Remember that time I wrote an essay about us for one of my uni writing assignments a million moons ago? Hmmm. #walkdownmemorylane
Since this is your birthday, I thought it would be an appropriate time to bring it back out.
Love you, Catherine!
I huddle alone in the passenger seat of my sister’s car and stare out the smudged window as I wait for her return. It is January, and the silence of the damp night is broken only by the music that sings from the speakers in front of me. I look up and am struck by how tall, how elegant, Catherine looks as she runs towards the car.
She smiles as she comes towards me, and I swallow hard. Something has shifted and my throat aches as I hold back the emotions. I know my little sister has grown up. I want so desperately to pause our lives, to halt everything, but I can’t. I want to keep a picture of this moment, of her dancing blue eyes, forever in my mind.
Later, we lay side by side on top of her carefully-made bed and listen to her new favorite song. We are both exhausted and want to sleep, but I will this song to be unending. Beneath the waning notes and the white ceiling fan I curse the marching of time. I make a wish that every moment would be this simple. We listen to the song twice, but it isn’t long enough. I know it will never be long enough.
I was just wondering on how to recall
The wonderful memories and how they fall into place
Like the smile on your face,
Like the kisses and tears that we’ve shared
It’s been one beautiful life,
And I know it’s tasted its trials
It’s been one beautiful life…
And it’s only begun….
Although she is only five and I am six, she is almost as tall as I am as we stand barefooted on the rough wood floor of our dining room. We take turns measuring ourselves on the doorframe where we have marked our heights every year since we were born. I think she is going to catch up with me soon—maybe next year. I love her name-- Catherine Elizabeth—because I like the sound of it in my mouth and because I know she is named after queens. I offer to give her my name, Layne Beckner, for her own. She agrees with a hug and a wink of her dimple. She pauses and fingers my long, wavy hair for a minute. She says she thinks we should trade hair too. I agree without reservations because I like hers---it is long like mine, but it is thick and straight and brown. When we go to the grocery store or school, we wear our matching t-shirts and hope people will notice. An older lady wearing silk stockings and a paisley polyester dress stops us in the juice aisle and asks if we are twins. We say “No ma’am,” in unison before we giggle in triumph behind our raised hands.
She is six, and I am seven, and the summer days are slow and hazy, but we don’t even notice the humidity. We play outside-- shoeless in our cutoff shorts and ragged t-shirts beneath a sky that mirrors the color of my sister’s eyes and a sun that is yellow like a school bus but never too hot. We spend whole days in our playhouse, sweeping the dirt floor with a broom that only stirs the dust, and we decorate the log walls with pictures from magazines. We are home. It is small and sturdy, built of logs and erected decades before we were even thought of, but we know it was made for us. The windows hold screens full of holes that have to be re-nailed every spring. There is a pine tree next to our playhouse where we squat to pee when we don’t want to go inside. We take the soft, stray needles from the tree and make our doormat each year. We are lost for hours in the tiny, perfect world we have created for ourselves.
She is eight and I am nine, and I refuse to go to sleep after my dad has tucked me into bed because I don’t remember a night when Catherine hasn’t snuck into my room for a chat after our parents have told us goodnight. We talk about our parents and our teachers, our friends and the cute boys in our classes. We have spent more than half our day with each other, yet our list of topics is endless. She has only been in my room a few minutes, but our dad is standing at the bottom of the steps yelling at us to get back to our own beds. I think I must have laughed too hard when she told me about her crush on Nicholas Gunn.
She is twelve and I am thirteen as we sit outside in the clear September sunshine. The afternoon is long and we are at school, waiting for our mother to get done with her work. There is a certain knoll where the grass is a deep shade of Irish green, and we lounge at the top, picking through the grass for four-leaf clovers and watching the insects buzz around the dandelions which dot the green sea like a million tiny suns. Sometimes, when we get tired of sitting at the top, we roll down the hill, with our arms folded over our chests. Over and over and over again. We end up at the bottom too dizzy to stand.
She is fourteen and I am fifteen and we decide to learn the dance from the “Sound of Music” when Captain Von Trapp is dancing with Maria and she is blushing because she realizes she is in love with him. Catherine and I watch that part of the movie over and over again, and I still do not know where to begin. She takes me outside and tells me she is the captain, and I am Maria. At 5’9”, she is at least three inches taller than me. We practice every day, and she has to tell me the same steps over and over again. On rainy days we dance in the living room which has never seemed cramped until I try twirling seven times exactly between the yellow piano, plaid couch and worn, velvety recliner. And in the fading afternoon light we practice in the backyard under the shadow of the oak tree. We make up our own ending to the dance. In December, when we go to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville to see their Christmas lights, we have our friends sit down and we dance together in the deserted gazebo for our audience of three.
She is sixteen and I am seventeen and there are bleak days; days I don’t even write about it my journal because it hurts too much and I don’t want to remember anyway. Catherine makes me promise not to move out without her. But we take long walks in the fall, and we remember we are young. We remember why we love to be alive. We talk about the type of boy we want to marry and ballet lessons and hardwood floors.
She is eighteen and I am nineteen, and we are supposed to be attending a church picnic. But the rain looks beautiful and we don’t stay with our friends. We roll up our pants—two big rolls on each side—and we run to dance beneath the tears from heaven that are a gift to us on this day. We sing songs as we prance down the street. A shirtless boy in an SUV stops and asks if we want a ride, but I think he actually wants to ask if we are crazy. We thank him but happily wave aside his offer. We take off our flip-flops so we can feel the clean, smooth pavement beneath our toes. We twirl in the streets wearing our waterlogged pants and splash through the puddles as if we are meant to live for this day.
She is nineteen and I am twenty and we are moving into an apartment together. The walls are thin, and we can hear our neighbors throughout the day and night. The door to our patio won’t lock, and the fireplace can’t use logs. But the carpet throughout the apartment is a robin-egg blue, and we are happy-- so happy-- to be on our own.
She is twenty and I am twenty-one and tonight we are having her crush over for dinner. We are serving barbecued chicken with yellow rice, snap green peas, macaroni and cheese, and bread—our favorite kind. She makes two pans of rice krispie treats for dessert, one pan of chocolate and one pan of plain—his favorite kind. As the soundtrack to “13 Going on 30” plays, I sit on the couch talking on the phone with my friend Aimee. I watch Catherine carefully design and paint a sign to hang on our door, announcing that the name of our apartment restaurant is “Gabbledy Gooks” featuring “fine American cuisine.”
She spends almost an hour on the sign, making every detail perfect. I look at her making the sign and think, “This is Love.” I looked at her again and know she is Love, and I wonder if anything will ever be the same again.
She is twenty-one and I am twenty-two and we are boarding our first flight to Europe, a graduation celebration. We’d saved four years in a gigantic bright blue piggy bank and worked for six months more for extra money. It was now or never we told ourselves. England, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Italy-France too.
It is terrible. We were cold, hungry and miserable. We walked instead of taking the bus to save our pennies. We eat pizza in places when we should have been eating steak and potatoes.
It is glorious.The freedom of exploring and a thousand new sites. I turn 23 the day we trained from Germany to Prague and fall in love with the receptionist at our hostel. We still have the video footage of a googley-eyed me.
She is twenty-six and I am twenty-seven. We are living in Hawaii because we can. I wake up on my birthday and find her on my steps, coffee in hand. She drives us around the island and by the end of the day we’ve consumed two more fancy coffees. We walk to Starbucks once a week for long talks, fatty coffees and toast to sisterhood.
She is twenty-seven and I am twenty-eight. She stands up beside me as I say “I DO” to my beloved Jonathan. She looks stunning and I'm so proud she is my sister.
She is twenty-eight and I am twenty-nine. We meet in Nashville, home together for the first time in years for our grandmother’s funeral. The funeral home kitchen has two food trays exactly. We go for a walk and get in a terrible fight about independence and money. She leaves me in silence; our fury has no words. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. She once told me "We are sisters and that is better than being best friends." We should never fight.
I got home late one night, once upon a time when we were still living in our apartment together and Catherine was still awake. We sat on our futon until after midnight, playing through our favorite songs. I laid my head over in her lap, and she started playing with my hair. “Do you remember when we used to trace each other’s faces?” she asked before carefully running her finger over my forehead, nose, cheeks and eyes.
I don’t get many things right the first time
In fact, I am told that a lot
Now I know all the wrong turns
And stumbles and falls brought me here
And where was I before the day
I first saw your lovely face
Now I see it every day
And I know
That I am,
I am, the luckiest….