Some of my earliest memories in life are of us fighting. Well, not necessarily us fighting – they are usually of me being downright mean to her. Unprovoked. One way. Just mean.
My earliest memory actually goes back to a time when I don’t remember. My dad had an audio tape of me and my sisters made when we were little. I imagine him with his long, jet black hair, thick rimmed glasses (the kind that came back into style 30 years later), and I-just-worked-a-double-shift-at-the-hospital exhaustion. The audio is of two little girls; one older child is talking about school. The smaller child is talking about how her cousin, J.J., had given her buhh-bllle gum. A cute, adorable, precious, angelic infant voice — okay, ME — is heard in the background. At that point, my sister’s smaller voice screams, “Baby Liza. Beee qu-IIII-eet! I’m talking about my buhh-bllle gum!”
That was our first fight. Caught on tape.
I remember being around age 7, Grace was age 10, and sweeping the floor in the kitchen. Grace was clearing the dinner table. We must have been arguing about something — probably something absolutely stupid — when my mom pulled us both by the ears and dragged us into our shared bedroom (scenario for sibling rivalry #134057). She told us to lie face down. Bums exposed. And spanking commenced. Through my tears, I looked over at Grace. She was stoic. I was pissed. I’m not sure what lesson my mom was trying to teach us at that moment, or if she just needed to let us know how tired she was of us bickering.
In high school, I treated Grace less like my sister and more like my chauffer. After all, she did have her driver’s license. Isn’t that what sisters-with-licenses are for? When I was in the 8th grade, there was something wrong with the plumbing in our house, and I made Grace get up every morning and drive me to my friend, Cindy’s, house just so I could shower. After Grace dropped me off, she went back home to sleep for another hour. I never did ask her how she got ready for school during those weeks. Selfishly, I didn’t care. All I cared about was what time she was going to give me the next ride.
When I was in 9th grade, and Grace was a senior, I told her that I hated her. I looked her in the eyes, coldly spit out those three words, and stormed off. The next morning, I found a Hallmark card on top of my white desk drawer. “I’m sorry that you hate me, Liza. I’m not sure why we can’t be good sisters to each other. Please know that I don’t hate you. I love you.”
I was a cold hearted ass. I read the card and moved on. Later that night, Grace asked me if I had seen her card. “Yeah, thanks,” was all I was mature enough to say. I wasn’t even nice enough to pretend. To lead her on. Or to say nothing. I simply responded in the most heartless and thoughtless way I possibly could.
There truly isn’t enough server space to write down all the ways I’ve been mean to my sister. Being an absolute insensitive jerk when her friend died in high school. Being a heartless witch when she didn’t get into her first choice college. Making her massage my back and then running off when it was my turn to massage hers. Yelling at her when she was simply trying to find creative ways to entertain my immuno-surpressed child who couldn’t go out and play in the snow (this resulted in my entire bedroom being covered in baby powder– Grace wanted to simulate snow… in my room.. by letting Joli throw powder all over the place…).
Most of the time, my sister’s crazy antics are mildly entertaining. Like the time she spilled hot wax all over my kitchen counters because she didn’t realize how hot the Sally Jensen microwave wax container got after over-heating it. Or, the time when she said she wasn’t sure how my kids got their clothes wet (I later found the video tape of her telling the kids they could lie down in the puddles in my driveway). Or, when I asked her to not let our 140 dog be treated like a human, only to find that he was actually hidden under the covers of her bed and snuggling like a giant teddy bear while I was saying this.
Then, there are pure Grace moments that are just priceless: When she makes Yam-o-llow for Thanksgiving Dinner, or the fact that she is my reliable partner for late night ice cream cravings, or that she is the only member of my family who will actually call me back. Grace is also the one who is always up for some obscure documentary about some equally obscure topic, and then when it’s done, wants to know which episode of Entourage is on TiVo. She is the first to walk into a party and say, “I thought this was a no-presents party” and then say, “Surprise! I got you a gift! It’s … a… sweet potato!” She thinks to invite everyone on her adventures — like, to a goat farm, to an animal sanctuary where there are 3 legged dogs and a horse with diagnosed depression.
When I think of Grace, I laugh. The laugh comes right up from my belly, through my chest, and is audible from across the room. I picture her laying on my couch with a book pressed up against her face. When I think of Grace, I see her playing on the floor surrounded by my kids, my nieces, my nephews. I chuckle when I hear her voice over the phone say, “Hey, Liza. Happy honeymoon. What you guys doing?” (true story: Grace actually called me on the first night of my honeymoon….that’s just Grace).
I picture Grace wearing a table cloth that my sister Mary gave her one year. Grace wore it to class — not as a student; as a professor. And, not as a table cloth; as a scarf.
I still see Grace with her blue LL Bean back pack that has the letters “G-R-A-C-E” embroidered on the back. That was her backpack from her freshman year in college (15 years ago). Only a year ago did she finally retire it — and replaced it with an aqua blue back pack.
Of all the memories — both visual and audible — of Grace, I do not have a memory of her after her mastectomy. I didn’t visit her in the hospital. I didn’t see her after her surgery. And, I never saw her after her recovery. I’m not sure why it was so difficult for me then, and now, to see her breasts. She, of course, has offered to show them to me many, many times. Sometimes I feel like I should have a pouch of Mardi Gras beads in my pocket for every time she offers. And, while I haven’t seen my sister, Mary’s, breasts either, I know that there was a logic for her to have them removed — she had cancer, the cancer was invading her body, she had her breasts removed.
But, for Grace, and soon, for me, her breasts were removed without any previous cancer. Some days, I think removing my breasts is such an obvious decision. Some days, I think this is just the most ridiculous decision to ever have to make. Removing parts of my body is never something I imagined having to do.
Grace has always been by my side throughout my life. We are together in birth order, we shared a room for years, and we both survived unimaginable life challenges as small children. She ran my first 10K with me, went to Camp Sunshine for the first time with me, and accompanied me on many of Joli’s chemo appointments and EUA’s. At every turn in my life — both exciting and devastating — Grace has been by my side. She is always thoughtful and insightful, caring and compassionate, interesting and interested.
My sister Grace is the best of both worlds: She is tough and sweet, brilliant and clueless, concrete and creative, strong and sensitive. But, at her core, she is undeniably, unequivocally, my own Amazing Grace.
Happy thirty-skjdhsdkg-kjskdbeb-ish birthday, G! I love you!
Peace, love, and thank God you’ll hit “40” before I will,