Sipping tea with my sister. I don’t know how it was that we went from being such distant planets in each other’s orbits as children to being sisters who speak on the phone almost every day (a three-day silence is rare, two phone calls in one day are not). When I was 10 and she was 15, I remember crying in my room because she had a migraine, I remember reading her love letters (some I found, some she must have hidden too cleverly), I remember her letting me lie on her bed while she did homework, long after I was supposed to be asleep. (My great terror was that if I couldn’t fall asleep promptly, I would be tired in school, and fail to answer questions correctly. I’m amazed I slept at all. By the time I was 12, thank God, I didn’t care about my teacher’s approval and I needed less sleep.) I don’t remember us playing together, and then I turned 13 and as she was going off to college, we listened to Bob Dylan, we Frugged, we turned some corner and, as she says now, “I didn’t want to leave you behind,” which as the mother of two girls, I now think is one of the most wonderful things a big sister can say to a little one.
I would wish a sister like this for K–, fierce and loyal and funny and, if not kind in the conventional, sugar-coated way, essentially kind, wonderfully funny, incapable of dissembling (with me), and indisputably loving. My sister can be a terror, but as even my most sensitive child says, “Auntie E. is our terror and we’re lucky.” They are and I am.
I hope all is well at home. No disastrous phone calls, so I’m trying to let it go. It’s funny that my sense of myself as essential, that fear that there will be an unmet child’s need because I’m not there, or a tear at bedtime, has reasserted itself full-blown, as if K– has been mine for seven years, as if I had never stopped being the mother of small children. Sheesh. I will remember this feeling, I think, long after I have forgotten life’s trivia, and long after I have forgotten even the feel of sex, the smell of roses.
I should be getting ready for teaching at the Fine Arts Work Center, I should be finishing this story collection, I should probably have tried to do the Fresh Air Fund for “Talk of the Town,” I should try to get Travel & Leisure interested in our upcoming trip to Norway (it seems everyone has just done Norway or Sweden, although I don’t tell Joy how utterly interchangeable travel magazines think the two countries are)–and I’m not doing anything at all, until Tuesday. I’m quite happy to be in either high Mommy-gear or hanging-out-with-my-sister gear, and when those are both finished, it’ll be time to pay attention to Joy (never my strong suit when there are little kids in my life) and Sarah, of course, and, I guess, find the heart of my main character for this story.
I’ve never kept a diary or journal in my life. I’ve been barely able to force myself to keep notes in a coherent, organized way for writing, even though I think it’s worthwhile. I suppose that the implied self-importance (let me record every passing reflection, every emotion and observation) seems so utterly inflated. I know people keep journals for better reasons than that, but the better reasons don’t speak to me and the self-love of most memoirs and even this kind of writing that I’m doing for Slate makes me cringe a bit. Is this the slippery slope to Joyce Maynard-dom? Will I wake up to find myself actually believing that everything that crosses my mind is, if written in a moderately entertaining way, of importance or interest or use to a reader? I hope not. I think that I will not make this a habit, but maybe I can find the red notebook that I started using for the last story.
I gave K– my gold chain to wear while I’m gone and left love notes for Sarah and Joy. Time to beat my sister at gin.