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Unconditional love

The first people I loved were my mom and dad. I don’t remember this, but home movies and plenty of black-and-white pictures attest to the genuine devotion with which I toddled towards their open arms.

And then my sister was born. 

We are 19 months apart. Her presence ended my brief tenure as an only child. I’m not sure what my still-developing brain was thinking (my mother claims that I tried to roll my infant sister off the bed), but at some point, I realized that the mewling little bundle would make a good colleague, a co-conspirator against the grown-ups.

My mother aided our partnership by dressing us like teammates: there we are in 1964, in matching sailor dresses in front of the Veteran’s Monument in High Point, New Jersey, and there we are again on 8-mm film, smiling and waving with our white-gloved hands in our Jackie Kennedy-inspired suits, circa 1966, as we clutch our Easter baskets.

We did not fully understand what unconditional love was when we were children, and yet we practiced it almost every day through our devotion to one another. Together, we established elaborate make-believe lives where we worked as secretaries or cashiers (we were oddly enamored of typewriters and cash registers), and we conscripted schemes from Disney movies—we were always looking for a wealthy neighborhood widow who might require our help and then leave us her fortune. We went rogue as Girl Scouts and did the things we wanted to do in the handbook like making paint by smashing rocks on the garage floor using my dad’s good hammers.

Interestingly, we are not alike in many ways. And yet our differences always allowed us to be distinctive in our play. We often pretended that our twin beds were wagon trains on the road west. My sister would describe hers as lavishly appointed with chandeliers and china. Mine was always sparsely furnished, with perhaps a few books to pass the time. But that gave us something to talk about as we drove our teams through the dusty “desert.”

On our first day of public school in California (after several years in Catholic school in New Jersey), my sister and I met at recess.

“These girls have such pretty sandals,” she said, as I stood pondering the reality that no one in my class knew how to do cursive handwriting but me.

And so it would go through adolescence: she always looking great—perfectly flipped strawberry blonde hair (á la Farrah Fawcett) and chic platform shoes, and me struggling with a mess of wavy curls, (a situation exacerbated by repeated Lilt Home Permanents) and notoriously-difficult-to-walk-in Earth Shoes.

And she was (and is) so brave—always willing to go on the fastest, tallest, craziest anything life had to offer, while I lingered on the sidelines like a nervous actuary, weighing the safety concerns of joining her on rickety carnival rides or in the deep end of the pool.

Through the years, our paths have diverged in many ways—we even have two more sisters who we love dearly—but always there has been the special bond between us, the one that allows us to pick up the phone, no matter how many miles or minutes-since-the-last-call stretch between us and still be friends.

We shared the measles, the mumps, the chicken pox and a bedroom for 15 years. We’ve shared a bond of unconditional love for a lifetime.

 

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