Monday, June 1, 2009


On Thursday, when I leave for Charleston to visit my sister I am orange, the by-product of a really bad spray tan. I have a seven hour flight and I pray that it will magically fade before I reach the Atlantic.

The guy sitting next to me on the plane smells gamey, like he has been camping for weeks and covered him self in animal pellets to stay warm. He shuffles around in his seat a lot and keeps bumping into my knees. I am reading the New Moon, a hand-me down book from my friend Shannon who finds a way to squeeze vampire Edward and Bella into nearly every conversation we have. I don't want other people to see that I am reading the twilight series so I keep the cover neatly folded underneath its pages. The smelly dude next to me is reading over my shoulder. It is annoying. I slant the book sideways so I don't have to feel his hot breath on my face. He sighs.

When Michelle fetches me at the airport the first words out of her mouth are "Holy mother you are tan."

"Orange, actually." I tell her. "Just get me out in the sun tomorrow and you'll see!"

When we arrive at her brand new suburban home with wood floors and a collection of antiques, her husband Brian says "You are tan!"

Michelle and I cannot stop laughing. For the rest of the weekend when her friends or coworkers say "You two are sisters!?" I have to explain that I am also butt white despite my orange Native American looking skin. My sister asks if I am going to have fake boobs next time I visit. "Fake tan today, fake boobs tomorrow!" she laughs. I am not amused.

I get a tour of Michelle's new home. Everything is freshly painted. They have leather couches and a big fury cat. Brian tells me about the popcorn ceiling that he painstakingly removed and how the dining room is painted to match their Lenox china.

My sister drives a pale blue Audi with leather interior. We meet her friends for dinner. They have expensive purses and talk about the recent pay freeze at their companies and who recently passed their CPA exam. My sister no longer binge drinks and passes out at the bar like usual. She has morphed into a responsible grown up who pays her water bill on time. This is all new.

Her coworkers tell me how serious she is at work and how shocked they are when she retells stories of hitch hiking to Grateful Dead shows and getting kicked out of the prom for bringing a flask in. They can't picture it.

"She was a hippie, nonconformist, cheerleader with a 4.5 grade point average" I tell them "she has always been a contradiction"

On Saturday night Michelle invites her friends over for a barbeque. We drink firefly vodka with crystal light and talk about kids, marriage, home improvement projects, and work, always work. Everyone is so Southern. They wear pastel and have good manners. They are funny and down to earth. Mostly I can't believe how far my sister and I have come. I know she sees it too when she visits me in San Diego. We are no longer basket cases. Who would've thought?

Early Sunday morning at around 1 a.m., we watch her wedding video, the one my brother made. It is funny. The whole family is in it. He has footage of prewedding activities, the ceremony, and the reception. I watch my dad in his pale linen pants walking my sister down the aisle and it knocks the breath right out of me. I want to reach inside the T.V and touch his face. There is footage of him playing the flute. It takes all of my will power to hold the tears back. I feel a sudden rage so quick and sharp that I have to look away. He should still be here I think to myself. Michelle's voice is even and steady. She laughs remembering how dad refused to wear seersucker pants and how he jokingly told Brian at the alter, "I changed my mind, you can not marry my daughter." She goes on, happily recounting other funny moments from her wedding weekend. She looks into my face briefly and smiles, the way she always does, the only person in the world capable of understanding just how heavy my sadness is. She turns it around, soon I am laughing too over our dad's wayward eyebrows and the crazy way his hair grew back from the chemo. I love my sister.

At the end of the weekend, riding to the airport I ask her if she ever thinks of dad's illness as a gift. "What do you mean?" she asks. "I don't know," I shrug "I just feel like part of his sickness was blessing. We loved him so completely and appreciated him more then we would of otherwise. We are all so much closer because of it. It's kind of like Stockholm Syndrome or something, only cancer syndrome where we are crazily tight knit now. It was a backwards gift that all of us hated but when we looked at it from a distance there was something remarakable about it."

"I think your right." she says.

I know I am.

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