A trip to visit my nephew during Family Weekend in Rhode Island kept us crammed in my sister’s car for hours. After a long workweek, Joann and I loaded up the car with duffel bags and our children. Meant to be a short road trip, to support AJ’s dream to play college basketball, another journey unfolded. With every mile gained, and moment elapsed, I collected pieces of my sister and I along the way.
Forced by DNA to walk the same terrain, siblings bare witness to your childhood, and though the markers might be different, the road indeed is the same.
“How much longer?” I groaned.
“She has to go up every aisle at least twice before she’s done,” Gabi rolled her eyes.
“Ugh.” I stared as indigo spilled across the sky. Late in the afternoon, a reminder that fall crept in the air, snatched the leaves off the tree, and stole daylight. I sighed.
Joann loved to shop with the same passion that I hated it.
“What could she be looking for?” My niece shook her head, exasperated. “It’s a campus bookstore.”
“Maybe she will get me a book,” I chuckled. Joann loved books as much as I did shopping. I turned to my niece, sixteen, almost seventeen, Gabi was the same age I stopped talking to my sister. Two years and a half apart, Joann and I were often mistaken as twins when we were young. Both of us wore glasses, our curls rested down our backs like frayed ropes, and our too wide foreheads resembled potatoes. “Do you know that your mother and I didn’t talk for four years?”
“Really?” The shock in Gabi’s voice reached to the backseat, where my daughter and son sat. I caught a glimpse of Holden and Ruben’s surprise in the rear view mirror, a gaped mouth and an arched eyebrow.
“Yes, really.” I answered. No one was more shocked when Joann and I stopped talking, than I was. It was as if we had run out of words, and the only thing that settled between us was silence.
Most of our childhood we laid beside each other on twin beds, as the light from the Avenue lamppost cut across the room and cast shadows, slivers neither dark nor light. In the stillness of the night we spoke aloud our dreams. I wanted to be rich and famous, and live in a fancy house. My imagination drew me to what didn’t exist in my life, sure that the opposite guaranteed happiness. Joann wished for simple things. I frowned at her lack of creativity. She wanted to have a wedding on News Year’s Eve, and lots of kids.
And, as her voice poured into the air all those nights ago, I laid on my back, my arm around my red haired Cabbage Patch doll, and wonder how Joann and I could be so different.
Decades later the same thought echoed my mind. “We’ve always been so different,” I answered.
Up ahead, Joann walked towards the direction of the car, a bag in hand. “I got you something.” She pulled a T-shirt from the bag.
And before I protested, Joann tossed the shirt towards me.
“So we all have matching t-shirts.” Joann was matter of fact.
It was true everyone wore matching t-shirts for the weekend with the college name imprinted in the center. In an effort to spend less I had skipped buying one for myself. I slipped the shirt over my head, and stepped out of the car to model. Strutted around the parking lot, spun in my heels, and shook my ass. It had long become my role to act silly in order to make those around me laugh, and love me. Joann’s face never faltered from the mixed expression of boredom and annoyance. But, a short smile pressed itself against her mouth for the briefest second.
Later, a plum purple color slid across the sky. And as we drove, I told Joann my dreams as a writer, and the many things I wanted to do as a writer. The lights of the headlights flooded the car, and in the shadows Joann whispered her dreams too.