For Michelle

I was two and a half when she was born. I have almost no concrete recollections of earthly life without her. She was always there, a part of me – my bolder, more outspoken and energetic half.

She was always getting into trouble. She bounced around like the energizer bunny, her arms and legs flailing haphazardly about, saying whatever came into her head in a high-pitched, squeaky little voice. She was always falling over, running into walls and making unnecessary noise.

“Stop banging around up there Michelle Diana,” our Mom would scold. “Quit ramming around! WALK in the house! Why are you sitting all ‘screwjawed’ in the chair?”

She always went down the tall slides first, to make sure they were safe. She asked for the things I wanted when I was too timid to speak up. She had all the friends and I lived through her experiences. That was OK, because at the end of the day I had her, and she was the best friend I could have imagined.

She was my complete and exact opposite: the sparkle to my stillness, the courage to my thoughtfulness, the symphony to my silence, the enthusiasm to my depth. I preferred to study people intently from the background. I felt deeply, understood and loved people profoundly, and I kept it all hidden inside.

I hid myself from everyone. Everyone, that is, except her. She was my “other me,” like an extension of myself, and she always knew. She knew me: what I thought, what I felt, what I wanted, who I was, just as I knew her. Some people communicate with body language and facial expressions from across a room; we never had to. We thought in sync.

The memories are too numerous to recount, and they go far deeper than events on a timeline. We shared a room till we were in college and stayed up talking for hours into the night for 20 years. We cared for our younger siblings together day after day, year after year, while our parents worked. We loved them like they were our own kids, and it was scary and exhilarating and profoundly fulfilling, and we figured it all out together. We faced a darkness together, and at the end of each day, when everything had gone wrong, we had each other, and we made each other brave.

We shared everything, did everything together, and sacrificed for each other. We worked the same job in high school and had the same group of friends in college. I loved doing hair, and I practiced on hers, hundreds of times until I knew exactly how her hair falls on her head, how thick it is, and how the curls lie. We knew every shade and angle of each other through and through and accepted each other without thought.

We never fought. People don’t believe me when I tell them that, or they say our relationship must not have been healthy. They don’t understand that we were too connected to stay mad long enough to lash out. To hurt each other was to hurt ourselves.

As we grew older we shifted, as if orbiting some mysterious center together, remaining in perfect balance. As my inner self, intense and idealistic, finally bubbled to the surface in high school, she kept my head screwed on straight. She calmed down as I opened up. She became more down-to-earth and contained as I grew more expressive and emotional. She became the lighthouse in my storminess, the anchor to my imagination, the wisdom in my questioning.

She kept track of minor details like wallets, keys, and matching outfits that I didn’t spare a thought for. She talked me down whenever I whipped myself into a nervous frenzy or anxiety attack. I finally opened up enough to have a couple friends, and she held me together when my social awkwardness inevitably caused everything to go wrong. And when I finally met the love of my life, and the stubborn whirlwind of a free-spirit that is me decided overnight that I was moving to Montana to be with him, she fully supported me.

I left home at 22. I felt a peace and “rightness” about the move because she was also planning to move away later that summer – to Detroit. And for a while, the quiet in my mind where she had been was deafening.

But as the years have passed, she has been there, steady and certain. I didn’t ask for or expect it, but sure as the dawn she has come back to me. Even when she was in nursing school, without a car, and barely making enough to feed herself, she somehow found the money for plane tickets once or twice a year. She has been here for the births of all three of my children, and for many of their birthdays. She has been here for Christmas most years. Her visits have become a hallmark of my life, one of my greatest joys and sources of strength. And though I know the visits may not continue with this frequency forever, I enjoy each one as if it could be the last. I store them all up inside me and carry them with me as a part of who I am.

When she comes everything just falls into place, as if time and distance are meaningless, and indeed, to limitless spiritual beings such as ourselves (our true selves), they are. Our connections run too deep to be affected by the blink of an eye that is a mortal lifetime, and this has never been more obvious to me than it is with her. After all of these years, we still walk in step. We still think in sync. We still vibrate in harmony as if our personalities are part of a cosmic orchestra too great and unfathomable to hear in these physical bodies.

And 20 years later, she still lets me do her hair. It feels just as soft and smooth as it did in that sunny bedroom when our whole world was our schoolwork and those four precious kids. And as it falls between my fingers, I see how it curls and I live it a hundred times again, 20 years ago in this moment. All the memories of a lifetime flash before my eyes and the lessons they hold fill me up with love and courage.

And I know. I know deeper than I know myself, that I know her.

We came to this life together, to give each other strength, belonging, and joy. And even as we go our separate ways, fulfilling our unique purposes in this world, we don’t diminish. Something binds us together, a connection that is too mysterious to be understood, but one that has a name.

We are sisters.

 

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