dissipated through the years and through illness.
I’ll never forget the last night before she left 20 years ago. I woke hearing her voice. “Come with me. Come with me. I can’t do this by myself.” “Please,” she said pleading with me. “Please come with me.” I was unsettled by the clarity of the sound of her voice in the dark bedroom where I slept alone with my husband. I knew she wasn’t in the room, but still, it bothered me, her pleading voice. It was the only thing she had ever asked of me, her little sister. I stayed awake for hours after that, waiting for the phone call I knew would come.
And then, it was confirmed. She was gone, walking ahead once again. When I see lonely tracks in the snow or in the sand, I think of her lonely walk ahead. We walk side by side for a short while, but then, we walk on ahead, alone.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
at 3:40 PM