And this is one of my favorites . . .
In all the world of wishing, there is nothing I have ever wanted more (lately) than to have a sister.
I have friends . . . Beautiful soul women friends . . . True to the end, loyal to the bone, love me when I’m wrong . . . move me across the state, travel hours to see me, take me in at a moment's notice . . . give me their stuff, believe in me, and risk their reputation for me . . .
Against all odds and the laws of practical life statistics, I have a whole tribe of these. And I don’t take that lightly. There’s not a morning I don’t wake up in wonder and pure gratitude for the knowledge of these extraordinary women who care for me . . . Like in an Anita Diamant Red Tent sort of way . . . But more spread out . . .
A true network.
I like to think that God gave them to me to make up for what I don't have . . . what I feel the deepest absence of . . . Because what most of these women have (in addition to me;) . . . that I don't have . . . are sisters.
Same DNA, raised in the same dysfunction, give me back my sweater or I'll jerk your hair out by the roots and then raise your babies like my own kind of sisters.
And go figure. Not just one or two, but multiple sisters. Three, four, five . . . I actually have one friend who has seven sisters and a story that one day their mother just gave up and put all theirs socks and underwear into one basket and let them duke it out during morning rush hour . . .
Even both of my childhood best friends were middle sisters . . . Maybe I’m drawn to it . . . Like salt to a wound . . . Like a cat with one of those laser lights . . . I’m never going to catch it, but I just can’t give up on the impossibility. Because, to me, a sister is something you can’t manufacture or throw away. They've been there as long as you can remember, and there’s a permanence there without the typical breaks and shifts that typically go on in female friendships. . . They can't un-choose you . . . And for a person with serious abandonment issues, that is a wonderfully appealing prospect.
Oh, I know about the complexities, the pecking orders, the birth order syndromes . . . I understand the concept that not all siblings would be friends or even like each other if they had been born into other families. But still I want the unconditional. I want the history. I want the shared stories and the memories, the inexorable bonds of growing up in the same house with the same parents - absent or present - and reaching out in the night for the next best - or maybe best - comforting hand. I want to search the feminine face of someone and see myself there . . . In the exotic cheekbones of a mutual grandmother or in the studious lines across the forehead of an erudite aunt . . . and say, "That's my sister . . . "
Disclaimer: I have brothers. I’m in the middle of two. I’m not discounting these relationships, but brothers are different. There is a diffidence there when it comes to women's issues and you can't really chuck your bra, pour yourself a glass of wine, and complain indiscriminately about your misogynistic boss with your brothers at the end of a bad day. That would be awkward. When I was seven and knew I had a sibling coming, I prayed earnestly, fervently for the gift of the brother I have . . . Perhaps without the foresight that I would never have another chance for a sister . . . That a day would come, with good reason, that a sister would be my greatest longing. I have two daughters. Sisters. Two granddaughters. Sisters. One of the greatest joys of my life has been in watching and witnessing those sister relationships play out in all their complex and beautiful glory.
But yet, the beat goes on without me. I can only get close to it. it will never be mine.
Never have I been more conscious of this than over these last several years as I've settled into a life alone. First, I've proudly watched each of my daughters celebrate their own independence through college graduation and then marriage and creating their own families. And then, for the first time in my life, I've stepped into a independence that is fulfilling, but often predictably isolated. It would be nice to have the primary and familial - the entitled relationship - that sisterhood offers.
I know what you're thinking . . .some of you sister people . . .
"But it's not always like that . . . " or "My sister and I have never been that close . . . "
A few of you more unfortunate sister people . . .
"But she slept with my husband!" . . . or "I wouldn't give her a kidney if I had three!"
Yep. I get it. There are simple differences . . . and then rivalries gone wrong. Deep hurts and rifts happen between siblings that hold the power and the pain to separate them indefinitely. The fact that the first recorded murder, Biblically, was over a sibling rivalry might be worth noting here. But still, people are created for human connection, and it seems to me . . . sister-less over here . . . that there is no greater tragedy than to give up on the gift of a lifelong friend that is your birthright.
Ironically, I have never understood this better than in the example of my mother and her sisters. My mother was - is, I suppose - the middle sister in a family of seven children. Her two sisters are bookends of the septupling, 17 years apart. I have always adored both of my aunts. My mother has not.
The eldest is seven years older than my mother and was an elementary school teacher in two of the schools that I attended growing up. When she received her masters degree, I remember my mother asking out loud and to no one in particular just how educated one person thought they needed to be. Apparently, the implication was lost on me . . . Or perhaps inspiring . . . who knows? My teaching degrees are stuffed casually in desk drawers or maybe still in packing boxes. I visited my aunt a few times over the years where she retired to northern Michigan, but after my grandmother died ten years ago, the rift between her and my mother seemed to widen and everything seemed too heavy and complicated for me in my own grief over my grandmother and life in general. We lost contact. But I never forgot her sending me a card acknowledging her sadness that I had lost my grandmother. It had been her own mother, and I noted what a selfless and transcendent thought that was.
My youngest aunt is ten years younger than my mother and ten years older than me. My mother used to babysit for her . . . and then she, in turn, babysat for me. I remember her long blonde hair, her ineffable beauty, and an aloof dignity that made me feel privileged to step inside her circle, to be that entitled. I suppose that's what it might feel like to have a much older sister. I wonder if she ever felt that way about my mother. But I lost touch with her, too, before I ever thought to ask her . . . when she married and moved to Chicago. I've seen her just once over the last several decades in an event that seemed to bridge the age gap between us. We both brought our baby daughters, born the same year, to a family gathering, and noted the differences between them -- hers had the dark eyes and complexion of her Italian father and mine was a contrast with her white blonde hair and the ice blue eyes of her own father's Scandinavian heritage. I talked to her a few more times over the years when I answered the phone at my grandmother's, but that was all.
And then a summer story brought them both back to me full circle . . . and I stumbled into a sisterhood that I think, maybe, I can finally call my own . . .
Stay with me here . . . this is where it gets good. The magic is in the details.
On Sunday, July 16 (if you know me well, you know that BIG things always happen to me in the middle of July) I rented a house on a lake near Traverse City. On Tuesday, I answered an ad for a vintage yellow Schwinn 5 speed bike. It had screaming brakes, but I bought it anyway, from an elderly couple who lived in the town of Lake Ann, and then, because I was already halfway there, I decided to go into the city. There was nothing there for me that I couldn't find anywhere else except for a specialty shop called Fustini's that sold oils and flavored vinegars to pair. I had a list from a friend and time to spend. So in running clothes and under a purple cap with dark sunglasses, I stepped into the shop on a Monday afternoon in July. And stopped just inside the door to pull up the list. While I was looking over it, someone asked if I needed help. I answered that I knew exactly what I needed from the list, and told it to them. As they gathered the items, I began to look around for myself. Almost right away, a woman stepped up beside me, said the cilantro and onion oil was exactly what she would have chosen and then offered to help me pair it with a vinegar. But first we should find an alternate oil for my friend because the one on her list was from the previous year's discontinued seasonal line. I chose the third one she offered in a miniature plastic cup with just the right amount of robust. And the saleswoman was also just the right amount of unobtrusive because as I began to shop for myself and she began to trail me, I was able to ditch my usual MO for shopping line . . . the one that goes: I'll let you know when I need help. I never had to say it. She was that good. She faded out and then came back in exactly when I needed her . . .
She handed me a cup of vinegar to pair with my cilantro and onion oil -- mango -- that was just a little too sweet. I told her this, looking full into her face for the first time in the fifteen minutes I had been in the store. She continued talking, selling . . . but her voice had faded for me. I was fixated on her face . . . not sure why . . . something about her cheekbones . . . and the silver-blond of her otherwise youthful, long hair . . . beautiful . . .
Before I could place it, she walked away again and I thought . . . she is tall . . .
I was still standing there, perplexed when she came back . . . selling, oblivious . . . and handed me one more little plastic cup . . .
I took it politely, mechanically . . . stared . . . tipped it back like a shot-glass . . .
That face . . . looked like my grandmother's . . .
And the last puzzle piece . . . that ever present buzz of my working brain that never turns off (blessed, bothersome brain) . . . telling me to look for the final piece of the puzzle . . .
LOOK . . . yes, she had a nametag . . . and it was the right name.
My brain connected to my heart connected to my soul connected to my mouth and I said these words . . . words that one could never even imagine having occasion to say . . . To tell someone:
Uhmmm . . . Excuse me, I don't want to interrupt . . . But, I just have to tell you
. . .
You're my aunt.
And then something tangible, something real happened. In a rush . . . a matter of minutes, we learned things about each other . . . found common ground that wouldn't have existed when we used to know each other. She knew that I was vacationing alone on a lake . . . that I was alone . . . had moved from Detroit to west Michigan in the fall. I knew that she had moved to Traverse City five years ago to live with her sister . . . we both were in different stages of the pain of broken relationships . . . That I was in education . . . that she knew a little bit of everything and worked two jobs . . . we longed to be closer to our adult daughters . . . I thought I might have seen the same shadow of loneliness in her eyes that often catches up with me just as the last light of the sun fades out.
We exchanged numbers and two nights later we met for dinner. I brought my youngest daughter who came to see me at the lake. She brought my oldest aunt . . . and threw in two uncles just for good measure. I had some trepidation about their estrangement from my mother and I shared it with them. They told me it didn't matter and I chose to believe them in that moment. I felt an easy energy, an unspoken familiarity that reached back over generations, felt the hope of a thousand stories that had yet to be shared. My oldest aunt sat across from me and talked about her teaching days with a sparkle in her eyes that I understood. My youngest daughter, beside me, had the same erudite lines on her forehead and the same aloof dignity as my aunt adjacent to me. But I felt both of their hearts. It felt right to be there, good to be in the middle of something that had gone on before me, would continue after me . . . but could have never happened without me. I had landed directly in the middle of a sisterhood that belonged to me . . . recognized that I had been living that love story of connected heart and soul DNA all my life.
And the beat goes on.