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Commentary : Sister Still Gives the Healing Hug

<i> Patricia Weston is a free</i> -<i> lance writer in Newport Beach</i>

A seven-year void was about to be broken. I was preparing to meet a sister that I had not been close to since I was 13 years old.

My middle sister was away at college as I helped my parents pack for a move to the West Coast. As she became involved in college life I prepared to spend my teen-age years in a new place. It seemed to be the beginning of many changes in our lives.

A year later at father’s funeral we clung to each other, perhaps realizing that the closeness of our childhood years was being affected by time and the crisises of adult living.

My sister married, and I began high school. We each became involved in our discoveries and life styles. As I began college, my mother’s death suddenly brought our lives into tight focus again, and we searched each other’s hearts for comfort. We sat in a post-funeral daze, and I listened to her accounts of married life, a house they bought and her latest job.

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As a growing adult my own stories seemed to revolve around dorm life, worries about grades and guys--could the Beatles, school gossip and shared secrets have provided the hours of animated conversation I remembered? Why did it seem like every minute had been full of laughter, teasing and the fun of hanging out with a big sister? What a contrast with the present--each of us older, dressed in black and in many ways strangers to each other.

A plane whisked my sister back to the East Coast, and it was not until several years passed that we found ourselves together again.

This time it was not tragedy that brought us together but a mutual desire to feel close and discover what changes had taken place with us. As I wrote a letter to her one day, I wondered--who in the world am I writing to? My memory was of a slightly overweight bespectacled girl that would rather read a book than attend a dance. As the youngest child, I was full of energy and capriciousness. My middle sister and I fell into the roles of giver and taker. She was the soothing voice that appeased my mother’s ire at me and was the healing hug when the world seemed upside down.

As an adult it occurred to me that I had never listened to her stories as often as I should, ran off with friends as she read on the porch and tended to write only sporadically in the busy self-centered years of adolescence. But we were now a far cry from our childhood roles. Her letters hinted of marital problems and depression, and as my career pressures increased, I was not the light-hearted prankster I had been. Sadly, I wondered if too much time had come between us. And then one day she unexpectedly called and said “I’m coming out to see you.”

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As I drove to the airport I felt a nagging anxiety that we might have grown apart to the point that we had nothing beyond a genetic similarity in common. I reminded myself that I couldn’t make up for lost time, only make the best of what the present time offered. Waiting for the plane, my emotions ranged from nervous energy to near hysteria. The plane taxied to a stop, and I watched the gate intently.

She was older but still peered from wire-rim glasses and dressed with the air that said she pleased no one but herself. After long hugs, our initial conversation was fast-paced and informational: we caught up on generalities. As I drove, my sister watched the conglomeration of traffic and the passing California landscape. Her home was in the semi-rural area of Pennsylvania that bordered on Amish country--I smiled to think that our differences even extended to geographic area.

We sat on the beach near my house and watched the sunset. My sister began to talk about her life. The frustrations of a pending divorce, job pressures, and mid-30s uncertainty unfolded as she poured out her feelings to me. Her admission changed the focus of the whole visit. I was relieved that she sought and accepted my advice, and I felt that I had relinquished my role of little sister for good. We cried together, and I hoped my hug conveyed the same comfort her arms had always given me.

During the next few days, we felt occasional slips into our old roles of sisterhood. “I like who I am now,” I commented. She agreed. And we had even more to laugh about and share together than before. Her visit ended all too soon, and we were at the airport, watching each other closely and wondering when we would see each other again. Our lives were on different courses, and jobs, personal relationships and other obligations made time a scarce commodity. I vowed to write more often. She teased about buying stamps for me to use. Then she was gone, and I was walking through a busy terminal fighting back tears. People hurrying past didn’t know I had regained something I thought I had lost. But my sister knew, and this visit would be the start of a new, deeper relationship for us. In my happiness I felt like a kid again--only better.

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