October 24th is a special day in my life. It is my sister’s birthday. We are all that is left of our ‘nuclear family’; the only two who remember the early years of life when three kids roamed the fields and woods of our first home, curious children with all of life ahead of us.
I sat down tonight to write an ode to her. Though I sent off a package of silly small presents for her to open, I wanted to give her more, to put into words what is in my heart. After several failed attempts, I went back and read what I had written to her a year ago. It seemed so full of truth, I am repeating it here. Happy Birthday little sister.
That is the year my sister was born. I was three, my brother was about to turn six. My parents wanted to name her Anne-Marie. We nixed that and in all our wisdom declared she was Susan. Perhaps we had a babysitter by that name, or had heard it on the radio. I honestly cannot remember; it was the first time as a child winning a huge victory. Duncan was an old hand at this “baby coming home from the hospital” stuff. He had survived my arrival so far and I think he saw it as a huge distraction that would take our mother’s attention from him for a good bit. Except for the fact that he was now burdened with keeping an eye on me, he was a free man.
In her twenties, my sister moved to Houston. Her name, perhaps to give a more Southern flair, became Susanne, but her Yankee spunk shone through. Ultimately it matched her bravado and style. She had never really been Sue to anyone but Dunc and I. My dad’s nickname for her “Super Sue” wasn’t really cool in public after kindergarten. We transitioned easily from Susanne to the foreshortened “Zanne.” A name all her own.
For many years, when she grew and I didn’t, she referred to me as her little sister. I never saw myself as short or her as tall. To me, we always were eye to eye. Which is not to say we agreed on everything. In fact we violently disagreed on matters that eventually broke our bond. For years, communication stopped and interactions were painful when they occurred.
A year ago, we found ourselves living together, battling life changes. She had to work through her divorce and the end of a life of 20 years; my loss of a career after 16 years left me feeling adrift and terrified. The shared emotional scars of our relationship were raw. It was a time that could have been bone-crushingly stressful. Instead, we buried ourselves in remaking a life. Every day we worked a little on our individual issues and took a tiny step forward, toward resolving our shared pain. For four and a half months, we allowed ourselves to play, think, cry, create, dream, and heal.
When she left I was crushed. We had talked of starting a business together, of growing old together in New Hampshire, surrounded by the memories of our family. I was alone again and starting the next chapter in my life. She left to do the same. I had truly believed I didn’t need her in my life when she called a year ago. Four months later I had no life without her.
Though Zanne now lives in Arizona, we talk daily, sometimes just to say “I love you.” When events start to beat up either of us, regardless of the difference in time zone, we know the other will be there to listen. Beyond hearing what she says, I have the wisdom of knowing who she is, when I listen. I hear slight changes in her voice and have a heightened awareness of her tone, her body language is audible to me. There are moments and memories that come back to me from our shared childhood; that tight-knit bond of having survived to adulthood, and now forging our second century of life.
Today is her birthday. There are no elaborate gifts, we are beyond the material things. The gift we give by being there for each other every day is immeasurable. But I do remember the day she came into my life and changed it forever, twice. No matter what name the world knows her by, to me, she is Sister.
Happy Birthday little sister!