Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Sister Anika: An Overly Long, Long Overdue Introduction

I've been in a long-term relationship since the day I was born. Anika (ANN-ih-kuh) and I are the third and fourth children in a family of nine kids. We follow two boys; we precede three boys; ergo, de facto, we were a pair. By necessity, we lived that way. We split a bunk bed until I was three, shared a pull-out couch until I was seven, and had matching white-metal daybeds until we moved--from the upstairs to the basement--when we took over Nate and Dan's room and lived out our high school years in their low wooden box beds. When I was fifteen, Anika graduated and headed off to BYU, and I became the first in my family to get my own room. I kept two beds.

I followed Snika (that's a nickname; it's pronounced Sneeka) two years later, living first in what had been her freshman dorm (a coincidence) and then in what had been her sophomore-year apartment complex (not a coincidence). I liked the idea of doing what she had done. This wasn't new. Growing up, we were riffs on a theme. She was wide-cheeked and blonde, I was wide-cheeked and brown. She played the violin, I played the cello. She was student body president, I was student body president. She was elected homecoming queen, I was nominated once. By one person. I think.

Despite that, I have to say this: Anika is one of the best people you'll ever know. If you met her, you would quickly agree. No illustrating necessary. But I do want to say this: though I've heard her described as an angel, as a "hummingbird with dignity," and as "the kind of woman we all want to be," she and I used to kick each other when we were angry with each other. Among other ways we disagreed. Once she had a little dish of plastic raspberries, shiny and pink and luscious in their fakeness. I wanted to touch them, to eat them, to make them mine. And when she left the room this once, I think she could see it in my eyes, and she said, "Don't take any of my raspberries! I've counted them, and I know how many I have!" I liked to read in bed at night, long after she wanted to go to bed, and I would say, "Just until the end of the chapter," and she--being generous and sympathetic--would agree. But I started at some point tracing my finger along the lines on the page; I thought it made me read faster and engage better with the text. (I liked to have theories even back then.) This didn't help because Anika would watch me, it turned out, and knew then when I had started a new chapter. "Hey!" she would say, and then yawn, "you started a new chapter..." and she would try to wait impatiently for me to shut my book and turn off my light, but usually she would just fall asleep before I gave in. By the time we were in high school, she consistently fell asleep with the light off, and almost always with her bed covered in textbooks and homework and clean, unfolded clothes. I would laugh and turn off her light and push her leg back onto the bed and hang my clothes on my chair, so they would be ready for me the next morning. I loved that Anika didn't go to bed; she gave up and fell asleep.

I have to confess: this is all old data. Anika and I haven't lived together, really, since 1997, though we've had a few stints here and there over the summers. The summer she brought home Rachel, a roommate, and we repainted the house. The summer she came home engaged, waiting out the summer by making practice wedding cakes with rich fondant frosting while her fiance finished out his study abroad term and made long-distance calls to her from the Jerusalem center. I haven't lived with her since before she was married, and she was married when I was 19.

But she still looks at me when she comes to holes in her stories, like maybe I'll know what she wants to say, like maybe I was there with her when the event happened and maybe I'll fill in the blank and rescue her from momentary forgetfulness. But the truth is, I rarely know her stories in advance, these days. She got married, moved, had a baby, moved, had another baby, moved again, got a washer and dryer, had another baby, bought a house, moved, started taking community ceramics classes where she's the resident Mormon and LDS living expert, and, just newly, started teaching early morning seminary. She wakes up at who knows when and bakes food (sometime this year it will be brownies, I guarantee it) and teaches teenagers religion around her dining room table while the sun rises and the other houses on her street come awake. And then she tends to her always widening galaxy of husband and kids and neighbors and friends and church members. And then she falls asleep and then wakes up and does it again.

That is not my life. Mine is a life of security passes and secretaries and elevators and case law. I have roommates, whom I love, and friends, who make me laugh, and usually some chocolate chips somewhere around me to eat when I want chocolate. What I'm saying is--my life is a good life. I'm grateful for it. But when at work people say--as they often do--"Oh, don't worry, you'll find a practice group you like"--I want to say to them, "Like? LIKE? If I wanted just to have a job I liked, I'd move to my sister's and be her roommate again and help raise her kids." It's a life that sounds great to me, though, like Elizabeth Bennett, I'm pretty sure I would teach them to play "very ill." But it's an outmoded model, one I'm pretty sure has gone the way of the hoop skirt, though, like civil war reenactors, I sometimes desperately wish it could come back into society's (and God's) good graces. Oh, Anika. I recognize I idealize your life. But it's such a nice, beckoning ideal.

And so I'm left with this, my only real question about beginning again to share a cohabitating life with the sister I almost continuously companioned for my first fifteen years: Were I to move in with Snika again, how will her husband feel about having to share her daybed?


Monica Merced Rich said...

Nice tribute to your sister. She's right up there with your mom and my mom, sharing the number one spot for Best People on the Planet. If we didn't all need her so much in our lives, I'm certain she would have been translated already.

Rebecca Smylie said...

Windy? I loved this. You know it's funny, guess what part I most identified with? I mean, my older sister was blonde too. People always told me we should try to be like my older sister. They stop me and say, "I love her..." And I wanted to point out that once, at the YMCA, in the showers, she kicked me, in the stomach, for no good reason.

I absolutely loved reading this. I think you're brilliant. I love your sister, who I'm pretty sure, was once my TA. She gave me a mediocre grade on a paper and I still love her. Beat that.