My sister and I have the same eyes. Eerily identical. The same bright green – like elementary-school-crayon green – with a thick, dark outline and a hauntingly-yellow center. Sunflower eyes, my dad used to call them, that get clear – almost colorless – when we get excited.
It is the only thing we have in common.
Growing up, we were always complete opposites: She was always more solitary, preferring to spend nights in her room watching a movie where as I had to surround myself with people and action. As adults, it seems we have flipped roles. Her solitary nature means she needs a family to keep her company where as I, the more gregarious by nature, am perfectly content to tuck away on my own with a book or a newspaper.
That’s why this afternoon, I am alone in the front yard at my father’s lake house, twisting the thick-corded ropes on the wooden-plank swing and spinning in slow circles. And across the yard my sister is on her hands and knees at the edge of the driveway with her husband, son and daughter, scrawling colorful pictures across the pavement in sidewalk chalk.
They are the picture of a perfect family. But then, my sister has always been the picture of perfection.
“I’m worried about you,” I hear her say as my head is tilted back watching the leaves spin on the branch above my swing.
“Oh yeah?” I say, in a noncommittal tone. We’ve had this conversation before.
“Can you look at me please? This is important.” I lower my head and straighten myself on the swing, coming face to face with my beautiful older sister. “I’m worried that you aren’t taking this seriously.”
“Not taking what seriously?”
“Your life. You seem lost … lonely.”
“I am neither of those things,” I assure her and kick my feet away from the ground, continuing to swing.
“When are you going to settle down with a grown-up job and a family? Don’t you think it’s time?” she wants to know.
“Don’t know,” I say and shrug, squinting into the sun. It is a pretty autumn day, the sky is an endless row of cloud after cloud, lazily trailing above our heads.
“I just hate thinking that you’re lonely.”
“I’m not, I promise,” I tell her. She doesn’t understand when I say that I don’t mind being by myself – childless and without a husband. I think a bit of loneliness adds character. It can be good. I mean, Shakespeare didn’t write in a room full of people and Mozart didn’t compose with a crowd standing over his shoulder studying what he played.
But then again, solitary confinement drives people insane. Which is exactly why Shakespeare had that beard and why Mozart was so … insane.
“Sissy, some people think loneliness is a symptom of greatness,” I tell her. “And I think you should remember that. Because I can guarantee that one day in your lifetime you’ll be left by yourself and you’ll immediately contemplate the worst. But try not to. Try to be great.”
I watch as her face falls.
“I’m pregnant,” she tells me and my eyes snap to her, my feet dragging against the ground to slow my swing. “I don’t think my husband is happy about it.”
Words are flowing through my head – endless streams of them – but nothing seems to find its way out of my mouth.
“Congratulations,” I finally croak out, scooting over to let my sister sit down on the swing beside me. “A baby is good news,” I say and rest my head on her shoulder.
She only let out a heavy sight and started swinging us slowly. My sister and I have never been all that close. Our age difference meant she was more like a second mother to me than a best friend, a breeze of perfection that I constantly chased and tried to keep up with. My hair was always tangled, my knees scraped up, my clothes a little mismatched. My sister always smoothed out my wrinkles – the literal and figurative ones.
But on that swing today, I finally opened my eyes and saw us for what we were. I had always seen her as beautiful and perfect and pure. But she was just as flawed and wrinkled and scarred as I was. She wasn’t independent and head-strong. She was needy and lonely. She wasn’t brave. She was absolutely terrified.
“Hey,” I say. “A baby is good news. And I promise that your husband will be fine. He will always love you.”
“How do you know?” she asks quietly, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard my sister sound so unsure.
“Because with all of that man’s flaws, he knows how to love.”
“Hey!” my dad yells from the house. “You two are going to break that swing! It’s for the grandkids.”
My sister just laughs and tries to swing us higher.
“Oh, no way,” I say, dragging my feet until we stop. “Pregnant lady on board. We have to be safe.”
She just laughs and jumps of the swing, heading toward the house.
“Oh and Sissy,” I call after her, “I could never be lonely with all of these kids you insist on having.”
She just laughs and shakes her head. But I mean it.
“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
My sister and I will always be different. She will always tell me that my hair could use a brush, that my shoes are ugly, that I should eat more fruit. She will always worry that I am scatter-brained, non-committal and lonely. But I will do my best to be understanding. And to teach her that driving with the windows down is an effective hair-drying method. That pie is dessert, cake is dessert, kiwis are not.
And that with her around, I am far from lonely.