April 9, 2001
Sisterhood: Making It Up As I Go Along

[note: i took photos of our visit with my sister and her family this weekend, as promised ... but when i went to scan them, i discovered that our stoopid *$%#! scanner has once again inexplicably gone flat-line. if and when we ever manage to get it operational again ... pictures WILL follow.]

My sister stood in the middle of my bedroom on Saturday night and shook her head in amazement.

"I don't know how you do it," she said flatly.  Meaning, she didn't understand how David and I can live in this four-hundred-square-foot telephone booth we call "The Castle" and not kill each other totally dead, each and every day.

"We don't fight," I replied simply. 

It is the same thing I say to everybody when they first get a look at our apartment  --  god knows I say it often enough right here on the website  --  but it's the truth. And then I recited the litany of reasons why continuing to live here is a good idea right now: we're gradually getting out of debt, we're paying our bills on time AND we're squirreling a little money away ... we're within comfortable (but not TOO "comfortable") proximity to key members of David's family ... it's a painless, ten-minute commute to both our offices ... we've both grown inordinately fond of The Ugly Pink Stove, the ants, the mourning doves and Tone-Deaf Karaoke Girl ... plus we're learning how to share limited closet space with each other. 

It's all good. 

'"One of these days we'll live in a big house," I concluded. "Then we can fight like cats and dogs. But right now this place suits us." 

Debi shook her head again. "Hey, Tim and I live in a big house," she joked, "and WE fight all the time."


I doubt that this is true, frankly. David and I had just spent the entire day with my sister and her husband (and their twenty-three-month-old son,  the much-ballyhooed World's Cutest Nephew), touring Berkeley and Napa and points in between. By that point, the three of them had been traveling together for over a week ... driving more than 600 miles from TicTac to the Bay Area, with side trips to Roseberg and Tahoe and (now) the East Bay. If their marriage was genuinely fraying at the edges, I'm sure we would have observed some sign of it today. A muttered expletive here, maybe. A slammed car door there. But the only visible stress I saw between the two of them was the usual *wear and tear* on a couple traveling with a baby. A weary sigh ... a raised eyebrow ... the occasional polite disagreement over whether or not The World's Cutest Nephew should be allowed to throw forks and ice cubes at the other restaurant patrons. Other than that, they seemed perfectly in synch with each other. Perfectly well-matched. Perfectly perfect.

Believe me: I was watching.

At the same time, I'm sure that she was checking us out, too. Is he treating her well? Is she happy? Do they get along alright? Are they OK financially? Do either one of them look like they're using? I think this is probably a *sister thing* ... this need to check up on things, observe, take mental notes, compare, verify, snoop, ask questions, listen, watch for signs of trouble ... and to make sure that everything is as it should be.

I'm just guessing, though. I really wouldn't know for sure. When it comes to this sisterhood stuff, I must confess that I've been mostly making it up as I go along.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Ours has never exactly been your typical sister/sister relationship.

Debi and I are half-sisters, for one thing: same mother, different fathers. I was in the fifth grade when she was born, so there is an eleven-year span in our ages. (She is "Generation Scooby-Doo" while I was a "Top Cat" kid, all the way.) We were not raised together in the same household. She spent her growing-up years with my mother and stepfather, while I lived with my paternal grandparents for most of my childhood, and then later (as a teenager) with my dad. Ironically, Debi and I probably never lived more than ten or twenty miles from each other, in all that time, and yet our visits were sadly infrequent. Birthdays. Christmas Eves. The occasional summer vacation visit or dinner at Grandma's house.

It was never enough for me.

I adored my baby sister. I don't think it's possible to overstate here how mad I was about her. Every photo taken of the two of us during those earliest years of her life shows me touching her, hugging her, holding her on my lap, carrying her on my shoulders ... or simply gazing at her in frank, stoopid adoration. From the moment she was born she was this object of pride and obsession and reflected glory for me,  almost as though *I* personally had given birth to her. I bragged about her on the playground so often that Sandra Mecham once threatened to ban me from four-square for life if I mentioned my "baby sister" again.

Terri & Deb ~ 1970

At the same time, there was always a certain amount of resentment going on in my muddled little heart and head -- If Debi gets to live with Mom, why don't *I*? -- which only got worse as I grew into my teen years. By that point, though, things had sort of flip-flopped in our relationship as sisters. Now I was the object of worshipful adoration ... the Perfect Big Sister she loved and envied and wanted to emulate in every way. I couldn't exactly blame my biggest fan for having something *I* didn't have, could I? Even if it was something I wanted very badly?

No. Of course I couldn't.

Debi entered her first rehab when she was a very young teenager. By that time I was married and living in a different town, squeezing out babies of my own: I heard about her difficulties long-distance, mostly through letters and occasional phone calls from Mom. I remember thinking at the time that rehab seemed sort of  overly drastic. Nobody goes into rehab unless they've hit rock-bottom, do they? Thank god *I* wasn't that far out of control.

This, of course, as I continued to get falling-down-drunk an average of twice a week.

Unfortunately, Debi's first recovery didn't take. There were more problems during her teen years. More family crises. More interventions. More failed attempts at getting sober.  At one point -- the summer she was nineteen or twenty -- she and I even started drinking and getting high at my apartment together occasionally ... one of the more shameful episodes of my life.  But somewhere along the way she finally got the message. She finally figured things out, and straightened up her act for real. Again, I don't know a lot of the details. As soon as people started talking about stuff like "alcoholism" and "recovery" around me, I tuned them out. All I know is that I watched her life starting to get better and better, over the course of the next few years -- nice boyfriend, romantic wedding, beautiful home -- while mine continued on a steady downward spiral.

By the time I ran away in August of 1997, my sister and I were barely speaking to each other.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

I sat in the back seat of the SUV all day on Saturday ... right next to The World's Cutest Nephew.

(And boy: is he ever.)

When I look at him from certain angles, I swear he is the spitting image of his mother at that age. I'm not sure what it is: something in the nose, maybe? Or the eyes? Or the smile? Whatever it is, I'm sure that every photo of me taken this past weekend will show me touching him, hugging him, holding him on my lap, carrying him on my shoulders ... or simply gazing at him in frank, stoopid adoration.

We had a great time together on Saturday. A couple of hours in Berkeley in the morning, picking out used CDs at Amoeba Records. Buying earrings from a street vendor on Telegraph Avenue. Walking around the UC Berkeley campus. Lunch at Kip's. Then, a long, leisurely drive north to the Napa/Sonoma wine country, where we walked around the most un-mall-like mall I've ever set foot in (including a visit to Parsley Sage Rosemary & Bob, where I bought some eucalyptus-scented bath salts, and a jar of something interesting called Muffaletta: I think it's either Italian relish or facial scrub).  And then finally home to Alameda and dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant, where the pasta is al dente and the tiramisu comes in slabs.

In between, we talked wedding plans. Who should we invite? Who should we not invite? Who should we invite ... and then run and hide fromm if they actually show up?  Plus David and I had a chance to thank Debi and Tim -- to express to them, face-to-face -- how much it means to us that they are opening their home to us on the most important day of our lives. In Napa, we even managed to drag my nervous reluctant butt into a wedding shop, where I -- get this -- actually looked at wedding dresses. I wouldn't have been able to do that without my sister there to provide moral support.

We talked about other stuff, too: The World's Cutest Nephew, primarily, and the Tots, and The World's Cutest Nephew, and other family members, and The World's Cutest Nephew.

The whole time, I was thinking This is what it feels like to have a sister. It was nice.

I will admit that there are still moments when it's difficult for me to look at her without pain. Although I've exorcised a lot of the resentment I felt growing up, watching Debi enjoy a close daily relationship with our mother ... although I've forgiven myself for encouraging my sister's relapse when she was a teenager ... although I've gotten past most of my house/husband/material-possessions-envy, where she is concerned ... still, there will probably always be new buttons to push. These days, when I watch Debi and Tim with their beautiful baby son -- when I see what it looks like to raise your child with a loving, fully-engaged partner at your side -- I feel a wrenching envy. That's something *I* never had. That's something I was never able to give my children. And that's a hurt I may never be able to completely "exorcise."

But mostly this weekend was just a big bunch of sweet, sister-to-sister fun.

It's like I said: I'm just making up this sisterhood stuff as I go along. But so far  ...  so good.

Tim, Terri, Deb & TWCN ~ 2001

one year ago: houseguest from hades

throw a rock