I was raised by an older sister, Mary Ann, who hated me. There are no in-roads between us. Not even the long journey from childhood to old age has altered its razor-sharp edge. There is nothing in this lifetime that can explain the on-going hatred in our pairing. I have searched for its root without success, because a sister is a precious thing to me. I extended my hand for decades, until my friends finally convinced me to stop trying. You can’t make friends with a rattlesnake, Karen. Give it up!
When my mother’s second husband, Joe, died, I flew east to console her. It was the first time Mary Ann and I had slept under the same roof since childhood. We rode to the funeral together, but when the service was over the family car was gone. I stood alone in the church, stranded. Outside I found a neighbor willing to give me a ride. This was typical of Mary Ann’s smiling calculated treachery. Mary Ann told me you’d gone home with someone else, my mother said.
In the evening, my mother asked that I go into Joe’s room and take whatever my son or husband might find useful. Joe was a large man, so I couldn’t imagine there would be much, but I agreed. I’d barely closed the door when Mary Ann appeared, her eyes arctic and fixed. What do you think you’re doing in here? My heart beat like a robber in the night. I repeated the instructions from our mother without result. Get Out, she screamed, her veins standing up like small ropes in her neck, her face red with rage.
Look, there is work to be done here, I insisted. Let’s do it together and help her out.
She could not hear. There is no help in you scavenging through a room you don’t belong in, so you can take things that are not yours.
There was a time as adults when she’d let that anger go, thrown me to the floor, pressed her hands around my throat and voiced her desire to kill me. I am grateful for whatever gossamer thread of sanity held her back.
No, I said. This is something mom asked me to do and I will do it. Come. Follow me. Hear with your own ears.
My mother was resting on the couch, exhausted from grief. Mary Ann stood in front of her demanding justice. Karen has no right in that room. Tell her so. I expected my mother to bring a voice of reason to our disagreement, but she did not. Instead she said, now girls don’t fight, as if we were small children having an innocent argument.
I did not go back inside Joe’s room again. I went to bed, throwing off the web of sleep to remain vigilant. My flight left the next morning and I was eager to be on it. I was thinking about what a consistently dark presence my sister has been in my life, when the air seemed to split open. I noticed a large black bird flying too close to my car, its wingspan enormous. It flew low and turned whenever the car turned. I had never seen a bird do that before. In a moment of recognition, I realized the bird embodied the spirit of my sister. I drove slowly, looked skyward and knew. It’s you, isn’t it? With those words the bird changed direction, flew toward my windshield, pooped all over it and left.