I'm looking at a postcard in a series called Gal Pals. Two girls, elevenish, circa 1941.
The girl on the left reminds me so much of Terry, my sister, my beloved sister, who stopped living when I was fourteen years old. Whose history ended and myth began when I was fourteen.
It's the freckles and the dark curly hair, and you can tell she's a pretty girl even though her face is turned somewhat down and away from the camera.
The rings on the fingers feel a little wrong, but I like the way her girlfriend is gripping her wrist -- she's feeling her pulse -- knows when her heart is beating. The myth: Terry knew me well and loved me for it. Our history: she was thirty when she died, pregnant with her third child. Sara was six, Gil four. I was fourteen.
When I was ten or eleven Terry lived with her husband and two small kids on the other side of town. It was Halloween, and I was going trick or treating with my best friend's twin sister Lynn. We didn't usually hang out much, and tonight was no exception. I had a mission. We were going to get to Terry's house come hell or high water.
I knew if we stayed pretty much on Park Street and walked several miles, we could get close enough so that I would recognize landmarks, one in particular, The Marlborough Inn. Terry lived right next door.
I don't think I told Lynn my plan right away, just manipulated our path in the right direction, and kept on it.
I was wearing a rabbit costume that had been in our family for three generations. There were pictures of my mother in the same brown furry suit, with big circles painted on her cheeks. The suit was too big for me and my mother had hiked it up and sewn me into it.
After an hour of trick or treating, I realized we were going to have to step on it if we were going to get to Terry's. I told Lynn my plan then, and she grudgingly agreed to press on. It was getting late.
We stopped talking and I picked up our pace. Lynn really didn't understand my drive. Neither did I. I had no idea why I had to get to Terry's that night. She just drew me in and I found myself offering words of encouragement, of distraction. If Lynn would only move -- help me get to my destination -- my sister.
And during this time I began to feel the dull stirrings of my bladder filling up, at first just another hazy reason to move, damn it, move, that over the next thirty minutes became a giant pressure to pee, to get there, to smash Lynn in the face if she didn't stop saying, "where did you say it was?" (I wasn't sure but I couldn't quite admit that). And "how much longer?" God if she was only her brother, Daniel. He would do anything with me, march to the ends of the earth if that was my desire -- just to be by my side. He was my twin, my partner. This girl couldn't hack it and finally she gave up. "My mom will be worried. I think I know my way home. I'm going" she said, and left. God, where was her sense of adventure, her loyalty.
Alone now, all I could think about was peeing. I walked on stiffly, scoping out hedges and bushes along the way for likely places to stop and pee. Most houses were dark now. There were no more kids out, begging for candy or else. So I found a good spot soon. I slipped behind a tall rhododendron and pulled at the shoulder of my bunny suit. I was very nearly peeing in anticipation, and when I couldn't pull the suit down, I desperately dragged at the waist forgetting for a moment that this was a one-piece rabbit suit, pulled up at the waist and together at the shoulders, and carefully stitched to hold it up and on me. I was completely caught in soft brown fabric, the fur long since rubbed away, a bunny mummy. And there was no getting out.
Quick, get up, move on. Find Terry's house for god's sake. Watchung Center was visible up ahead. I knew I needed to turn left and go until the inn and turn right.
Finally there was the inn, and a hundred yards further along, Terry's house. She had no idea I was coming. Her windows were dark. I stepped on to the porch, moaning softly. I rang the bell and knocked at the same time.
Hurry up Terry, please hurry up. The light went on over my head as the door opened. Terry's face moved from a question, to concern, to a big, beautiful smile.
"Hi honey, what are you doing here so late?" She moved towards me. I could respond in only one way. Having found my way home at last I relaxed into her arms and let loose a torrent of pee, through the bunny suit, down my leg, and onto her porch. As if the liquid couldn't leave me fast enough in one direction, my eyes filled up and overflowed. Terry wrapped me with soothing words and soft kisses to my head. She had me out of the wet suit and into a warm tub in a heartbeat.
As I lay soaking, I heard her speaking to my mother on the phone. "I don't know how she made it this far. I'm glad Lynn got back alright. Can she spend the night?"
Terry knew how to nurture me and my siblings -- her kids too. Somehow, though, she never figured out how to take care of herself, and there was no one there to help her.
Three or four years later Terry stood on a stool, wrapped one end of a rope around her neck and the other around a bar in her guest room closet and kicked the stool away. I don't know why. No one had any answers, and besides, I couldn't ask the questions. They seemed wrong somehow. What I wanted to do was shriek. What I wanted to do was grab her by the shoulders and scream at her to come back to me, take care of me, run me a tub of hot water, get in with me. And failing that, what I wanted to do was go with her, take her hand, stay with her, and let her help me ask the questions, let her help me discover the answers, if there were any.
Strange how when someone dies they are forever stopped in that time, that age. She's my little sister now. She is sixteen years younger than me. She was sixteen years older when she died. I could be her mother as she was, in part, mine. She gave me her freckle-faced, dark-haired, beautiful love and didn't stay around long enough for me to return the favor.
I'm sorry for that Terry, but thanks for being there when you were. Thanks for drawing the bath for me. Thanks for drawing me toward you one night in October. When the ghosts and goblins were cruising for souls, you wrapped me in warm towels and kept me, at least, safe for a time.