She called me It.
As in, Why does It have to tag along?
I taunted back, called her Big Calves (then recoiled, years later, when my own body ballooned into awkward adolescence). We were five years — and a world — apart.
I was a brat, there's no polish to put on it, and she was unbelievably patient. All those growing years, she was my kind protector — doing my chores so I wouldn't get in trouble, caring for me while my parents worked.
Once, when we were just 13 and 18 years old, long before cell phones and hovering parents, we took a roadtrip from Colorado to California.
Once, she dropped everything — a new husband and a year-old baby — to rescue me when I was sick, alone, and living 1,000 miles away.
Through asthma attacks and deep depression, my sister has been at my side.
We're very different. She's a stay-at-home mother to six children; I'm childless by choice. She watches American Idol; I barely watch tv. She sings and sobs through The Sound of Music; I search for sad, dark films.
Now, separated by time zones, we've never been closer. Last month, enjoying a rare visit together, my sister and I fell into our shorthand: fast chat, laughter, and knowing nods. My teenage niece tried to make sense of us.
"So," she said, turning to me, "You write about people you know?"
"Umm," I said, "sure, sometimes."
"Have you written about Mom?"
Her innocent inquiry stopped me short. My sister, my friend, my heart, I've struggled to write about you, to understand and express the deep and complicated love we share.
In a synchronicity, the next week I picked up The Knotted Bond: Oregon Poets Speak of Their Sisters. In this collection, dozens of writers — including Kim Stafford, Ann Staley, Paulann Petersen, Dorianne Laux and more — explore the tangle of family bonds and baggage, ranging from utter joy to penetrating grief.
Liz Nakazawa, the editor who pulled the collection together, offers a lovely dedication: "To my sister . . . You are sunshine when it rains, wind in my sails, and the shared pillar of our home of friendship."
Here, in these pages thick with heartache and love, I didn't find the story of my sister and me but I did discover the work of writers who did what I cannot: put words to the beautiful twine of sister-friends.