Monday, December 15, 2008


I waited with sweating palms and short breaths, bad vending machine food stuck inside my cheeks as her father came into the waiting room and said, "It's a baby girl." I was twelve. No longer an only child. I had a half sister.

I watched her in a baby swing - the ones you wind up and set rocking - and I sneezed and she laughed...a huge laugh out of a six month old. And so I sneezed again - fake sneeze. And she laughed harder. So loud, so tickled, happy tears crawling down her cheeks. And I sneezed again and again and she cackled and cackled and I began to learn more about unconditional love.

Oh, how she was stubborn. Oh, how she had to have her way. Oh, how we were so much the same. And oh, how we fought. Yes I was 17 and she was 5. So what? We did such battle when I babysat. I had changed her diapers. I had stayed up with her some nights when she was scared and so I had the right to tell her what to do! She'd have none of it. She told me what she thought about me and bellowed "I hate you!!!" as she ran to her room. And I went in there and hugged her as she kicked and screamed for me to let her go...and eventually her body went limp and she began to curl her limbs around me, and her head fell upon my chest and she cried soft sobs. And I realize that though we were both so stubborn...these tears had nothing to do with me. She had entered this world haunted. And it would take much to exorcise that.

Back from college, I stood in an elementary school hallway with a big yellow visitor's badge stuck to my shirt. And around the corner a line of munchkins came marching. She didn't know I was coming. Near the back of the line, she finally looked up to see me there. Surprise! A lunch date. She was permitted to leave the chain of children and take my hand. And we were off!...through the lunch line of hairnets and unrecognizable food and to a table not meant for a 20 year-old ass (especially mine). She babbled excitedly about her class...their projects...her teacher...her second grade friends. I shared what I could of the college experience. Lunches are so short in elementary school. She rejoined the line. Conformed as she was told. Her teacher smiled at me and winked as they faded around the corner, little shoes clicking on a checkered tiled floor.

I was marinating in dramatic tension. I'd walk out the door and be back to Dallas and then off to Portland in a U-haul. Away from Texas. And thousands of miles away from family. Good-bye time. A hot afternoon. The high windows cast perfect rectangles across the living room. I stood up from the couch and the embraces began. And she looked at twelve. In between little girl and young woman. She hugged at my waist. A tight, forever hug. And my mother, eyes fully welled, mouthed to me... "pick her up." I reached under her arms and lifted her. She wrapped her arms and legs around me...and she wept. And I wept...holding her as I did when she was a napping toddler those not so many years ago.

And then a strange and inevitable acceleration. The Portland years. So many and so fast. A birthday visit for her fifteenth birthday. Living with me while her mother battled a divorce in Texas. Giving her an internship at the theatre (no one takes line notes like she does!) Offering her a place to stay when things got bad...and worse. And then becoming roommates, and fighting like roommates...but quieter than in the past, passive aggression as the new "I hate you!!!". Wiping tears off her face during her first big break-up. Hugging her in another good-bye moment as she headed to California to breathe in a new understanding of herself. Phone conferences about school, career, travel, and of course...what to do with our family. Embracing her as she returned to Portland...with much baggage in tow.

Yesterday we had a winter blast hit the city. Snow and wind and magical spirits reminding us of all the meanings of cold. And there is much cold here. My family is divided. I am on the outside...anchored firmly to boundaries and principles. And so that leaves one person to call family. You know who. And call we did - literally. With my partner out of town, this empty house was beginning to assert its weight. And who better to offer levity?

She came over, exuding such excitement about the snow. She has this ability to harness a child's wonderment in almost any given moment - and it's incredibly charming and makes her shine so bright. After a quick coffee warm up, we decided a walk was in order. I bundled up and put snow grips on my shoes. And off we trekked down the white path. She casually reached down to grab some snow. "Don't you dare!" I yelled at her with as much big brotherly authority as I could muster. Oh how tempted she was, the snowball forming in her hand. Her eyes were filled with much mischief. Again, quite charming - but not enough to stop my threats. "You will be SO dead if you do that! You have no idea. YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!" And we giggled and the dance of 'will she? won't she? will she? won't she?' went on a bit longer until I managed to slap the frigid ammunition from her hand and send it exploding onto the road.

We laughed. We slipped. We stepped over yellow snow. We shivered as whirling dustdevils of icy powder assaulted us in the ripping wind. We cursed the teenager racing down a long driveway to do doughnuts. We marveled at the obvious joy of dogs in the park. And at one point, she grabbed her camera phone, wrapped her arm around me and directed me toward the lens. A quick click. A moment in time captured. This moment. Precious. And needed. Me - now 35. Her - now 23. Friends and unconditional love.

I wrote "I had a half sister." But of course, she is my whole sister. And now...she is my whole family. There is nothing and no one in the world I love more than my sister, Katie. And yesterday, we got to play in the snow...


Mead said...

What a terrific post, Matt. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Jeremy said...

Wow. Snow. It really exists? I'm jealous.