"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau



Monday, March 5, 2012

Thirty-eight Years of Amy


Me & Amy, 1976
Today is my sister Amy's birthday. By the time she came along, our four year age difference meant that I was already firmly established in the world and my place in the family, so my early memories of her are vague. In my mind I remember a chubby-cheeked toddler with a head full of golden curls who often had her thumb in her mouth. From an early age Amy spent a great deal of time following me around trying to get me to play with her. Much of our childhood was spent with her pursuing my attention and me trying to ditch her. 

Avoiding her was difficult since we shared a room, which was an almost constant source of annoyance to me. I was tidy, orderly, regimented and used to controlling my space. Dirty clothes on the floor and piled in the closet didn't bother Amy at all. When I tried to fall asleep at night, she was in the bed across from me chewing crackers. Loudly. Slowly. Infuriatingly. I honestly think she did it just to annoy me! She also had to sleep with the door cracked open and the hall light on. Because she was younger, I lost that battle repeatedly with my parents always siding with her. I got even by refusing to allow her into my world, no matter how desperately she tried to hang with me and my friends. 

By the time I was 14 we lived in different states and only saw each other during holiday breaks and summer vacations. When she came to Utah to visit for the summer she slept in the basement while I kept my room to myself. It never occurred to me until years later how painful that must have been to her. I still lived in our childhood home, sleeping in the same room we once shared. As a selfish teenager I never bothered to think about how it must have felt for her to show up to her home and have to sleep in the basement like a temporary visitor. 

Somehow through all the ups and downs of our lives (and believe me there were many) we managed to maintain some kind of a connection. I was married and out on my own at the age of 19. Amy wasn't far behind me, moving out on her own at the tender age of 18 rather than moving to Pueblo, Colorado when my mom remarried. Those early years on her own were a struggle, although I was barely aware of it then since I was busy with married life, work and college. We still saw each other on holidays at mom's, or sometimes I'd stay for a night or two at her latest apartment. Our lives were very different then, but also similar as we were both doing our best to face adulthood and create futures for ourselves.  
My henna tattoo - Summer 2010
Eventually, our lives were on more parallel paths. We were both married and expecting our first babies. Our due dates were just ten days or so apart in October, and we shared all the experiences of a first pregnancy together. We talked  frequently on the phone comparing notes about hormonal mood swings, cravings, baby names, bodily changes and so much more. On October 4 Amy gave birth to her son, Mason. The next day I went into the hospital for a scheduled induction. On October 6, thirty-six hours after Mason's birth, I welcomed Gillian into the world. 

Sharing the experience of pregnancy and new motherhood together changed our relationship. Our bond was deeper and we were closer than we'd ever been before. Talking to my sister became part of the rhythm of my life. She was often the person I called before anyone else to share my life's frustrations, challenges, joys, and simple, silly pleasures with. We could talk for hours on the phone, and often did. 

The years since then have been full of many shared moments, holidays and celebrations, many of them at Amy's house. I wrote about many of the memories made there in this earlier post: Taking Only My Memories. It's hard now to imagine that I used to go to such great lengths to keep her out of my life.


Showing off our footwear to mom.
L to R: Amy, Julie, Keicha
Along with everything else that bonds us we're also bound now by our shared loss and sorrow. Amy is the only person in the world who understands my loss in almost exactly the same way. Only she knows the horror of the phone call asking me if I'd talked to Julie, knowing even as she said the words that something was horribly wrong. It was just the two of us on the line together that day, waiting with sick feelings of dread in our stomachs as Jason and Grant drove to Julie's apartment with her spare key. Who besides my sister understands what it's like to lose my sister - our sister - the only other person in our exclusive sisterhood club of three? 

Only Amy understood the necessity of ditching the family for a few hours the week after Julie's death, getting in the car, blasting corny country music as loudly as we could and screaming at the top of our lungs. She knew why it was imperative that we go together to an old favorite hangout spot and have shots of tequila to toast Julie before we went shopping for a small urn for Amy to keep some of Julie's ashes in and a guest book for her funeral. Together we wandered the aisles of Hobby Lobby drunken and grief-stricken, making inappropriate, morbid jokes and laughing at the brutal irony of having to look on the wedding decor aisle to find a guest book for our sister's funeral. Together we conferred about who to ask to style Julie's trademark curls for the last time. The difficult task of shopping for clothes to bury our sister in fell to me alone because Amy couldn't bear to be part of that shopping excursion. That was one time when I really wished I wasn't the big sister. She made it up to me by speaking at the funeral, something I just couldn't face doing. A few months later, we got each through the difficult job of sorting through all of Julie's clothes, deciding what to keep, donate and give away. It was an almost sacred task, and such a personal one that it was agreed it should only be done by her sisters. Since that time there have been many tearful, anguished phone calls to each other as we both work through our grief, guilt, and confusion, trying to accept what is now the new normal of our lives.    

We've both dealt with our grief differently, and Amy has also been dealing with a separation and then divorce. Often I've felt abandoned and bereft, sometimes feeling as if I lost not one, but two sisters in May 2010. I've struggled alone, discovering that the sister that used to call me just to talk about nothing was very caught up in her own life and struggles. It's been painful and hard not having the two people I used to confide in the most suddenly unavailable, one forever. Thankfully, we seem to be finding our way back together, adjusting to the new dynamic of just the two of us. I think we're both coming to terms with the fact that we're each the sister the other one was left with, understanding that neither of us can ever be what Julie was to the other one. We're left with only each other, warts, disappointments and all. 
Hopping Trains with Amy - Memorial Day 2010
Although at the time Amy's entrance into my life barely cause a blip on my radar screen, I can't imagine my life without her. I know that no matter what, we love each other. We haven't always been a perfect example of sisterly love and supportiveness, but that doesn't matter. We're sisters, plain and simple. We will always love and support each other. Today I'm so grateful and happy to be able to celebrate my sister and the joy, silliness, support and comfort she brings to my life. 

Happy Birthday Sis!  I love you. Here's to many more. 
Hugging Amy at the finish line of the 2011 Ogden 1/2 Marathon
Celebrating our finish -Ogden 1/2 Marathon
May 2011


4 comments:

  1. I always wanted a sister. Lucky you to have two. This was a lovely tribute to both your sisters. It is a blessing to have Amy to keep alive the bond with Julie.

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  2. I could barely keep from crying as I read this, Keicha. Beautiful, painful memories. I'm glad you were able to share your relationship here, I feel honored to have read it.

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  3. Keicha, what a beautiful, honest and heart wrenching tribute. As an only child, I always longed for a sister. Yet, with my cousins (who felt like sisters) I saw that sometimes there wasn't the closeness I imagined. As they've grown, they, too, have become closer, as you described with your relationship to Amy and it only goes to reinforce that shared experiences of joy, secrets, grief and recovery can pull people who at heart already love one another closer together. I'm glad you are "coming back" to each other, and so glad you had one another at the time when you needed each other most.

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