Tomorrow is/was/would have been my sister’s 26th birthday. (I’m still not sure what tense to use, so forgive me if this post makes you feel like you’re inside the mind of a schizo). She passed away on Valentine’s Day of this year, after several days in a coma following a car accident. My last moment with her was in her hospital room, holding her hand and whispering “You’ve gotta wake up and get better before Mom drives us all crazy!” She squeezed my hand–I knew she could relate. I left the hospital that afternoon and came back home, a 9 hour drive from where she was, thinking that she was at least stable and would pull through, even if her recovery would be long. The next morning I awoke to find a message from an uncle that the pressure on her brain had grown through the night, and there was little hope left. Before I could get back, she was gone. But I swear this won’t be a weepy post. I’d rather remember the laughs and fun we shared.
Last week, my mom said “There’s a bird that’s been waking me up every morning at 7 AM singing outside my bedroom window, do you think that’s your sister?”
“Hell no, she wouldn’t be up that early.” And it’s true. She was not at all a morning person. I remember the morning routine of getting ready for school. It would start out with a gentle “Its time to get up” and escalate quickly into a shouting match that would end in her stomping through the house with a scowl on her face. The only time I recall her eagerly hopping out of bed is when I once went in and told her that Santa Claus had come. She rushed to the living room, and realizing my lie, called me a few choice words. (That it was October might have been her first clue, but who thinks clearly when they are half asleep?)
Of course, she was always a bit dingy, but that was part of her charm I suppose. A few years ago, she called, frantic because she had lost her purse and she and her scuzband-to-be needed to get home from Alabama where he had been working. I agreed to Western Union her some money for bus tickets, but found that Western Union required a password if the recipient doesn’t have photo ID with them, and of course she wouldn’t because of the aforementioned lost purse. So I have her on the phone and tell her “I’ll just make the password the street we grew up on.” to which she replied “Ugh! Just make it something simple like my dogs name!” I guess recalling the street she had spent more than a decade on was too taxing for her. But she’d always had a soft spot for pets, so I guess the name of her boxer was easier.
When we were kids, her pet cat, “Sammy”, a cross-eyed Siamese who always looked drunk, was her constant companion and a constant pain in my ass. I’ve never been one for animals in the house, and took every opportunity to toss his cross eyed carcus out into the yard. She had the habit of closing him up in her room every night, and was too sound a sleeper to hear his scratches at her door when he needed out, so her door frame and wall were scratched to bits by this poor animal who probably desperately needed water or a place to relieve himself. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist who likes to keep everything in “as new” condition, so the scratched up trim and walls were reason enough to have the animal put to sleep in my mind.
One night in high school one of my oldest friends was sleeping over. (The same friend, it should be said, who was present for the football hotdog incident) As usual, I tossed the cross eyed cat out in the yard before heading to bed. That night, a blizzard blanketed our area with over a foot of snow. My sister awoke the next morning frantic that her cat was missing. She called and called, and he never showed up. We tortured her by striking the pose of the poor feline frozen in place as he pawed at the door to be let in, and assured her that he had no doubt gone to kitty heaven. As the hours passed, and boredom set in, we even fashioned a crude cross in his memory and mounted it to the cat scratched door frame to her bedroom. It should be noted that the cat was merely seeking shelter elsewhere and returned a day or so later, but the whole episode was typical of the pranks we played on her.
Years earlier, we had tossed one of her Barbie dolls into the street, waited for a passing car to run over it, and then, after a few grueling minutes of duct tape “surgery” declared the blonde doll dead and laid her to rest in a Little Debbie cake box buried in the garden.
But our childhood was not all me being the mean big brother. Our neighborhood was a small one of about ten homes, all set on several acres, and the few kids that lived there were mostly roughnecks that we wouldn’t play with. So she and I, in the days before Wii and Playstation, dreamt of wonderful scenarios to occupy ourselves. A few appliance boxes with windows cut into them were added to her small playhouse to form a country villa that entertained us until the next rainstorm turned it into a soggy mess of disintegrating cardboard. Days inside could be passed by pretending that my bunk beds were a big van and we were on a road trip, or our bedrooms could easily be turned into big city apartments with the addition of a note card taped to the door that bore a distinguished address.
As she grew into a young woman, it was clear that she had not only inherited our mother’s brilliant blue eyes, but her taste in men as well. She began seeing a boy in junior high that we all instantly disapproved of. I once had to pick her up from his home, which was in a less than desirable part of town. As I made my way up his rutted, gravel driveway I found the way was blocked by a cow. I honked. It mooed. I edged forward. It didn’t budge. I grabbed my cell and called my sister.
“Um…there’s a cow in the driveway.”
“Well just bump it and it will move.” Picturing this beast falling onto the hood of my car as I nudged it with my bumper convinced me that was a bad idea. Suddenly, an extra from Deliverance appeared and shooed the bovine off the driveway, allowing me to pass. I arrived at her boyfriend’s home–which, from the outside, appeared to be a fairly new single-wide trailer. I walked up the steps and swung open the frame of the screen door (the screen was torn away) and walked into the nastiest residence I have ever seen. No less than three dogs had the run of the house. A fourth barged through the door frame and promptly leapt onto an unmade bed and proceded to wallow around on the sheets. Flies buzzed through the house–no doubt attracted to the five foot tower of trash and the piles of dirty dishes and rotting food that filled most of the kitchen. Every step I took on the threadbare carpet sent fleas jumping up my legs.
“Hey!” my sister shouted, “come on in!”
“Um..no, we need to get going. I’ll wait out in the car.” I got the hell out of there.
Mom did her best to keep sis away from the boy, but my sister was crafty. In order to get as much time with him as possible, she set her father and his mother up on a date. Sparks flew between them, and in short time, they married–meaning my sister was then dating her stepbrother. (Remember, this is West Virginia)
When she was nineteen, having long since moved out of our mother’s house, she and the boy were having dinner at mom’s. Throughout the evening, he kept calling our mom “mom”, which annoyed her to no end. Finally, she said, “I’m not your mother, so stop calling me that.”
“Actually, you are.” he said, and the news was broken. Months earlier, he and my sister had married in a secret justice-of-the-peace ceremony. Apparently, it was spur of the moment, as my sister revealed she had said her “I do’s” in a pair of sweat pants. As anyone could have predicted, the marriage didn’t last long. The ink wasn’t even dry on the divorce papers when sis had hooked up with another man of equal caliber–and it was with him that she spent the last years of her life.
Despite a handful of chaotic years, I always felt that she would find her way in the world and turn out OK. As it turns out, this world isn’t the one she was meant for. So…happy birthday Sis, wherever you are.