For as long as I can remember, I’ve followed behind Anne; she’s been my guide, and I’ve always learned something from her outlook and opinion. I still do. Growing up, she was sensitive yet cool, never too tucked, too preppy, too anything. She just flowed – her long lean body and soft voice carried her in a way I liked, which was so different from my own. I may have arrived two years after her, but from the start, she was behind me, my sister and built-in friend.
She helped me in high school, giving my outfits the once over. We’d stand in front of my long mirror and she’d go to work so I could appear less matchy matchy and more put together, without looking like I’d tried. She lifted my tightly tucked-in shirt so it billowed slightly over my hips, pulled my jeans down some from my waist, and suggested I lose the grosgrain headband, and let my hair fall, framing my face. I trusted her in these “what not to wear” sessions, and afterward, left the house more confident. I think she rather enjoyed having me as her project, too.
Years earlier, I remember us standing at the base of the stairs in our house, two little girls with baby dolls on our hips waiting for an elevator at the pretend “Woody Club.” We were always good at improvising and could take the other’s lead, wherever our imaginations took us. The Club’s proprietor, Susan Woody, must have smirked to herself, seeing us lapping up the accommodations since she, unlike her “guests”, filled her day paying bills and folding laundry before heading out in her Bermuda shorts to water and weed. I always assumed that one day Anne and I would live in the same city and raise our kids together, but thanks to photos, phone and email, in some ways we kind of did.
Growing up, we had goldfish that never seemed to live very long. I don’t know why we didn’t add a pump and filter to their bowls, but no one else did, either. Where were our parents during these life and death decisions? The fish invariably died, and we held funerals in our woods. Anne would arrive for the service wearing a stole around her neck, impressively ecclesiastical, and somehow found a prayer book to bring along. We’d have a moment of silence, say a prayer and then something nice about the fish before laying it to rest on a cotton square in a cardboard Rich’s jewelry box. I guess we never dug deep enough because usually after a few days, the fish was gone, risen perhaps like Jesus, cotton strewn at the tomb. It was always a horrifying discovery, but because we both lived it, it was easier.
At night I often sneaked into Anne’s room and into her bed, a double white spool bed with exposed squeaky box springs. It was springy, cozy and familiar, far different than my own twin bed where I felt alone and far away from the family. My mom always said I should sleep in my own room, but I knew what I needed, and that was to be close to Anne, so I usually tiptoed to hers.
I’ve never had to explain our family to Anne; she’s lived it all, including wearing those matching outfits we often were dressed in. Like my brother and me, she also died of embarrassment when our friends were over and Lad, our aging, flatulent German Shepherd, released huge silent stinky clouds into the room. At family picnics, I remember shielding her from the dreaded egg-laden potato salad, and even though she liked hoarding boxes of Girl Scout cookies in her desk, she’d usually let me have my own sleeve of Thin Mints. It’s been a shared back and forth, giving and getting.
I’ve been thinking about Anne lately since we spent Spring break together at the beach. I don’t remember us ever having a whole week together as adults, and I don’t think planning our parents’ funerals should count. Our beach week unfolded slowly, doing nothing and talking about everything. We drank wine over stories, laughs and the most remote memories, and cooked constantly and fed people. Our dynamic has refreshingly little push and pull, and is simply comfortable and easy, with wine refills, jokes and continued wonder at how we’ve remembered the things we have.
On the last day, we rode the kids’ bikes, which had seats set super high, and fortunately for 5’10” Anne, she pedaled comfortably for a change. Following behind her, I took this photo of her, 56, ever the young girl, cropped shirt billowing in the breeze, curls trailing down her back. We darted in and out of streets with no agenda, riding beside each another when we wanted to talk and single file when we didn’t. It was like we no longer lived 700 miles away from the other, and were just two sisters out riding bikes, like before.
Anne’s a Gemini full of decisions, sometimes unable to decide, but she’s steady, graceful and always there for me, her chatty loving Leo sister. She wears the moonstone ring I gave her on her middle finger and a pearl necklace we saw and bought together, both birthstones for her June 8 birthday. She’s a constant, my lighthouse, my insides. I trust her and no matter what, she listens and loves me, not in spite of who I am but because of it. There’s a difference.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sister or someone they can call their person, and maybe it’s because I’m looking for them, but for years, I’ve seen folks who are ready and willing to step up. It’s the grocery store worker who grabs a cart when he notices that my arms are too full, or the hands-on work colleague who selflessly offered to watch our toddlers so my husband and I could get away. It’s the friend who emails job postings to nudge me along, or the person who always texts right back, invites me over, holds the door, gives a hand, a compliment or a ride when I least expect it (and most need it). It’s whoever lifts you up, be it stranger or friend, who notices and connects with you. We all need a reminder that we matter and a place alongside people that feels like home, somewhere we belong. So, look around and find them. Chances are, they’re looking too.
4 thoughts on “Who’s Behind You?”
Such a lovely and beautiful tribute to your sister. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for your kind words.
Love, love, love this reflection, Susan. Even though I knew of your sister Anne, I never knew how fulfilling your relationship with her was … and is. xoxo
Thanks, Karen. Yes, she and I go way back, as I know you and your sister do. Fun to recount some of the memories.