I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sisters and best friends

"Two beers or not two beers: What was the question?"
Norma Jean's late husband Pete took this picture of the two of us when we were visiting Texas for a family reunion. I'm not sure what year it was, but I'm sure it was at Thanksgiving, and I don't think Mama was still alive, so it was sometime in the early nineties, most likely. It amazes me to realize that it was around twenty years ago, but when I see this picture of the two of us, I realize how much we have changed.

I tend to date things by major life events: the death of my mother (1993), when Chris died (2002), and when I began to skydive (1990). Thinking back, I try to imagine what else was going on, usually based on how much we each weighed at the time, the length of our hair, and how much gray is (or is not) in my hair. Norma Jean has only a little gray even now, but I am completely white-haired today.

Some other clues taken from the picture: under Norma Jean's leg is a little dog, maybe her dog Radar, but I'm not sure. It was taken at Fia's home in Texas; I recognize the couch. We had purchased the t-shirts at a mall earlier in the day and decided to take a picture commemorating the caption we found amusing enough to buy. I've got no idea if I ever wore that shirt again, but I have a vague memory of posing for the picture. It was in the days before we had digital cameras so I didn't see it at the time, and Pete was busy taking lots of family pictures.

I've got a brother and four other sisters, but the one who is my best friend is Norma Jean, always was. We grew up together, moving from place to place as Daddy was assigned and reassigned in the Air Force. We moved so often that I had many different schools and teachers that simply evaporated from my memory banks. There was a period in the 1950s, however, when we stayed in one place for several years: at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. I think that's why when I think of where I grew up, that area and those memories are the most vivid. Norma Jean and I often recall events that happened during that time; we are the only ones who share them, since our other family members are either gone or weren't born yet.

After we became adults and had our separate lives, Norma Jean and Pete with their two kids, and I with my numerous tumultuous marriages and liaisons, we only saw each other at these gatherings. But it didn't matter: whenever we got together, we would go running or on long walks or shopping expeditions and it was just like we had never been apart. Our connection has always run very strong in both of our lives. When Chris died, Norma Jean was the first family member I called. I had to cry on her virtual shoulder. That was ten years ago now, and the ensuing years have only bonded us more closely.

Although we have very different personalities, so many aspects of our lives have begun to dovetail ever since Pete died. I went to Florida in February 2011 when he died and spent three weeks with her. We woke early every morning and cried together while we drank coffee and thought about the way forward. She and Pete had made arrangements for her to be relatively well off after he would be gone. She owns her own mobile home in a retirement community and has no debts, allowing her to live comfortably on her social security and some small investments. After I came back to my own home, we got into the habit of talking on video chat two or three times a week. Usually we talk for a long time, often a couple of hours, and the time flies by. It's like we are together, being able to see each other's expressions and mannerisms.

During this time we have begun to share other aspects of our lives: she pretty much stopped eating meat after Pete died and has begun to eat vegetables that she never ate before. I feel like I can take some credit for that. She now loves kale and brussels sprouts and eats them every day. She has turned me on to ways to prepare flax. The list goes on and on, and every once in awhile we discover that we made the same decision about a purchase, independently from one another. We laughed as we held up matching water bottles for the other to see, and on her birthday last week, we shared a glass of wine in our matching wine glasses, pretending to clink them together as we talked.

She sees her next-door neighbor relatively often, so I don't worry about her being without any support in case of emergencies. They each have a little dog and combined their back yards so the dogs can play together. Pete and Doris' husband were close, and they died within a few months of each other, making Norma Jean and Doris both recent widows. Doris has been traveling for the past month or so, and it worried me that Norma Jean has been alone. I am glad that her son Peter has come to visit, because I now no longer worry in quite the same way. I had been counting the days until Doris returned, but now I feel vast relief. It's the only downside to being so far away from my best friend: what if she needed me? How could I get there in a hurry?

She chides me for being a worry wart. I can't help it. She's very important to me, and if something were to happen to her, well, I get distressed just thinking about it. Of course, that's what happens: some life event marks another place where everything changed. I just hope it will be a long, long time before anything like that changes my relationship with my sister, my best friend.


Teresa Evangeline said...

My best friend continues to be my sister, Jane. Although we are very different in our outlooks, spiritual and political persuasions, and many other things, there is a bond that will never be broken. Your words today remind me how glad I am for her friendship. Thank you.

Norma Jean said...

Thank you, Jan. I hope our chats go well into the future so we can share getting older and wiser, together. I am also amazed when I realize just how fast the time goes by when we chat.
It's always nice to have someone in your life that knows exactly who you are and shares the past with you. I love you , Jan.

Ruby said...

It is incredibly beautiful the way you describe your relationship with your sister :) You are very lucky to have a best friend in your sister! Cheers, Ruby

gigihawaii said...

You are very fortunate to have a soul sister. I am not close to any of my siblings or other relatives. The only one I confide in is my husband, because I know he won't reveal my secrets.

Linda Myers said...

My sister and I are very close, but only since our mother died in 2008. I can't imagine, now, being without her.

Retired English Teacher said...

Sisters can have the closest of relationships, or not. Thankfully, you have that close, intimate, supportive relationship that is ideal for sisters. I feel that way about my sisters also. Years ago, my sister gave me one of fridge magnets that says, "Fate made us sisters; hearts made us friends." I'm thankful you have your sister, and I am thankful I have my two sisters. The road has been rocky between us at times, but we always make sure we travel it anyway so we can continue to have that special bond.

Gigi said...

You are a lucky woman (and even rarer, you recognize it) to not only have a sister but one that is your best friend!

Arkansas Patti said...

You are so lucky to have such a great relationship with you sister. What is also great is that you are living in a day of such great ways to communicate. Our loved ones are just a click or phone call away.

Trish said...

What a beautiful post about your sister. Some bonds are shared from life to life and this sounds like one of them.

Red said...

You have some twin characteristics.
Really interesting the stuff we remember and don't remember. this comes up when family gets together and talks about things. My son remembers things from when he was very little. My daughter is sort of a blank till later on.

#1Nana said...

I always wanted a sister. As kids my brother and I constantly bickered. My parent bought a station wagon with three rows of seats so we wouldn't have to sit together. Now we are good friends but don't see each other often. It is a blessing to have such a long term relationship, even if it is long distance.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this was a touching tribute to friendship. Thank you for sharing with us the love you and your sister have for one another--and the bond that unites you.

Most of my closest friends live far away now and so I live with and in the hope that if something happens, someone will be there for them. Peace.

karen said...

I'm sure glad you both have each other...and hopefully for a long time. My sister Jan and I share a special bond. I feel blessed everyday for it. Thanks for reminding me of it.

SaucyKod said...

The bond that is created between best friends is very special indeed. Even without communication, one can feel when the other is in need. Its just a feeling that comes over you and it doesn't let up. The comment from Norma Jean says it all "its always nice to have someone in your life that knows exacstly who you are and shares the past with you". Anyone that has this best friend type in their lives are indeed fortunate and be thankful everyday for such a relationship. I can very well see that such a bond exists between you and your sister. I have such a friend and feel incredibly lucky to have shared life with best friend for 40 + years. Even though we live in different areas, that bond is there and when we talk or get together to share time, its like we have never been apart. It is a very special feeling, indeed. Thankyou, I really enjoyed this post.

Star said...

You are very lucky to have siblings D-Jan. I envy you that (in the nicest possible way). It must be great to be able to phone a sibling, especially one you are so close to and share your happiness and sadness. I use Skype myself a lot and know how wonderful it is to be able to talk to people close yet so far away! Lovely post (smile).

CrazyCris said...

You and Norma Jean are lucky to be such good friends as well as sisters! I love both my sisters but our relationship isn't as close... Fortunately I can count on and turn to both of them, just go to one or the other depending on the circumstance.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

How awesome to have a sister that's a best friend. I lost my brother who was mine when he was only 30.
But the video chats must be really fun. I try to skype with my daughter in UK but it's not quite what I'd expected since all sorts of other folks get into the picture.