I spent almost twenty-four hours with my sister this weekend. We never do this. We’ve never done anything like this. My sister has lived up north for almost a year, a two hour train ride to Grand Central. She’s never been to New York before. This time I was making sure she got to see a little of the city. As I was shuttling from JFK to Manhattan, she was on the train. We were headed towards each other, meeting far from both of our homes. She had no idea where she was going, and neither did I, quite honestly. In fact it was Dan who had to tell Bosie how to get there, which train to take and when. I’m getting better, but there are still times when this place is a mystery to me.
I didn’t recognize her at Grand Central. That’s how rarely we get to spend time together. I saw her over Thanksgiving, but other than that I hadn’t seen her since my wedding. She was walking right towards me and I didn’t know. She teased me, but she didn’t know it broke my heart that I had to do a double take, that the first thing I thought was, “That’s right. That’s what she looks like. More like me than I ever realize.”
We walked back to my place to get her a hat, coat and scarf, because she came into the city wearing only a hoodie. Once sufficiently bundled we found a place to eat and drink beer.
“I can’t remember ever doing this.”
“Just you and me somewhere. Anywhere. Can you think of us ever being alone together, out somewhere?”
“Maybe when you lived in Austin?”
“No. Always had either your boyfriend or mine around. Or Mom.”
“That is sad.”
“This is fun. I’m having lots of fun with you.”
This is when I learn new things about my sister, things we have in common. We both hate Christmas carols. “Pam, they make me want to stab someone in the back of the neck with a pencil.” Everywhere we went all night there’d be normal music, and then two songs in it would change to Christmas carols. We knew we were causing this. In bars. In stores. In cabs. No matter where we were, the carol would follow. There was one that drove my sister crazy, something with the lyric “Oh, by gosh, by golly,” or something like that. She sounded like Eeyore when she sang it, frustrated at how stupid it was.
“It’s like, they just add the word ‘Christmas’ or ‘Jesus’ to it and now it’s a Christmas carol. Like, ‘Oh, heavenly barstool.’ There was one that was about a freaking smile. Like, just about someone’s smile? Like how now it’s Christmas because someone smiled? Whatever. Whatever. Not everything means Christmas. Gah.”
We ate everything and walked everywhere. We explored New York in the wintertime like tourists. Saw the big tree. Watched a man propose on the ice skating rink.
“So, what, we’ll just hail this cab?”
“Yeah. Although I think that guy is trying to hail it in front of us.”
“If that guy tries to steal our cab, I’ll kick him. Yes, hello, sir. I mean you. Okay, get in. We got the cab.”
It was the most I’d learned about my sister in years. It was the longest conversation we’ve ever had, and it made me feel so much better about her.
“You could live out here.”
“I could live in LA, too.”
“You could. You absolutely could.”
We took the subway down to Washington Square Park. We walked and ate and walked and drank. Someone asked her for directions. She said she wasn’t from here and then gave me that, “I got mistaken for a New Yorker!” smile we all give the first timeit happens.
“Okay, I only have two Netflix movies.”
“What are they?”
“Breaking Away and Silkwood.”
“Those sound terrible.”
“I don’t think you’ll like them.”
“I didn’t finish.”
“You said enough. What’s Breaking Away?”
“Um, something about a kid who wants to be an Italian bicyclist?”
“Uh-huh. Go back to Cher.”
“I think she’s not really in it? And I think she gets cancer because of plutonium?”
“Jesus. Let’s try the cancer movie.”
We eat snacks in the middle of the night. We make big plans for houses we don’t own. We try to figure out how she can get more money and live the life she wants to live.
“Hey, Mom. Yeah, meet me at the station at six. Huh? No, we tried to watch a movie, but after an hour nobody got cancer so we decided to go to sleep instead.”
She still talks to every dog. She loves to quote stand-ups, often going into long routines she’s memorized. She never remembers their names. Just their jokes. When we wandered upon the Soup Nazi’s lair, she couldn’t have been happier. I took a picture of her pouting, having gotten no soup for her. We got followed at a high-end furniture store by a salesman who clearly felt we didn’t belong there. We took our sweet time, discussing every item, until we moseyed our way back to the door.
“Have a nice day, girls,” the salesman said.
“You too,” said my sister. “And I hope you enjoyed your walk.”
We bought each other tiny gifts, little souvenirs of our first and only trip we’ve ever taken together. We were celebrating her birthday.
“How old are you? Twenty-seven?”
“NO! How old are you, thirty-one?”
“Jeez. I can never remember.”
People do this all the time. My sister and I are always working. If she has two jobs, I have three. We haven’t lived in the same city since we were both living with our parents. We have always had very different lives. These are the excuses we give, but they aren’t good enough anymore.
The money, the flight, the train, the cabs, the walking, the time, the energy, the money I had to save, everything that came together to make today possible was worth that moment when we looked across a table at a dark bar and smiled the same smile.