25 years ago you came into the world. Our Mama’s body pushed you wet and red from the safety of her womb, and we became sisters. When I met you I wiped my snotty nose on your head. I was a baby then, too, 16 months.
When I was 6, I moved into your bedroom. From our beds at night we pretended to be twins. You would wind up when you were tired. “SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN-SHIT-DAMN!” you’d exclaim from the top bunk, and down you’d swing over the side of your bed, wild hair flying. You slept in a nest of stuffed animals, a little bare patch in the middle where your body could fit. You didn’t wake easily. Your radio alarm seemed to play for minutes each morning before you’d stir and turn it off. We wanted a little brother. We wanted a castle. We were sisters.
As teenagers, I would drive us to school. You nagged me out the door each morning. I had study hall first period, you had math. I could be late. You were determined to be on time. Driving east on 29th each morning I would notice the sky. “Red light!” you would yell, as I gazed at the clouds. “Look at the sky!” I would say. We would pull into our spot just as the first bell rang. You would open your door as I put the car in park.
You hated that I had a Mormon boyfriend, that I was trying to be Mormon. We would argue bitterly. You had no patience, no tolerance for my choices. But the winter of my senior year of high school, you sewed me a quilt for Chanukah. You had never sewn anything serious in your life, but you labored in secret for weeks, and on Chanukah I unwrapped a picture of us you had made in cloth. I don’t remember what I gave you that year. Something our parents bought on my behalf. Nothing I gave any thought. You gave me your love. I sleep with it still in the winter.
I was 24 years old when you died. Your mouth made an O as you took your last breath. Almost like pursing your lips. Almost an expression of surprise. They laid you flat. The hospital personnel made ready to take you away. I bent and wiped my snotty nose on your hair. Bookends. Holy snot.
Now I am 26. I started graduate school this morning. First, I visited your grave. In the morning light, I climbed the cemetery hill carrying flowers that reminded me of your hair. There wasn’t room for dead sisters at my program orientation, just a hubbub of new things, new people. I tried to take you anyway. I wore blue. I dressed in your underwear and your earrings. They asked us to share a place we’d like to go, and who we’d travel with. I told the room I would like to travel with my sisters. They didn’t know you were missing. They didn’t know you existed at all.