Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dear Sister

I am tired of email. I've grown suspicious of everything that has an e or an i stuck in front of it to distinguish it from a real phone on the wall, a real book that rests on a shelf with other books, real mail that is delivered from the hands of one person to those of another. It seems that we sequester ourselves off not just from one another with these new gadgets but from all the things with which we were once surrounded. All the latest electronic "conveniences" have only made it that much harder to be away from home, separated by thousands of miles from family and friends. I would gladly trade them all in for a chance to stand beside them, face to face, especially at this time of year.

Number one on my list of visitations is you, sister. You were born Elizabeth, so Mama used the endearment Lil' Betty and Daddy called you Bit-o-Bette (or Bit-a-Bit). To us kids - Dea, George, and me - it sounded like Bibbit. So that's what we called you, and it stuck. We stopped calling George Georgie and calling me Danny Boy (thank heaven), but those of us who are left will always know and cherish you as Bibbit.

You have known me all my life. Our language may give pride of place to the word brother (as in the dream - which I share - of human brotherhood), but you helped me learn the special significance, the grandeur and poetry, of sister.

If I could, I would bring back the hours we spent playing Monopoly and, years later, Trivial Pursuit. Because you lost to me most of the time at the latter, you accused me of memorizing the cards (I swear I didn't). But you should know how many times I deliberately lost at the former so you wouldn't lose interest and stay in the game. 

We enjoy the same music most of the time. Our reading took us in different directions, but I envy you your command of P.G. Wodehouse. Our last two Christmases - not at all the very last - together, you embarrassed me with all the gifts you bought me. I hope you learned that not all men want a toy for Christmas (where did you read that?). And I learned that giving isn't serious unless it hurts.

Maybe because I'm a little brother, and because of your strapping good health, I never had to regret our many goodbyes, There have simply been too many of them for me to worry about them ever becoming terminal. And yet I can still know what inspired Tennessee Williams to write the exquisitely sad speech that closes The Glass Menagerie (he was inspired by his experience with his own sister):

"I didn't go to the moon, I went much further - for time is the longest distance between places. . . . I travelled around a great deal. The cities swept about me like dead leaves, leaves that were brightly coloured but torn away from the branches. I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise. Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music. Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass. Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of coloured glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colours, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. . . ."

Of the people who have shadowed me in my meandering life, your shadow is the longest. Window-gazing at things I couldn't afford in places hard to find on a map, you couldn't know how many times you might have found yourself standing beside me.

Our lives haven't been easy. But wouldn't Dea say to us how precious even a tough life is compared to the alternative imposed on her twenty-three years ago? We all learned long before that asshole Bono wrote a song about it that sometimes you can't make it on your own. You will never be on your own, Bibbit. Having you in the world means that neither will I.

On the two occasions when I drove my life into a wall (one shouldn't dream and drive), you took me in. The last time, in the far beyond of Alaska, you hoped - you told me - that I would stay for the rest of my life. My fate, or whatever you want to call it, wasn't quite done with me. 

This is an open letter I wish I could've written across the sky above you. This lonely, backwater blog is the best I can do.


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