A Work in Progress
I was cashing out at work a few weeks ago when Fuzz, one of my sister’s old restaurant managers, looked up at me from the bar: “Hey Sissy, stay for a drink.”
I apologized: “I would, but Sissy’s picking me up.”
I could probably write 800 words about how and why certain people call me and my sister the name we call ourselves, but I want to talk about what Fuzz said next: “Tell her to come up; I’ve never known your sister to turn down a drink.”
I laughed and skipped down the stairs: “Oh, but she’s changed!” I’m sure he didn’t believe me.
My sister is the younger twin. I am the older twin. I think we were slotted into these roles as infants, and not just by the timestamps on our birth certificates.
My sister never stopped crying as an infant. She had more medical issues. She clung to my mother’s shoulder and scared my father with every screaming outburst. And her childhood nickname was “Maisie,” a reference to Mayzie the lazy bird of Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hatches the Egg”.
I never really got a nickname that stuck — but sometimes I think I subconsciously took on the role of Horton, the big old elephant that watches Mayzie’s baby while she relocates to Palm Beach. In fact, I’d be lying if I told you my sister has not asked me to be the surrogate for her future children.
My sister used to drink a lot. She was never more of a drinker than a typical college-aged party-goer, but in comparison, I felt like Horton, waiting at home or in the library next to my phone, worrying — worrying that she was hurt or too drunk or with a serial killer.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m the older sister, or if it is simply because I’m just as lazy as Mayzie, but I’ve always opted to stay in if going out looks like a lot of work. I prefer the comfort of my bed, the irresistible combination of melted cheese and tortilla chips, and the unfinished television series about teenage aliens or vampires.
Recently though, my sister has been more likely to pick me up from work than to join me there for a beer. Not that she doesn’t still party and make the occasional mistake, but it’s a noticeable shift nonetheless.
Maybe the turning point for my younger sister was the moment she woke up with a hospital bracelet last May. Or when she went to Europe for the first time and saw how big the world could be. Or perhaps it was when she realized she couldn’t finish her thesis unless she gave some of her social life away and let Hemingway become her new best friend.
As for my turning point — the one where I stop worrying about my sister — that’s a work in progress.
I made some progress during spring break when I went down to Key West with her and my roommates. It was warm, the water was beautiful, and there was this one bar where you could buy Yuenglings for a dollar.
Our first morning there, my sister and I excitedly walked through Hemingway’s house. We heard the tour guide’s voice coming from neighboring rooms, and with every detail he offered his group my sister whispered a supplementary fact in my ear. She ran her hand along the glass case that housed the books Hemingway read. She told me about each author and how they influenced the man she’d been spending so much time with.
If you saw my sister there, I think you’d see her as I now do. I think you’d forget who was younger or older, who was the “wild one,” and who had to deal with the consequences of the other’s mistakes.
I realized that holding onto painful memories from my sister’s past only tarnishes the present moments. I’ll always worry about my sister, but that doesn’t mean I’ll always see her as the girl who won’t turn down a drink.
This weekend my sister brought down her work-in-progress thesis and one of my roommates counted the pages. There were 83.
My sister was quick to explain that a lot of her pages were notes and there was a lot left to do. She assured us there was no way she would be able to finish 50 polished pages in time.
I went up to her room a few hours later and found her sitting on her bed and editing her notes, holding her large bear “Clarence” under her arm.
I should have told her then, but I’ll just tell you now: I’ve never been more proud of her.