I don’t see my sister enough to argue with her. Not once we became adults, anyway. Of course, like any pair of siblings (maybe any pair of sisters, so close together in age, they’re often confused for being twins) our childhood was a string of disputes. The earliest I remember was my golden-haired sister chucking a turtle-sized rock at my face. I still remember the sting of the alcohol on my cheek where my mother wiped away blood and dirt. And I still remember, at the bottom of the porch steps, my sister’s expression, how it lacked guilt or regret. Her lips maybe even curled at the corners. Her eyes were certainly venomous, though I wouldn’t have discovered the word for another several years.
We were more than arguments, however, and spent most of our time together. Our favorite was make-believe. My sister and I preferred playing in the basement where our parents couldn’t overhear our imaginations at work. Often, we threw weddings, where I was always both the groom and the pastor, kissing my sister’s cheek after proclaiming, “You may kiss the bride” to the tune of one of our Disney Princess CDs playing in the background.
We pretended many things, marriage, baby deliveries, and baby-kidnappings being the most popular, though I couldn’t say why. She had dramatic flare, and maybe my imagination was darker than other five to six year-olds. When we pretended, my sister liked wearing dresses, the ones with lace and ribbons and eye-popping floral patterns. She reserved the drab, dull, too-many-shades-of-brown ones for me so that there was no chance of out-shining her. Of course, I never wanted to. I was the eldest, but I stood comfortably in my sister’s shadow for years, oblivious to her design. I would get lost in my own head, even then, thinking up plot twists for our games, twists she didn’t appreciate because they didn’t follow her script. This was usually when our game ended: disputing why we couldn’t play my way or her way. So we wouldn’t play at all, storming off in opposite directions, fuming for an hour or so before coming back together out of boredom.
In our later elementary years, our mother signed us up for cake decorating classes at Hobby Lobby. So every Wednesday night, before dinner, we would get dropped off at the automatic sliding doors, a bag of frosting tips, boxes of fondant, gum paste, instruction books, and other too-sweet or too obscure cake items. Besides the instructor, a woman decades older than our mother, we were the only ones who attended the class. I can’t say for certain if we were the best students, eating the fondant when our instructor wasn’t looking because we hadn’t had dinner yet, but my sister and I somehow managed to pull through three levels of cake decorating courses. After we graduated, I put my knowledge in my library of books, and my sister put hers in the kitchen, baking and over-decorating cakes for every birthday in the house. Some of them were so thick with fondant and sprinkles, the cake was inedible without being stripped of its sugary skin first. Those cakes live in pictures.
Inevitably, we grew up. Strangers didn’t confuse us for being twins anymore. We didn’t argue as often, something I know my mother was grateful for. My sister discovered make-up and I discovered the young adult genre. We had our own rooms and our own friends, no longer each other’s sole company. In the summer, my sister would walk down the road to her girlfriend’s house, and I would stay home, reading in my bedroom for so long, my father scolded me for being in the same place, doing the same thing as when he left for work that morning. One autumn, I helped my father and brother stack firewood, and my sister stayed inside, bouncing our new baby sister in her arms (she dropped her a couple of times, though). My sister never helped us stack firewood again.
We grew apart as we grew into ourselves, I think, yet we were never distant. I didn’t know who she had a crush on at school, just that she didn’t like school. And she didn’t know what my favorite book was or that I had begun writing one of my own. We were always there, though, in that house. During the worst summer of my life, we fell into each other again, like children, and I would sleep in her bed every night as we fell asleep to re-runs of Castle on her television. And in 2016, when I learned about Death, I looked at my sister with fresh eyes, saw how precious our bond was. In high school, we were in the same biology class, though we were often late—so much so that our teacher waited outside his classroom door minutes after the final bell rang, smiling on the outside (though probably rolling his eyes on the inside) as we came down the hallway, Biggby drinks in our hands (the reason we were late). We didn’t sit together in class, but when we got to choose partners for assignments, my sister didn’t bar me from her group but let me be in charge of it. I didn’t have many friends, so she let me borrow hers in biology. She knew I struggled with people, and I knew she struggled with the inner-workings of cells. Sometimes, she hated me for how naturally certain subjects came to me. But when we took physics, we struggled together, relieved when the course was finally over, that we passed the requirement. We laugh about it now, like so many other things that were once painful but aren’t anymore.
We are both in college now, dating men who complement our personalities, working jobs in the healthcare field. When my sister saw her first dead body, she shared that story with me. I couldn’t talk about my work with my family before she began working as a CNA, but I can now, a new thread to our bond. She tells me about how she amuses herself by telling her dementia patients she’s pregnant when she’s not, and I tell her about my interesting calls, like the double cardiac arrest, the time my partner backed us into a ditch, and the time I hit a tree myself, fearing that I would kill my passenger, the man I love.
I don’t see my sister very often—we certainly aren’t bound to our childhood house the way we used to, before adulthood—but I last saw her on Thursday. We were on our way to our younger sister’s cheer competition, late, of course, because we stopped for coffee first (Starbucks this time). We sat at the top of the bleachers, and we talked about our grandmother who now lives in the same nursing home where my sister is employed. We talked about marriage and how it isn’t a game anymore. Talked about our older brother, who won’t be home for Christmas this year, and his girlfriend/“prospective wife” who we know nothing about except that she’s Canadian. Talked about college and work and our mother (we always psychoanalyze our mother) and our little brother who never folds his laundry and our youngest sister who spends too much time on her electronics. We don’t talk about why I have been so sad lately or why she works so much, now that our grandmother lives there. And that’s okay.
When our little sister’s team enters the gym, steps onto the mat, we set all that aside, get the camera ready, and press record. From the top of the bleachers, we can survey the entire routine, grinning the whole time because it is rare, these days, to find all three of us in the same place. But when it happens, it’s the sound of snowfall: delicate but persistent, muffling and concealing the entire world until it is only this moment.