This is a phrase I likely knew before I could talk. I probably heard it before I was born when, my mother balancing baby girl over burgeoning stomach, people asked. My mother and father both probably said it countless times at the playground, at the church, in the grocery store.
“How far apart are they?”
My older sister was born in March, and I came nineteen months later, in October, and soon that spread meant nothing to me. We were, as far as I could tell, the same age.
For a while there was a size difference, to be sure, but often as not we were dressed alike anyway. We have countless pictures to prove it. We had matching bedspreads, matching slippers for Christmas (hers were pink, mine red), matching little suitcases the year we moved to Japan.
I probably could have waited another year to start kindergarten, but “you were ready,” my mother says– and Meghan was already going, of course. That was likely enough to motivate me: Meghan went; why should I stay home? I wanted to do what she did.
She did most things first, as was appropriate. She learned to ride a two-wheeler and then I learned (we had matching bikes). She learned to read first, and to swim. She was always a grade ahead, always a year. Once I complained, “Every time I almost catch up to Meghan, she has another birthday.” Our mother laughed.
We shared a room. At night in the dark, we sometimes reached across the gap between our beds and held hands. Or this: “Becky?” “Yes?” (pause). “I just wanted to know if you were awake.” And the reverse, too. Often as not, I was the one asking.
We had different friends and did different things, but we always walked to the bus stop together in high school. It was a real protest that one time she was so mad at me that she left the house alone, refusing to wait. I likely deserved it.
A plain fact about being a kid: no matter how many adults ask you what you’ll do when you grow up; no matter how often, in high school, you mull over college decisions, you mostly earnestly believe that you’ll never grow up.
And then, suddenly, you do.
We were pregnant together, Meghan and I: she with her first, I with my second. The babies were born one month and twenty days apart and also more than 4000 miles. She had her second baby– a second daughter– nineteen months after the first. And nine months later, I had Emma.
Still more than 4000 miles away. Funny the difference this doesn’t make.
The distance has no bearing whatsoever on the essential things. We both, for instance, make scones and invite people over to eat them. We love words and work to expand our vocabularies. We are critical readers. We are experts at laundry. We like to exercise but aren’t married to it; we like making well-rounded meals for our families. We laugh more together than when we’re apart. We love our husbands; and we each of us are wounded in that way that having children wounds you: alive in crazy-sensitive ways to the needs and growth and vicissitudes of our children.
And we carry similar things. There’s that time we crept out of bed in the wee hours of a Christmas morning and would swear to you up and down that the giant metal sledding saucer leaning by the tree was the eye of an enormous monster. The way that Steve Smaney teased us in grade school. The grinding of the school bus’s gears as we made our way up impossibly steep hills in Pittsburgh. The impossibly steep hills in Pittsburgh. Dancing after dark in the family room. Tales of Quickfoot and Lightfoot. Swimming in the Grehl’s pool. The sound of the leaves in the Long Island summer. Clams on the half-shell. Innumerable things more.
Sometimes she’ll ask me and our sister Emily: “What does this remind you of?”
Always, there is a right answer, and 4000 miles has no bearing on this whatsoever.
We visited them in March, traveling over 4000 miles in order to enter their world– a rare treat. The differences in our lives, created by those miles and a drastic difference in latitude, are Significant.
And also, not at all.
Before I left, I photocopied recipes. She showed me the materials she uses in making her beautiful scrapbooks. And we just generally made certain, over the course of that week, that we’d had a taste of what it means to be them, living there, like they do.
This serves to make what differences we do have seem somewhat, at least, smaller.
And it revived, in all the very best ways, the ways in which we are alike. There are so many.
As a lark, I mapquested it, just to see. From my front door to hers, 74 hours and 58 minutes, by car. It’s a long trip, to be sure, but you can definitely get there from here. And of course there’s texting and telephones and Skype. We do avail ourselves of these.
And then, of course, there’s the rest of it– the things that being sisters means even when the time difference and the dead battery in the phone make actual immediate contact impossible.
Of all the people in the entire universe of people, I can only say this of two: she’s my sister.
It would easily take me nineteen months to just begin to count the ways in which I’m glad.