My sister, we adopted each other, in our parents’ divorces and their remarriage to each other. But that was the second time. We were godsisters since her birth, baptized in shared baths symbolizing nothing but the need to clean us of daily dirt and deliver us smelling sweet to bed. It feels like I can remember her when I was three but I’ve seen too many pictures to be sure. I can remember the big white claw footed tub with the soffit underlip painted deep red and the square white tiles with dark grout.
This is real memory and not simply construction, I’m sure. I can feel the cold and the smooth but still porous texture, the tiles and the porcelain were one continuous seamless pattern of feeling. There was a frosted glass transom, framed in dark stained wood and always open, above the bathroom door. Even then, one of my first memories, was seeing through things. I guess genetically, it makes sense. My dad was a civil engineer and my mom always has been a human empathy machine.
I was aware of the stairwell on the other side of the bathroom wall, to the east, though I did not know the name of the direction then. I was aware of the more modern tub upstairs directly above in the bathroom with the slanted ceiling, squeezed in under the roof eaves. I understood that the pipes ran in the wall, in between. I imagined them when I was running my very tiny chubby hand and fingers along the wall on my way up that flight. Some nights walking, some nights carried. We moved when I was four, just before I turned five. But I remember.
So, too, a vivid and real memory of my mother yelling at my not yet step-sister, aged two, insisting she speak. And my sister’s refusal. My role to deliver messages across the middle. The middle between them where the communication was gridlocked, less broken and more crowded to the point of total clog.
My sister. Before our parents were together, when they were with our other parents and we each still had our own, only-child household. My sister had every pet you could imagine. Inside and out of the house. They roamed through the sliding glass patio door into the den and back out again, onto the deck. Even the chickens. My stepfather says his failure to kill the rooster was the root cause of his first marriage’s doom. Which is odd since that was the very first necessary hurdle standing before his remarriage to my mother. Whom he says he always loved. So, no wonder. No wonder all this talk of marital success and failure still seems arbitrary and confusing. But my sister had her chickens and ducks and cats and dogs and lizards and fish and turtles and mice and hamsters and pretty much everything but ferrets and milk cows. She didn’t have a pot bellied pig but I know she had a baby squirrel once and it still seems like she had a skunk with the stink glands removed, though I may have dreamed that one up for a game of pretend. Because I was there, too, at her house. Before their divorce, our parents were best friends as couples.
My sister who is still to this day surrounded with every kind of pet you can imagine night and day. She is a doctor of veterinary medicine with a degree from the top school in the states and she has a lovely salaried position in a private small animal practice. Best of course is how good she is at it, along with how much she loves it. She has chickens and cats and dogs and three daughters under the age of ten, at home too.
In the last year, she has helped me euthanize two deeply loved pets. And she is so soft and strong and sad and good at it all at once. I think death is the only time I’ve ever seen her cry. She is quiet about it.
I think she is more aware inside herself than me of the way she is tethered and woven in with the world. I think animals bring an understanding of the invisible, inescapable connections. I think that, like me, she is misunderstood in today’s world. In return though, she understands herself and the world much better than I ever could. She is taller than me but her feet reach down into the ground.