Dear Michael and Caroline,
We played a little game as kids, my sister Linda and I. Our parents would go out for the evening, leaving us with a babysitter. We would be sent to bed earlier than usual, certainly sooner than either of us wanted. So we would go upstairs, to our respective bedrooms, the babysitter down in the den, two levels below, watching TV. But rather than go to sleep, we would stay awake, together.
She would poke her head out from her bedroom door while crouching on the carpet, and I would do the same from the other end of the hall. Probably neither of us even had to say anything, so well did we know this drill. And then we would take a ball, maybe a Spaldeen, all pink and smooth, and roll it along the hall, back and forth, flicking and catching it, the ball spinning along silently on the carpet, the babysitter none the wiser.
It was how we staged a little rebellion, my sister and I, back when we were kids, maybe seven or eight or nine. We played this game many a Saturday night, all the while smiling and giggling at our secret fun.
But I remember so little else about her as a girl, so few other episodes. I do have a sense of her, of course, and what she was like. She was a girl, born after I was born, a year and nine months later, and that alone gave her a distinct quality of otherness.
Later, as adolescents and teenagers, we went in our own widely different directions. She hung out with her friends, I with mine. She had her boyfriends, I my girlfriends. She always tried hard in school, getting good grades, while I hardly tried at all, doing poorly. She always behaved well, never coming home late or acting fresh or getting into fights, and I had a talent, whether at school or home, for getting into trouble, for landing detention or tearing my pants playing baseball.
My mother never seemed frustrated with her, or angry, whereas her attitude toward me leaned toward the disappointed. I must have felt pretty jealous of her for a long time.
Now, of course, my sister and I are out of touch. It has to be 10 years since I’ve seen her, and we’ve spoken on the phone maybe three times, always the result of her calling me. We fell apart years earlier, though less dramatically, with me simply liking her less and less.
The breaking point came – no surprise here – over two consecutive financial entanglements.
So there you go.
Linda called me right after 9/11 to ask whether we were all right. I acted cordial, but no more, and told her I appreciated the call (true).
She called me a few months ago, too. She asked how we were all doing and I told her a little, reluctant to share much. She told me she was divorced now and lived alone in her house. She made a point of letting me know Barry had given her the house, as if I cared, as if I were going to ask. And that was kind of the problem right there. She always had to let us know how well off she was, and I hated her for that. And never forgave her, either.
She sounded sad on that last call – lost, really, and lonely – and I felt sorry for her. And I remembered how she and I rolled the Spaldeen back and forth in the hall as kids.
But however much I might have felt tempted to reconnect with her after all these years – after all, we have a shared history; she’s the only other person on the planet raised by my parents – I resisted. And then I realized it. We had never had much together, really. There was never a there there, a true warm spot. And now we had even less. Now we had something close to nothing.
P.S. – Linda and I have since reunited.