My sister comes to visit in two days.
I can hardly sleep, I’m so excited. So many ideas of things to do, things I want to show her, things I want to talk about. When I drive around the city, I see all the places I want to show her, all the hidden corners I’ve found, the places I’ve made memories. I want to pore over every minute of history I have from the last four years here, the discoveries and adventures and flares of joy that built my life.
She knows a lot of it already. We talk often, several times a week usually, sometimes less. We have been close like this most of our adult lives, though not really as kids. She was more my favorite babysitter than my sister when we were kids.
She’s coming out to the West Coast to teach a figure drawing class in Seattle this weekend. First, she’ll spend a day in Portland with me, then we’ll drive up through the rain to Seattle for the weekend. I’ve got Friday all mapped out, which naturally means we will do all different things I haven’t even thought of, because that’s how life is with my sister. Unpredictable. A whirlwind. Time with her is an exciting adventure.
In truth, however, I feel like she’s been here all along. Certainly in the arts center where I work, I feel her presence down every hallway. The smell of oil paints and acrylics, the figure drawing class with the live models, the gallery full of art where I keep envisioning her work. I imagine her in the print studio, up to her elbows in ink, cuts on her fingers from carving linoleum or wood, glasses sliding down her nose as she concentrates on making the image perfect.
Then there are the artists who surround me every day, the energetic and energizing creative thinkers who rush in and out of my work space every day, their minds churning with the projects they’re working on, or the class they’re about to teach. They are a version of the absent-minded professor, hands caked in clay or nicked by metalworking tools, clothes informal and intended for grimy work. While I fell into this job through working at the music center, it feels some days like I’m only there so I can be closer to her.
We’re different in some essential ways. She’s a crazy talented professional artist, and I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. That’s not an exaggeration; ask my kids. Ask my coworkers. But this is not a skill I mourn, because I got music and writing, so my artistic dance card is full.
At this point, my sister would say “Straight lines are overrated.” Easy to say when your crooked lines create such moving works of art.
She has worked as a professional carpenter, literally built with her own two hands the addition to her Victorian house, including the studio in which she works.
I have not.
She has earned a living with her art; I have largely held full-time jobs and done piano and writing on the side. She has six kids, I have three. She is comfortable living in noise and chaos. I need quiet and seclusion. She comes alive in a group of people, smiling and talking and laughing. I watch from the fringe, listening and absorbing.
She jumps in with both feet, throwing herself at whatever task has set her on fire. I weigh my options, plotting out how and when and where I’m going to do something, taking stock and making spreadsheets.
But when we get together, we are our own entity, a matched set. Snow White and Rose Red, as our mother called us, from the old storybook. We have the same laugh, the same voice, the same eyes. She knows everything there is to know about me. I know (I think) all there is to know about her. In that space of openness and trust, I’m free and happy. We talk and laugh until our jaws quake. We cry a fair bit too.
We drive each other crazy, but we’ve figured out how to move past the irritants and back to closeness. It’s another revelation of the last few years; figuring out the “how” of maintaining and improving imperfect relationships.
She’s been by my side through almost every difficult moment I have had since becoming an adult. For the next four days, we come together just for fun, and just us two, no kids, no family event to fret and attend, no interruptions or commitments except her weekend class.
We have a day to play in my new city, a road trip to talk and sing and play “would you rather,” and another city to explore.
It’s the best play date I could imagine.