Dear Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I laughed nervously while talking to the neighbour today, it sounded like your laugh. I said something and I can’t even remember what it was, because I was too busy thinking how much I sounded just like you. As I gave a half of a grin I could feel that my face was doing exactly what yours used to do. Upper lip raised on the right side, eyebrows doing that thing. Remember when people used to guess we were twins? I never got that. You were two inches shorter than me, two sizes smaller than me, two shades darker than me, twenty-two months older than me, twenty-two pounds lighter than me. I used to agree more with the people who said we couldn’t possibly be sisters. Yet, here I am thinking I’ve heard your voice coming out of my own mouth.

Remember when we used to draw pictures of floor plans and say that we were going to live in a duplex with a door that connected the two places? Yet there was that year when we didn’t speak to each other even once. You told me I was going to go to Yale someday, you thought I was really smart. But one whole year out of the only twenty I was going to get with you, wasted in silence, seems pretty dumb to me.

Remember how we used to sing together? We would pretend to be stars on a stage, singing Little Richard’s version of Itsy Bitsy Spider and the whole of Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album. We were always singing. Why didn’t we sing more when we grew up?

Remember how you taught me to ride a bicycle? You took my training wheels off my Strawberry Shortcake bike and said you wouldn’t let go. I turned around to see if you were still holding on and you weren’t. I got mad, but then you told me how I didn’t need you holding on anyway, I’d done it all by myself. I never forgot that. Your confidence in me always outweighed my own.

Remember all the trouble we used to get into? That night we were in Adam’s car racing Mom back to the house on the back roads, only Mom didn’t know it was a race. That was so funny at the time, but so reckless.

I remember going to homecoming with you and your friends. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gone. Even though you said at the time I was only tagging along, and it hurt my feelings, I know now that you wouldn’t have taken me if you didn’t want me there.

There were times I hated you. And because I feel everything with such passion I remember once when I was fifteen swearing I wouldn’t care if you died. I’m so, so, so sorry I said that. I thought for sure you’d be there to welcome me into my twenties and thirties just like my teens, with your footprints always being two steps ahead of mine, but I didn’t know your timer didn’t have as much sand as mine. Yet that time I was sixteen and said I was going to kill myself (and thought I meant it) you stopped everything and called Dad in to yell at me until I got out of bed and kept going.

I let you down, Sarah. I was not as good as you. You might have been way more of a trouble maker than I was when we were kids, but when it really mattered, look who was the angel then. But me… I think I took you for granted.

I wish I had called more often. I wish I had spent more time with you. I look back now and I don’t know what I was doing wasting what time we had with so many people I don’t even speak to anymore.

I wish when I called home, your number could be one of the ones on the list. I wish you and I could get lost in daydreaming once more about how our futures would pan out, in juxtaposition because we’re sisters, and because of all the times we were all each other had.

I wish when friends talked about the day they just spent or the conversation they just had with their sister, I didn’t have to feel a blade of jealousy and sorrow piercing my chest.

I wish the new experiences I had with you weren’t confined to what happens when I’m asleep. But I don’t mean to be wishing those dreams away… I love them. I cherish them.

Like that dream where you were piloting a helicopter and you came and picked me up. You showed me the beauty of the city lights and the land and instead of taking it all in and laughing with you and your little half-grin with raised eyebrows, I turned to you and said, “Why did you leave me? Don’t you know I needed you?”

And all you did was look at me with that familiar facial expression that I knew was saying, Well, what do you want me to do about it? It’s happened now.

It’s happened now.

It’s…

happened. Past tense?

But don’t you know you’re not just something that happened?

You are part of me, Sarah. When my lip raises and my eyebrows do that thing, I can feel my face becomes yours. When I do that nervous laugh, that’s your laugh.

For all the times we played together, made trouble together, daydreamed together, laughed, fought, stood together… those were the things that made me.

I want you to come and hold this bicycle again. But even though I’ve been riding for the past six-and-a-half years on my own, and I know you think I can do it, I’m still mad. There’s no more of your footprints in front of mine.

But there are supposed to be two.

If you were here I’d sing with you. I’d do all the reckless tagging along you wanted. I’d do whatever it took to build that home we drew.

I’d appreciate you.

I’m smarter now. I don’t hate you, I just hate that you’re not here. Except for where you are. And I love that.

I love you. I miss you. You’ll forever be my star.

-Baby Sister

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Laughing and Milkshakes

In memory of Sarah, my big sister.

(Warning: If you’ve got a weak stomach, you might not want to read this post.)

Where we grew up in Montana there was a restaurant there called Cattin’s. Every Thursday night they’d have a special, “All You Can Eat Fish & Chips.”  Sometimes we’d go there to have a meal with just the three of us: Sarah, Mom, and me. We’d sit in the classic diner booths and have basket after basket of their beer-battered fish and crispy fries. It was a rare treat as we almost never went to restaurants, and we could have as much as we wanted.

Sarah had a particularly large appetite. People always remarked about how much she could fit into her belly, despite being of a slight frame and always the smallest of the three of us. When she was manager of the wrestling team she would go for meals with them before a meet and out-eat any one of them. If ever we went to a buffet she could stomach several trips, easily.

This day was no different, and there’s no telling how many fries or pieces of fish she’d had. And to end the meal nicely she asked for a milkshake. A raspberry one. The diner was relatively empty except for the staff and the maintenance man who was mopping the stairs, so we entertained ourselves.

The milkshake was one of those that comes in a tall conical glass with an additional stainless steel tumbler. There was no doubt she’d finish it all. As she slurped happily away, somehow our goofiness got the better of us. We had a special humour only the two of us seemed to share, and we could get each other laughing over nothing. It started with a giggle, but grew into disaster.

Whatever it was that was so funny I fail to recall today, but in our hyperactivity (probably due to sugar rush from fries and milkshake) we started laughing uncontrollably. I can still remember clearly Sarah trying to gasp for air with tears forming as my mother said, “You girls had better quit it or one of you’s gonna start throwing up.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Mom’s warning somehow added to the funniness, and then the giggling fit had taken us to the point of no return. Several minutes had probably passed with Sarah clutching her abdomen from the onset of cramping from fullness and stupid hilarity. It was out of control.

Then suddenly, she put her hands over her mouth. She made a quick move to try and get out of the booth. Mom hustled out of the way. Sarah started running to the bathroom leaving a little trail of bright pink leakage from our booth to the hallway, when we saw by the look on her face that she’d just realised she didn’t know where it was. There she nearly knocked over the maintenance man, now at the top of the stairs having just finished mopping all the stairs below, who took one look at her and pointed down the stairs to say, “The bathroom’s that way! Go!”

The look on his face was one of shock and surprise like someone being mugged at first, but then his countenance fell as he realised he was now going to have to re-mop every single one of those stairs and clean the spots off the carpet, too.

I was still laughing. It was the most hilarious thing at the time (I think I was about thirteen or so) to watch this catastrophe play out while my mother sat there and buried her head in her hands with embarrassment.

“Oh, my God,” she remarked with exasperation, “what did I tell you? You can dress ’em up, but you can’t take ’em out.”

I don’t think we ever went to Cattin’s again.


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The Accident (And How Money Changes Everything)

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This is a story I originally posted on a thread on Amanda Palmer’s Facebook page. If you don’t know who Amanda Palmer is, I’d encourage you to have a look. She is one of my favourite artists, who does things like this:

Amanda Palmer was sharing a fundraising page for a woman who was in a terrible car accident. They needed money for her recovery process. This struck a chord with me because I have a similar experience and something to say about it.

Here we go:

My sister was in an awful accident about six years ago. The twelfth of October, 2008 to be precise. I was expecting her to come to Montana from Utah that day. The weather reports were unusually bad in Montana and I’d urged her to wait another day. She’d insisted the roads were clear. She left around 2pm.

At 10pm her partner (whom I refer to as my brother-in-law), who’d not travelled with her, was on her cell phone calling me. I picked up the phone expecting to hear her voice.

“Kirsten.” says Jim. She must not have made it out of Utah.

“Uh… what are you doing on Sarah’s phone?” A feeling of deep dread fills my soul before he utters another word.

“There’s been an accident.” Her two young children were in the car with her. Where are they? They were doing fine in the hospital the next town over. Sarah had been life-flighted to Ogden Hospital.

As the nurse listed her injuries I kept waiting for the part where they would say, “But she’s going to be okay.” It didn’t come. Six broken vertebrae in her neck. Skull fracture. Broken pelvis. Lacerated spleen. And the list kept going… Ten days on machines and the only family reunion in her life later and it was over.

She was gone.

There are no words for the dread you feel, learning of a human injured so badly. It is a hard thing to witness their loved ones fall to pieces. I remember seeing Jim standing against the wall outside her hospital room, slowly sliding down with his head in his hands and sobbing. Sobbing. If there had been a guarantee of money available for support, the machines probably would have stayed on. She was a half a point above brain-dead on the neurosurgeon’s scale. The surgeon refused to say there was no hope, indeed there might be. The determining factor was that each day on the machines was so expensive and for this family that was already struggling, (she was making the trip for a job opportunity) whose insurance was about to run out, they could likely become homeless very soon. If she did survive, but was paralysed forever, they would be unable to afford what she would need.

So many arguments. So much pain. She was only twenty-two. My big sister.

I hold onto the comfort that two blind people were given the gift of sight from her eyes, and her bone marrow helped someone recover from something. Her skin helped burn victims heal.

But her children are motherless. And there’s always the “What if ____?”

Is money really what stood between my niece and nephew knowing their mother and not?

People shouldn’t have to make these decisions. Money during a time like this is all the difference.

The unspoken part of people recovering from injuries is the extensive damage that trickles through to their family and friends. Fissures in familial relationships, wounds which never heal. I saw some true colours through this ordeal I’d prefer to have not seen. Almost every aspect of it was a tragedy.

Am I to believe it was a blessing my sister didn’t survive because the social security claim might not have been successful anyway? Is the system really counting on us dying so they won’t have to pay out?

One of the most hurtful parts was when we were all gathered around to say our goodbyes, a lawyer called who was representing the people in the car behind Sarah’s who had t-boned her on the black ice. They had escaped with a collarbone injury and a broken leg, collectively.

They were suing.

I had to take the phone off Jim who was clearly troubled by this injury claim lawyer.

“Excuse me, you do realise Sarah’s not going to make it, right?” was my first response to his aggravating remarks.

“Uh, um, uhhhh… I’m so sorry. Have a nice day.”

Indeed.

Hers was the twenty-sixth accident that day on a five-mile stretch of road along Willard Bay. Where was the responsibility of Utah Highway, shutting the road down after the fifth slide-off, perhaps? Third roll-over? No? A sign of warning on their multi-million dollar digital display installations to SLOW DOWN, BLACK ICE?

They waited until there was a helicopter rescue necessary to act.

Twenty-six accidents, involving ten slide-offs, eight roll-overs, and several collisions.

By the way, her birthday would have been on the twelfth of this month. She would have been turning twenty-nine.

Now I know why injury-claim law practices are so lucrative; they’d rather we harass one another in times like this than take care of us in our hour of need, despite the taxes we pay.

Without helping one another, there is no hope.

By sharing this story I hope that it gives perspective on a subject that many don’t, or won’t, discuss.

I also share this story to provide a background on another subject close to my heart.

Post to follow expanding on that.

Take care, everyone, and if there’s bad snow or crazy weather around you and someone says to stay home, please think about staying home.