Monday, March 22, 2010

The fixer

My sister is very sick, and I am very far away. She says she doesn't need anything right now, but when anything in the past has been dangerous, frightening, or overwhelming, she has always turned to me. Growing up, she needed me for everything; she was always so fragile and so afraid.

When we were kids, I thought of her as a small twin growing out of my ribcage. She was born with absolutely no protective covering. I kept her safe from the dark and the evil. I rescued her from panic. I taught her to cross streets and read and do psychic Kreskin tricks, and braid hair. For years, I had anxiety dreams in which, in a variety of heinous situations, I lost my sister to some vampire or pervert or car. She cried a lot: when our parents were yelling, when we had to go to bed while the other kids were still playing on the street, when Mama said something mean about her looks or the friends she brought home.

I made up stories for her. Brave girls with super powers and no parents. Curious girls who saved a town or worked their magic for good or were not fooled for a moment by the divine in disguise or came into their own when they learned that they were royalty or rich. The world was a dangerous place, and I'll bet you money that Sister still thinks of those stories I told her and holds her suspicions about the nature of the world in front of her like a shield. But now she is able to assert herself, at least with me. And although I have told her all of her life to do just that, I can't say that I like it because I don't want her to do anything hard all alone.

When my mama was pregnant with Sister, she also had a tumor in her uterus. By the time the growth was removed, it was larger than the baby. Add to that the fact that Mama was given thalidomide for morning sickness, and my sister was born a little stunted. Not slow, just... unformed somehow. The way a baby bird is so vulnerable and needy. And Mama just wasn't a comforting, warm mama. So it was Sister and me. And I'm not saying I was a great mentor, either, only that I was all she had available.

After our parents took us from paradise to the frozen tundra, we were sick all the time. They fed us cod liver oil and penicillan pills the size of Brach's mints and Vicks Vaporub down the throat and up the nose. We spent so much time wrapped up in historical quilts and navy blankets, drinking warm whiskey with lemon and honey, and making up songs about people we hated at school. Mama was an excellent nurse, and was sometimes known to let us come downstairs to watch her stories with her; she was so nice when we were sick that we had no reason to get well soon.
uring one of our bouts of tonsilitis, we were sitting in the doctor's outer room waiting to be called in for more pills in tiny paper envelopes, and Sister asked me to read a word from a brochure she'd found on the coffee table. "Cancer," I said. I didn't even like saying the word out loud. "OH!" Sister said. "I had cancer once when I was a big man, and Dr. Diphold cured it."

Mama was embarrassed that such a non-Christian statement came out of her six-year-old, and she told my sister loudly enough that the rest of the people in the waiting room would know that she didn't approve. If only we had dear Dr. Diphold now when we need him.

Sister and I slept in the same bed for so many years that I still can't sleep alone. We curled together like spoons and always turned in our sleep at the same time. When we moved to the god-forsaken prairie, my parents tried to excite us about having separate rooms, but we weren't having any of it. Until I left home and found someone else to sleep with, one or the other of us crept into the other's room every night as soon as Mama stopped bitching--I mean tucking us in--and went downstairs.

The last time I saw my dad, he told me to take care of my sister. He knew he was going to die (and that is another story), and he took my promise that I would keep an eye on her. We always believed she needed that. Now she won't let me, Dad.

This time she says she doesn't need anything. That she is too tired to think. That I need to be patient. That she doesn't plan on dying. This is little comfort to me. I'm not patient. I want to DO things. I'm the big sister. I make things right. I've talked her through bad marriages, and kept her from making what Dad always called "idjut" decisions, and settled her down when her dreams carry her off on the wind, as they do sometimes. She'd have been married as many times as I have if it weren't for me.

We once saw a TV program with a man who claimed to be cured of cancer by laughing. After that we used to say, "We'll never get cancer because we laugh too much." Not true. Not true.

But just in case, I'm going to stir around in my story bag and pull out those old moldy tales that always make my sister laugh. Because even if laughter isn't the best medicine, it's the only thing I can do.

Tomorrow I'll hit a lighter note.

Until then,
P.S. My friend Rose should continue to call me Sugar.


Lydia said...

Oh, Angelique.

Fatimah said...

As a big sister, I would probably feel the same way. that is hard to not feel like you're DOING something, but in fact you being there for her right now as she wishes--patient and available--i think you are doing more then you think you are! I've noticed sometimes those that are ill can become more worried about others feeling bad then they are about themselves bad--

Thanks for sharing this, it's very touching. I'll keep you all in my thoughts and prayers!

Leslie Hanna said...

Oh, Batty, I am so sorry. Hopefully she will eventually come to you for comfort like she used to. xoxo

Sue said...

I am crying... and smiling at your sisterly love and for your sisters health. (((hugs))) This is so beautifully written Angelique.

Lisa said...

Big Sisters- we are hard headed and stubborn and we love more than words are available. We WANT the words to be there but even lil' sisters can't find them.

Sometimes- less often than not- we can find that "looks" are more conveying. We love so much.

I am thinking about you Angelique and your sister. ♥

Chelle (hanwayink) said...


Lisa - papergrace said...

I'm reading your words as the tears slide down my cheeks. I am so incredibly sorry.

I'm the "little sister". My big Seester, as I call her, is just as protective of me as you are of your Sister. If only we can take the heartaches and pain away of those we love most.

Please know that I am thinking of you and YOUR Seester, and praying so hard. So very, very hard.

Much love. xoxo

Patti B said...

That is so wonderfully written. I'm crying and missing my sister.

powdergirl said...

I have 3 big sisters, but I was hard to help : )

Thalidomide! What a mess that made for some people.

I love how you say that 'if it weren't for you, she'd have been married as often as you have."

You're so funny!

Another great story, Darlin', I love it!

Sweet Pea said...

My big sister was my go to girl when I was scared--we weren't allowed in our parent's bedroom. She was a tough love sister. She wouldn't comfort me but she allowed me to curl up in a corner of the edge of her bed. She liked to play tricks on me because I was so gullible. I still looked up to her and always wanted her approval. Now that we are older we are very close. If she hurts, I hurt and if I hurt, it kills her. She wants to come to my defense or tell someone off if they dare to be hateful to me. I could have used more of that when I was little but it's great to have her in my corner now. As your little sister, maybe she feels like she should be able to use the skills you taught her to face things on her own. In any case she knows you have her back and that may be all she needs for now. The urge to go and do something constructive is natural but love and concern and caring are constructive too.
I know you'll feel better once you get to see her in person--she will too.