I’m sitting in my bedroom, and thinking about the fact that all five of my sisters live hundreds (and in the case of Kiskilili, thousands) of miles away. Looking around, though, I can see traces of them everywhere. On my wall hangs a giant poster of Aragorn–a recent surprise gift from Amalthea (who personally prefers Frodo). Over my desk is a calendar of “Nuns Having Fun,” courtesy of Melyngoch.
Next to my bed sits a small, sad-looking stuffed bear by the name of Juliana, who is frequently (and unfairly, I might add) accused by family members of being involved in white collar crime. Despite harboring such suspicions, however, Amalthea once sent her a care package; I remember explaining to the people in the office that yes there was in fact a Juliana at my apartment–my, umm, teddy bear. Past roommates have learned to check the return address of mail addressed to unfamiliar names before assuming it was incorrectly delivered, to see if came from one of my sisters.
On a shelf above my books is a little stuffed devil, complete with horns and a heart on its belly reading “love me.” I can’t remember which sister put that in my stocking at Christmas, though I’m guessing Melyngoch, who also gave me chocolate-covered insects one year. (Yet another year I received a little plastic nun that breathed sparks when you wound it up. Elbereth has recently been threatening to distribute something even more deadly: family history charts.)
At the end of my DVD collection sit seasons four and five of Angel, currently on loan from Elbereth, who doubtless has the best DVD collection in the family and has been generously willing to share. My seasons 5-7 of Buffy are also thanks to Elbereth, who alerted me when she found them on sale at Costco. Stacks of flash cards make me think of Kiskilili, who’s made thousands and thousands of them in her study of various languages.
On my desk are two books on narrative loaned to me by Eve (and full of her notes.) I also still have Kiskilili’s copy of Winnie the Pooh, which I borrowed to check my translation of Pu der BÃ¤r. The long row of German novels on a shelf reminds me of the delightful summer Kiskilili and I spent studying German in Germany–and the nightmare of lugging all the books we’d ordered from Amazon.de back to the U.S. Other books scattered throughout my collection are a product of the time Eve and I visited Kiskilili, and never made it past the bookstores to see the sights.
All of the Star Wars visual dictionaries except for Episode II are neatly lined up on a bottom shelf. I remember Kiskilili and I discussing for hours the meaning of the phrase “the Old Folks Home” in Attack of the Clones, until Amalthea lay down on the floor and put her hands over her ears. On another shelf sits a well-worn copy of Adrienne Rich’s An Atlas of the Difficult World, a birthday present one year from Eve, and one which for the first time made me aware that there was actually poetry out there that I could like.
I’ve never known life without sisters. And even now, as geographically scattered as we currently are, I find that they’re still closely woven into the narrative of my life. So many different cues bring them to mind; they show up regularly in my dreams, in my random thoughts, in my conversations.
Yet the saccharine way in which sisterhood sometimes gets described makes me a bit crazy. Growing up with five sisters was hard in so many ways. How do you negotiate the challenge of finding a place for yourself, an identity, when there are so many of you? How do you find room to breathe? How do you cope with the older sister who orders you around, or the younger one who mercilessly copies you? (Behaviors which, I should confess, I’ve not only experienced, but I’ve also done to others.) I can’t say that I feel particularly warm and fuzzy when I hear the word “sister.” There are few people in my life with whom I’ve had such bitter feuds, or such complicated relationships.
At the same time, there are also few people with whom I have as much fun, or around whom I feel so un-self-conscious. There’s a side of me that they bring out that rarely emerges elsewhere; I’m not sure anyone can say that they really know me if they haven’t ever seen me interacting with my sisters. And sometimes I find myself looking at them and thinking, wow. They’re really kind of amazing–the things they’re good at, the people they are.
When I think of sisters, I think of being hit over the head with a chair when I was eleven. I think of glares across the dinner table. I think of lying on my bed and contemplating the possibility that I was adopted. I think of elaborate games in our backyard. I think of five and even ten-hour phone conversations. I think of people uncomplainingly helping me carry boxes nearly every time I’ve moved. I think of tense moments, of jealousy, of rage. I think of utter silliness, of laughing until I cry. When I think of sisters, I think of people who, no matter how annoyed with me they might be, would nonetheless come bail me out of jail–and who then might well use the drive home to remind me of past stupid things I’ve done, but would still stop to get me chocolate.
For better or worse, I simply cannot imagine life without them.