“I’ve named them, you know?” “Who?” “The squirrels that keep coming to the stoop. I’ve named them.” “You have, have you? Let’s hear the names!” “Darryl & Delilah.”
MacKenzie’s older sister shoots her an odd look — one that questions her name-choosing skills, but the younger sibling stands her ground.
“Darryl & Delilah!? Mack, why on earth would you . . .”
“It’s simple. Remember that song Mommy used to sing when I was like 5? The one by Billy Joel, ‘Just the Way You Are’? I hear that song every time I see them running around, gathering acorns, and hoarding them under the flower pot on our stoop. Their names fit them. They seem like a happy couple — one that can’t live without each other.”
Misha stares at her kid sister in total disbelief. She can’t believe what’s coming out of her mouth, but then again, she thinks it’s best not to question 11-year-old girls whose parents recently divorced. She continues to listen without judgment.
“I see Mommy and Daddy in them. Mommy rushing to gather all the acorns. Daddy hustling to the stoop to lift the flower pot so Mommy can place the acorns there. They make a great team!”
And then the tears fall. Misha watches her kid sister turn into a mush-mouth full of anger and resentment and pent-up sadness on the corner of Circle Way and Todd St. Divorce isn’t simply dividing their family, it is changing them in ways they never thought it would. MacKenzie is anthropomorphizing the squirrels in the neighborhood now. What’s next?!
“Mack . . . it’s okay to cry. You know that, right? It’s okay to just cry. You don’t have to make up stories or see Mom and Dad in the squirrels that use our stoop for storage. You can just . . . cry.”
MacKenzie shifts her thinking head to the left, bats her lashes slowly, and leans into her sister’s personal space. She whispers . . .
“I know. But it hurts less when I make up stories.”
Misha pulls her sister into a tight embrace, smooths back the wispy hair from her eyes, and kisses her forehead.
My kid sister probes me for information. She needs to know more about me. Our upbringing was an odd one. I’m more of a mother-figure to her than a big sister; with 19 years separating us, she “ma’ams” me rather than “Ooh, girl” or “Child, pleases” me and it just seems weird.
She urges me to open up, to share, but I’m not really the type to complain more than I need to or give more of me than I should. I’ve learned who to shed skin with and who not to and this isn’t to say that my sister isn’t to be trusted, no, that’s not it. I’m just . . . careful now.
I want to vent sometimes to her, I want her to hear me when I’m in distress, yet there’s this overwhelming feeling to protect her too even if it’s from me. She assures me she’s old enough to digest what I dole out but I’m hesitant.
I’ve lived a far different life and my demons tend to follow me along my sacred paths and my sister is still growing, still learning. I don’t want her to know the me that drives people away. I’m still working on that me. I need her around.
I’d hate for her to be one more person I find myself chasing after; another heart to grip. People want you to strip bare, stand naked before them, but many of them aren’t ready for the curves and folds and two-toned skin. They just want to see more of you even if more of you isn’t beautiful.
It’s one more thing they can hang over your head, dangle like a dagger, cut you to the quick. I’m trying. I swear, I am. I ask her to be patient with me, to understand — I have a way and my way is comforting. I can’t be rushed.
She understands. Thank God in heaven. She understands.
I wonder who has told you. If you know. If you’ve always known. If you want to know. I think about the right moment to say something, casually bring it up, but there’s nothing casual about coming out — again. I know you should hear it from me, but I am dragging my feet as it has been hard getting them from up under me — I have been sitting on them for too long. You should have known years ago or at least, in October when I told our brothers or when our father called and I confirmed what he already knew in January. Every time I dance around the subject of repeating those words again and this time, to you, I get an ache in my heart. My eyes water. My soul screams.
Everything in me stops.
I see you, but not the woman you are now, more like the infant-to-toddler that you were years ago and I want to hold you close and sing “You are my sunshine” until my throat becomes sore. I suspect that the task has been completed by someone else and you were not given the opportunity to hear me — see me as I spoke those words to you. I hope it hasn’t. I hope I still have time. I tend to sit on precious things, cover them up, then release them when everyone has stopped worrying about the potential harm they can cause. It has always been easiest for me, this method. I am learning to not lean into fear or hide behind it as much as I used to.
You don’t seem to have this issue, but then again, I have only watched you grow up from a distance. Much of my teenage to early adult life was lived before you even began to figure out things on your own. That’s what a nineteen-year gap does to sisters. It pushes them apart without either one knowing it is happening. I can call. I can text. I can pop up at important events. I can do all of this on a whim simply because you ask for my presence, but I can’t even tell you what presses on me more than anything.
I live with the thought of you daily. . . If you’re safe. If you’re learning how to maneuver through life and in the world without someone holding your hand. If your third year of college, now that you’re experiencing it, will strengthen you as much as mine did. You are strong, this is undeniable, but you have been sheltered. If I tell you, will you break? If I don’t, will you do so even more?
“Truly, my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” Psalms 62, 1–2 NKJV
I have missed about twenty Sundays in a row. To sit and count them, to think that my body hasn’t met a pew in over three months, causes me distress, but every time I tell myself that I am going to get it in gear, Sunday arrives, and I sleep in longer than planned. I find peace at my church — strength. I feel what I need to and when I need to there, but my body won’t let me move. My heart won’t, either. I have no idea why. You checked on me first thing in the morning, the other day — said you could not start your day without sending me a note. I missed it. Nearly most of my day went by before seeing your message and by that time, I let the toll of my workday cost me change.
I shared with you my emotions, how I’d been in and out of crying fits, how I am in therapy. This concerned you. You instantly began to worry. You wanted to call me and these days, I don’t welcome phone conversations like I used to. I told you that I was okay, that I’d be fine, I’d only answered your question. I wonder if being too upfront with you will cause you pain or sadness. But, I am growing and learning that I can no longer bite my tongue or hold in what needs to be said based on what the other person may feel when my feelings are expressed. I cannot control the emotions of others. I can only move forward when I feel it’s best to.
There is time. There will be time. I feel that it is nearing. I’d much rather the opportunity to sit you down in my favorite coffee spot, buy your drink and danish of choice, and talk — really talk. I want to sit and be with you, big sister to little sister and spill out what we need to. There are things you have always wanted to share with me and I have things I need to share with you, but distance is our enemy. It won’t be for long. I write. It’s what I do and I have written you a letter. You can sit with my words and I can come out again without even opening my mouth to tell you in person.
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