When people ask me if I have any siblings, I’m totally stumped. I become a mute for about 15 looong seconds, and then I say, “Welllllllllll . . . I lost my sister when I was twenty.” Like I misplaced her and can’t quite remember where. It’s the polite thing—the easy thing to say, so that I don’t cause their eyes to widen in horror and then downshift quickly into a sickening pity. Because yes, I have a sister. She just isn’t here anymore. And such an innocent question leads to such a harsh truth. She’s dead. Someone decided that he could choose if she lived or not. And he chose not. So there’s that. And when someone asks me, I know I brush it away. I give the easy little explanation and promptly change the subject. So . . . it could’ve been sickness, right? Car accident? I let the assumptions hang in the air, unanswered. If pressed, then it happens. The pity. The horrified look. The stammering and inability to “say the right thing.” What’s worse, that or having it go ignored? No questions? No outward compassion? Distance? Yeah. That’s probably worse.
My sister was murdered in her apartment. When she was just 22. Weeks away from graduating from school—a nurse/midwife-to-be. Yes, she was my older sister. Yes, we were very close. I miss her every day (I usually leave this part out—too vulnerable). It was 1997. God, could it be? That long? I almost hate to admit how long it’s been—I’m afraid it makes people think that I should be “over it.” Or that at least it’s less painful. (What Other People Think Of Me Is None Of My Business). Admittedly, of course it is. Painful, that is. I don’t live in such a raw place on a daily basis, like I did back then—one, two, five, eight years . . . But now, this will be fifteen years? Fifteen. Such a round solid number, fifteen. Fourteen seems like a lot, and then . . . fifteen.
And here it is: I DO miss her every single day. I DO sometimes cry because I want to talk to her so fucking badly it makes me taste metal. I hate that I sometimes can’t remember what her voice sounds like. I hate how much I miss her spindly fingers digging into my hand as she squeezes it to violently show her love for me. I hate that she never did get to pay for my first tattoo. She wanted to. But thank SIPNEL I didn’t do it then. At eighteen, on spring break from my freshman year of college. Visiting her in Albany, and the two of us taking a road trip from her apartment through Massachusetts, Vermont, and back home again. Stopping at art galleries, little coffee shops, head shops, museums, a Buddhist temple, and . . . a tattoo parlor. Oh, it would’ve been quite the sun/moon eighteen-year-old-hippie-chick tattoo, I’m sure (shudder). I’m quite sure she was so enthusiastic to “get me my first tattoo” just to drive our parents through the roof. She had a special kind of talent for that.
So the crux of it is . . . how does one “deal?” I don’t know. I haven’t any idea. Ask my therapist. What I do know is that, over time, I have found myself adopting women. Sisters. Even before she was gone, I met three women who became sisters to me as I started life in college. They were my roommates, best friends, and fierce advocates. They were with me when I found out. They were awakened by knocks on our apartment door at six in the morning on November 7, 1997. They were in my bedroom standing next to my bed when my parents told me. They held me so tightly over the following weeks, months, years—they still do. And then there are the others, the women in my life, who may not even know. The parents of students who have become friends. The women I have met through my work, through theatre, through mutual friends. They inspire and support me, and probably have no idea.
I do it and I know I’m doing it. I look for sisters. I look for women who have a little nurturing gene, a penchant for taking care. And I snuggle into that. It is so comforting and makes me take a deep breath. I hold my breath so much, it’s amazing I can sing at all. And they exist, these women! Everywhere! In that, I know that even though I lost one, I gained many. And boy, if that isn’t just what gets me through the day.
This adoption process is just one of the ways that my loss manifests itself. I know I also have a tendency to throw love around like confetti. There’s just so much of it! Look! It’s so colorful! Prettyyyyy . . . See, there’s a part of me that just feels like life is too fucking short. We are all dying. Every moment. Right now. You’re dying! I am, too! But it’s ok. I have this deep need to let every person in my life who moves me, who is dear to me, who I love—well, I have to let them know how much I love them. All the time. I think it’s important. And I’m not sorry. I’m not going to put away the sparkly goodness, as my cousin Erin would say. It might be a bit much. It might be scary. It might make me too vulnerable. I’ll take it. Hit me with your best shot, life! I ain’t scared o’ you!
I have written about this many times, in many different ways. To write it here, and allow it out of reach into the scary, judgey interwebs is somewhat terrifying. I can’t help feeling that I’ve written better, that I’ve been clearer, more interesting. What is true is this: losing my sister at the hands of another human being did not make me hate, fear, or withdraw. It has made me cry, rage, question, and become fiercely assured that people are generally good, and that love is everything, and that hating will never solve anything, and that everyone deserves to hear how much they are loved. All the time. So hear it. It might just be coming from me.