The alarm rings at six a.m. because I’ve flood-cleaning to do and my sister left St. Louis just after dawn. She’s rented an SUV and packed her little dogs, and will arrive here at 10:30 to rescue me. She and I will muck the floors, pitch the ruined boxes, and haul the good stuff up to the dining room table to sort. Down-sizing delay due to disaster, film at 11.
I hearken back 26 years to a hot July in Fayetteville when another sister appeared in my life. Backpack over one shoulder, sandals securely buckled, with a wide grin and capable hands, my sister Ann spent a week on the couch, feeding me frozen yogurt and cuddling my newborn son. Her staggering competence soothed me. Usually I shrink in the presence of such capability but then, as now, I basked in it. My own inadequacies stymie forward motion; with Ann or Joyce in the perimeter, all things seem possible. Even motherhood. Even pawing through twenty-four years of God-knows-what in flood-sogged cardboard.
And I get full credit for introducing Ann to Walmart. She had never been; but in Arkansas, if you can’t find it at Walmart, you don’t really need it. I’m not sure she agreed. Every time she asked where she could go to buy something which she felt I needed, I gave the same answer. I doubt she’s shopped at Walmart since July, 1991, when she stocked my cupboards and completed the nursery with a plethora of purchases from its wide aisles,
Ann brought the basket in which I first bundled my son. A few weeks later, a bedside rocking cradle arrived, sent by Joyce to replace the rickety one which our father had tried to make for Patrick. I lowered Patrick gently into Dad’s creation long enough to snap a photo. I did not tell him that it could not sustain even the gentlest of pushes. I used it to hold flowers on my porch and eventually sold it to a woman with a florist shop. My son spent his earliest nights in the one which Joyce sent me, while I sank into grateful sleep nearby.
Standing in the kitchen of my office on Thursday, I told my secretary that I had finally convinced a tradesman to finish a job right. I shook my head. I have no problem charging into open court, brandishing print-outs of the damning evidence. I’ll raise my voice and lob paragraph after paragraph of reason on behalf of a client’s cause. But I shrink away from any controversy which might protect myself. I think I understand the dynamics of self-loathing. I hope to conquer my feelings of unworthiness before I die.
But in the meantime, I don’t have to believe myself worthy of my sisters’ love. They offer it without question or expectation of repayment. They call, they write, they appear at my door and envelope me with love. I’m told that a thousand repetitions can teach any lesson. I’ve had 22,593 days to believe that I deserve the love which my sisters bestow on me. I’m not there yet, but someday soon.
I’ve been a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a lover, a lawyer and a lobbyist. Of every role I’ve assumed, that of ‘little sister’ suits me best. I’m good at it. I intend to play it just as long as possible, for eternity, to the end of time. If time exists on any other plane, I’ll wear the ‘little sister’ mantle even there, like a warm cloak on a winter’s day or a lacy shawl wrapped around my shoulders as I sit beside the ocean, watching the setting sun.