She Ain’t Heavy. She’s My Sister.

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In December of my senior year in high school, my boyfriend, a freshman at Georgia Southern, broke up with me. College women were more appealing, I suppose. Of course, I was sad about the break-up itself, but I was positively horrified by the prospect of going to the upcoming Christmas dance, which was only three days away,  by myself. I had no way of knowing that showing up with a couple of girlfriends instead of a date would facilitate my introduction to the boy I eventually married. All I could think of was what a loser I was going to be while hovering around the punch bowl and waiting for someone to ask me to dance when almost everybody I knew would be occupied with a date. I wanted to skip it, but my class had planned the event to capitalize upon the holiday basketball tournament our school was hosting. We needed money for our class trip, and everyone who planned to go on the trip was expected to help. I had to be there.

With the night of the event drawing nearer, I became more and more vociferous with my complaints about being dateless for the dance. It was not a formal dance such as the prom but a casual drop by scheduled after a ball game. Anyone could attend. Others who did not have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend would show up with friends, but in the throes of  a mental drama for which I was the tragic heroine, I had worked myself into quite a frenzy. Knowing that I was too shy to ask someone else to go myself, especially on such short notice, my parents got involved. They had never before intervened in this area of my life, but my dread of “going stag” filled them with sympathy and prodded them to action. Daddy called a young man several years older than I whom he knew in a context that shall remain nameless and invited him to take me to the dance. At the time nothing seemed more humiliating than having no date, but in retrospect, I think having my daddy call someone out of the blue to arrange an escort because I was apparently unable to get one for myself was worse. The young man, whom I will call Donny, had to decline the invitation because of a prior obligation but offered to come over the evening before the dance and take me to the tournament’s opening night instead. Our quasi-date was not  a total waste of my time. At least my ex-boyfriend was there to see that I had moved on in a matter of days. Still, I don’t think Donny was any more impressed than I was. We did not click at all. In fact, you might call it a mutual unattraction. I was relieved when he said goodnight, and he never called again, so that was that. I met my husband at the dance the next night and never looked back.

On a quiet Saturday afternoon months later, I was in the kitchen baking toll house cookies for my mother, who was supposed to provide several dozen for a party that evening. Because Joe was picking me up at 7:30 for a date, I was waiting until late afternoon to wash my hair, put on make up, and dress. I had had no reason to leave the house that day. During my adolescence I was capable of sleeping until nearly noon when afforded the opportunity, so that had taken the morning. I had several batches of cookies to finish that afternoon before I could hit the shower, so I had to get busy as soon as I got up. I was wearing old jeans dusted with flour and a tee shirt smudged with cookie dough, my hair was pulled back in a careless ponytail, which kept it out of the way but did nothing to disguise the fact that I needed to shampoo, my eyes were puffy from excessive sleep, and I wore no make up at all, not even a coat of mascara. 

I had just checked on a pan of cookies that had about ten minutes to go when I heard a knock at the back door. I scurried out of the kitchen and down the hall while Kelly, who was also in the kitchen, grudgingly answered the door. I heard a man say, “Is your dad home?” He sounded like Mr. J.,  one of Daddy’s colleagues. Rats! He would hang out in the kitchen and bother me with his attempts to be hip. He’d try to “rap” with me…as if. I didn’t feel like chatting with anyone, and I certainly didn’t care for someone outside the family, especially a man, to see me in such a state.  In fact, my mother found my dread of being seen in public unless I had freshly washed hair and full makeup quite annoying. She often complained, “A few years ago I couldn’t get you to take a bath, and now you won’t leave the house without looking like you just stepped out of the band box!” I had no idea what a band box was, but I got her point.

After waiting in the den for a few minutes, I thought about the cookies. They had been in long enough. If they didn’t come out in a minute or two, they would be too brown. I would have to make more dough, and that portended twin evils: going to the store for more ingredients in my current state and having too little time to get ready for my date, which was the most important thing in my world at the time. Creeping back down the hall toward the kitchen, I saw Kelly standing silently at the counter, and I heard no other conversation. Hooray! It sounded as if Mr. J. had left, and the coast was clear. I stalked back through the door snorting with all the contempt I could muster. “Is he gone YET?” I thought it was a rhetorical question until I cleared a small partition and looked toward the kitchen table to see none other than Donny sitting there with a quizzical look on his face.

I’d never been especially athletic or agile, but somehow I managed to throw my hands in the air, shriek, leap a foot off the floor, and spin my body in the opposite direction mid-air. The clown from It could not have elicited a more vehement response. I stumbled toward the seclusion of the den in a daze. I had made a complete fool of myself. The heat coming from my face told me that I was blushing furiously. Well, at least I didn’t ever have to see him again…or did I? I suddenly remembered the cookies. They had to come out immediately. 

I tiptoed back toward the kitchen and waved to get Kelly’s attention. Preternaturally calm, she looked like a Stepford  wife. She glanced toward me and smiled with a self-satisfied serenity that I couldn’t quite comprehend.  I pointed emphatically at the oven and mouthed, “Take the cookies out of the oven!” Retaining her calm demeanor and Mona Lisa smile, she  folded her arms, looked into my frantic eyes, and shook her head. I tried again. “TAKE THE COOKIES OUT OF THE OVEN, PLEEEEEASE!!!” I could feel my face contorting as I exaggerated the silent words. Nothing doing. The third time, I gritted my teeth. Why wouldn’t Kelly cooperate? She  turned her back toward me and hummed softly to herself. Finally, I realized that I had no choice. I trudged to the oven, my limp ponytail lying forlornly against my crimson neck, snatched the pan from the oven, and gave Donny what I hoped was a nonchalant, woman of the world, devil may care smile. Evincing a casual air, I explained that I had thought he was somebody else–and I truly had–but he just sat there with an amused smirk on his face as he watched me struggle futilely to extricate myself from the arena of shame. The more I babbled, the more ridiculous I felt, and despite my protests to the contrary, he obviously believed  I was lying about thinking he was the elusive Mr. J. 

Oblivious to the idiocy his daughters were practicing in the presence of a guest, Daddy came in and escorted Donny to his study for a talk. As soon as they cleared the room, my eyes turned to slits of rage. I used my entire repertoire of insults to tell Kelly what I thought of her. I think I even tossed out a few derisive remarks about her boyfriend, which was our way of hitting below the belt. Honestly, I can’t remember what her reasons for refusing to help me that day were, but they were not nearly good enough to assuage my fury. I could not stand her, not only for exposing me to unnecessary humiliation, but also for refusing to scream back. She had never backed away from a fight, so why was she retreating into a shell of non-aggression and silence when I was  in most need of a cathartic knock down drag out? The truth was that she didn’t need to fight back because she had delivered the decisive blow before I even knew we were fighting. All I could do was swing wildly while she floated like a butterfly after stinging like a bee. Your anger has unbalanced you, Grasshopper! After telling her that I would never speak to her again, I stormed upstairs to take a shower. Of course, I eventually got the opportunity to pay her back for her treachery, but not that Saturday.

Years passed before I could glance at a chocolate chip cookie without wanting to pinch Kelly for her remorseless obstinance that day.  Of course, the Cookie Mutiny of ’77 was not our first or last skirmish, but she and I grew up to become best friends who are fiercely protective of each other.  Despite all of the arguments and annoyances of our childhood and teen years, I have her back, and she has mine. It’s a sister thing. Unless you have one, you wouldn’t understand.

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5 responses »

  1. LOVE THIS ANGIE. ONLY WISH I HAD A SISTER THAT I COULD TELL EVERYTHING TO. JUST THANK GOD YOU HAVE 3 THAT YOU CAN GO TO AND TELL THEM YOUR PROBLEMS. YOU ARE REALLY GOOD AT THIS, KEEP IT UP.

    • I am very grateful for my sisters. I love them all dearly, but since Kelly and I live in the same town, she is my “running buddy.” We are fortunate that our husbands are such good friends.

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