Three and a half other times, my younger sister Jamie – you may know her from the critically un-acclaimed post MMM…Pie – has wreaked havoc on my sense of normalcy and well-being. The first time, all she did was arrive on the scene, a bald, funny-looking interloper I kept hoping would go back to whatever ghoulish planet she’d come from. The second time, about four years later, she fell off a ledge in front of McDonald’s, hit her head and passed out. I can still hear Jan screaming helplessly and hysterically. I was then spared until 2001, when Jamie moved to and spent a few years living with a gentleman in Palo Alto. And for a while last year, she was on the cusp of moving west again. When she ended up staying here, I thought we had dodged the bullet.
Then a month or two ago, she found out that her beloved job would be relocating to Los Angeles. Until she was actually on the plane last weekend, I kept hoping and secretly believing that something – a new job, a massive earthquake, a little Monopoly man jumping out of nowhere and yelling “PSYCH!” – would crop up and prevent her departure. Nothing did. Since then, I have not gone a day without tearing up as I think about her in her new life, and me in my old life, without her.
For most of the years between 1974 and 1990, I wanted no part of her. Just the sound of her breath from the other side of the backseat drove me insane. A few highlights from the reel of mean things I did: I lost her – accidentally, I swear! – at a Rutgers football game. When my class passed hers in the hallway, I stepped out of line and smacked her. I summoned her into the dining room, held her eye open and stuck my finger in it, just for shits and giggles. In my defense, she did dump a Dixie cup of milk on my head and in our teen years, complained, rather absurdly, that I moisturized too loudly.
The tide turned when I went to college. I remember the exact moment, not surprisingly. She called me, on her own, to say hi. I told her I was homesick and freaked out by the lack of adult supervision. I expected her to tell me I was total looz-air. Instead she said, “I can see how that would be weird.” From then on, give or take a spat and a butter knife incident, we were pals. As quasi-grown-ups here in the city, we tried to have dinner once a week, but it wasn’t easy. We were tired and busy – with what, I’m not entirely sure. But as long as she was here, I knew that I theoretically could see her. We could meet for a manicure. We could have mediocre Chinese food together. But too often, we didn’t.
The freakishly warm week before she left, I walked from my office to her apartment for the last time. On Second Ave., I passed the building where Jan and Lew had met, in the elevator, in 1970, and where I lived for the first two months of my life. It was still there, in all its yellow brick glory, looking exactly as it always had – unlike yours truly. Something about the sight of that building, the flashbacks it sparked from a time I don’t even remember, Jamie’s impending departure and then all the young, parentally supported 20-somethings in her Murray Hill lobby made me feel really old and really sad.
That night, we ordered in dinner from the neighborhood staple Benjamin – she had the fish special, which also made me feel really sad. She went through her closets and make-up drawers, offering me items she didn’t plan to take with her. I ended up with a coat, a sweater, some nail polish, three jars of Ragu, and a can of mandarin oranges. I will probably never be able to use the mandarin oranges, knowing that one random day when she lived in New York, my little sister went to a market and thought that particular can would be a good thing to have in her cabinet.
LA is not an entirely foreign land to us. Jamie and I have both spent chunks of time there, visiting our former in-laws, all of whom happened to hail from the City of Angels. (You’ll recall that Ollie, my furry beige child, is now also a denizen.) Jamie had traveled there frequently for work and as mentioned above, almost moved there once before. Most notably, LA’s San Fernando Valley is home to Jan’s first cousin, Irene, and her husband Alan. Irene and Alan have a whopping six kids, some of whom claim to read this blog. Obviously and sadly, we didn’t get to spend a lot of time with these cousins growing up. But we were always fascinated by them because they lived in LA. We envisioned the exciting lives they were leading in such a glamorous locale. I mean, how could daily life get you down when you lived in a place called Tarzana? How bad could your headaches be if your local street signs were blue and had “Canyon” in their name? Jamie was moving to that glamorous locale and I was staying here, riding the crowded and dirty subway, going nowhere. We had always led the same basic life. Now, we were going to live in different worlds.
Jamie didn’t want to talk about how sad it was – in fact, she seemed excited. Logically, I was excited for her too – I am proud of where she works and how well she does there. I’m thankful that Jan and Lew have one daughter they can brag about. Illogically, it feels like a tragedy of epic proportions. I think I should be taking it better than I am. I continue to feel my stomach drop when I think about her. I MapQuest various routes she might take when she goes to visit Irene and Alan or heads to the mall. I research and visit the web sites of restaurants near where she’s staying, then compile recommendations, so I can envision where she’s dining. I know she’ll come visit, I know I’ll go visit, I know we can (and so far have) still talk every day. But it’s not the same.
Maybe it’s the fact that, in addition to Jamie, I am also about to lose one close friend to the ‘burbs and another to another country. (It’s my coffee breath, isn’t it?) Maybe I am jealous of her fresh start, her bravery and her success. Maybe I don’t like change. Or maybe, I just miss having my little sister next to me in the backseat.