As many of many of you know today was the lunch date with my sister. We hadn’t seen each other in 24 years. Basically, half our lives, almost the entirety of our adult lives. Actually now that I think on it I missed a big chunk of her teenage years too, but that’s a different thing. The sister I thought of when I thought of her (which was as seldom as possible) was the impeccably groomed young matron with the impeccably groomed children and the spotless apartment, and the surly dickhead husband whose smirky face I ached to whack flat with a cast iron frying pan. I wanted to do this long before he married my little sister, btw. Once upon a time her future husband was part of a gang of high school cool dudes, way out of my league cool dudes, who’d miraculously shown up at my 15th birthday party toting gifts (board games, mittens, drugstore cologne and dusting powder sets), 6-packs of beer, and discretely smoked bomber joints, and Surly punched my birthday cake. Just drove a big old fist hole into it for no other reason than the joy of doing something obnoxious and absurdly mean. For the record- Surly is dead, and has been for 10 years and I am not the least bit sorry.
Anyway, the sister in my mind’s eye was that one from our 20s, the younger version of our mother- snobbish, stupid, scornful, and possessed of some dark magic which enabled them to reduce me to frustrated, humiliated, bitter tears with a few choice barbs and a titter of the most humorless mocking laughter outside of cartoon movie villainesses. Tack onto that a lifetime of resentment over the absurd favoritism showered upon my little sister by every goddamn relative on any and every side and configuration of family and you don’t have to wonder why I had a wicked case of anxiety diarrhea ever since she showed up three days ago via FB messenger.
Why arrange a lunch then? Why see her at all if she made me so umruik? Hadn’t I just spent the past decade clearing my life of unhappiness and tsoris? Was I meshugeh? * (For the Yiddish impaired- anxious, trouble/hassle, crazy.) Why? Why do lemmings go off cliffs into the sea? Why do perms come back into style every 20 years? Why do people watch Uwe Boll movies? Sometimes you’re just driven to do something painful and stupid.
So. I set up a lunch date at my favorite diner. My ‘Cheers’ if you will, a place where not everybody knows my name but without me having to ask they do bring my coffee with a wee pitcher of real milk and not those horrible little creamer thingies. Safely on my turf, you dig? Yesterday between emergency trips to the toilet I stimmed, begged for reassurance from friends, and I planned my outfit. Mick, once he got over his amazement about the way his usually preternaturally chill wife was flapping her hands and literally spinning in circles, was a brick. He listened, he soothed, he petted my head until I could be still. Along with possible versions of The Outfit I totted up all the ways my life was good nowadays. Elder son estranged but could still account for his solidly successful life- wife, friends, good business, real estate, no cavities. Younger son is GREAT! Getting educated, he’s employed, no drugs/booze/bad credit. He doesn’t have any cavities either. Nor traffic tickets. He and I go to the movies together once a month and enjoy all kinds of geeky cinephile trivia. I like my job and can honestly say there’s not a single person there who thinks ill of me. I’m proud of my burgeoning bee haven. And friends! On every single continent in the whole world except Antarctica but I have a couple friends who’ve been there so it totally counts. Mick? What wasn’t there to say about that besotted Irishman of mine? My adorable and adoring husband who makes me laugh and makes me feel safe and who tells me every single day by word and deed how much he loves me? Fuh. I had a lock on this.
To top it off I woke to a day this morning where the weather broke my way and I could wear my version of armor- a soft swingy cotton black sweater, black leggings, and tall black boots. Topped with a B&W gingham scarf, my favorite chunky hoop earrings, hematite beads on one wrist and my loaded Pandora on the other. Add to that a recent spiky haircut and my new specs- Ray-Ban Clubmasters – favored eyeglasses of such varied folk as Col Sanders, Lewis Skolnick, and Malcolm X.
I was ready.
Well? What the hell happened? Come on , LA! After a build up like that…jeeze!
What happened was I got there first. Secured a quiet booth. Accepted the coffee with real milk brought by the waitress and nicely warned her that either this was going to be a quick turnover or an absurdly long rental of a good table during her busiest hours. She held up “No problem” hands and left.
After what felt like half an eternity but in real time was 7 minutes I saw my sister. She looked but didn’t see me so I had to raise my voice and wave. She rushed over, bent and gave me a long grippy hug, which I returned. Then she sat on her side of the booth and the assessment began. I’d forgotten how dark and olive her skin was. And that she’d had her front teeth bonded a long, long time ago obliterating the family diastema. But her eyes! I knew those eyes. They were also my eyes. The deep green, slanted cat’s eyes every single person on our Da’s side had. Brown skin, olive, pink like me. We have gapped front teeth and those amazing green eyes. I looked at my/her eyes staring out from that distantly familiar yet stranger’s face. Then I widened my focus to take in the whole woman across from me and suddenly- like a switch being flipped- I wasn’t afraid anymore.
Was she different? Yeah, some. A lot, actually. Not so much physically, but emotionally. Her choices had led her down a path far tougher than mine had been. And her happiness and contentment were still up for grabs.
I’m not judging, just noticing. For reals.
We talked. Honestly, she did 85% of the talking. I listened, asked questions, and injected the occasional anecdote about my life. Occasionally I’d bump into one of those places- something she said or some remark of mine that fell flat for lack of understanding or context, but some thing that formerly would have made me cringe and bleed.
Not today! Nor do I think ever again.
Why? Because I am loved. Finally. Fully. Unconditionally. Mick, at the foremost. Sebastian, my startlingly successful ‘problem child’. But also you guys. My tribe. My real family. Not accidents of DNA, no, we belong together because we get it and each other. Readers, naturalists, artists, writers, hippies, philosophers, explorers, science pioneers, fantasy geeks, farmers, cos-players, librarians, lefties, dog rescuers, cat lovers, spoonies, grammar nerds, travelers, all the folk who’ve ever felt ‘other-ed’ for believing in kindness, decency, and the necessity of showing up to do Good Things.
You are my people. During that long time when I’d done without biological family because I simply couldn’t deal with the way they mashed my face into my ‘otherness’ anymore and rejected who I was because why? I somehow made them feel dumb? Shallow? Scared? Whatever. I absented myself and found you.
So, no. My sister didn’t scare me today. Nor intimidate me or make me feel like Lee-Lee the Weirdo.
Will I see her again? Yeah. But not often nor with any obligation. I did find out she has the family photographs and I’d really like to get some of them. As it is aside from three measly pictures you’d think I sprang forth fully grown there’s so little evidence I existed before my 18th birthday. She doesn’t know what happened to most of my portfolios or clippings. More’s the pity, I bet you guys would get some good giggles off me in my snazzy 70s duds posing as Fun Girl! Or me as the enthusiastic eater of pudding and soup. As it is…
Free at last! ~LA