Two lives, one adventure

25 02 2011

And so a great adventure begins. It’s my last day of work before I head off into a sabbatical, graciously granted by a supportive employer. The next 10 weeks are reserved for research, reflection and writing. The Savvy Aviatrix will return to the left seat, and Skater Girl also plans to make numerous appearances here. Out of sight is not out of mind because blogging can be done from anywhere.

For the next three months, I’ll also be going on a journey back in time, to an chapter of life that’s been swept into the corners of history and all but forgotten except by those whose nerves it directly taxed.

And this is what I hope to achieve.

"The death of innocence" 12-2-88

While searching for her dreams and her place in the world, a young woman faces twin challenges that put calluses on the heart in equal measure. She is forced to fight a (95%-curable) disease that kills her slowly and she spends too much of her too-short life looking for love in all the wrong places. All the while, she desperately tries to protect her little sister from the bad in the world. The older sister learns about wisdom and serenity as her clock ticks down, and the younger sister is too far away to hear.

It is story of a unique relationship between two strong-headed women, at a time when we know more than everyone else, we are smarter than everyone else and we deserve only the best. We are finally mature enough to truly appreciate and respect each other as grown-ups should. We struggle together, but also each in her own isolation. In the end, the decade that separates us in age also ensures that we only have a few short years to truly enjoy each other’s adult company.

My sister – the feminist, the rebel, the poet and the artist – was just 34 years old when she died. Her prose is violent and harsh, dark and damning. She was mad as hell and made sure everyone knew it. Letters, journals and poetry, along with interviews of mentors, friends and companions in art and crime are the cannon upon which the non-fiction narrative is based. Out of them emerges the story of a talented individual with a strong sense of justice who dies far too young, and her little sister, who realizes far too late exactly what that means.

Dear P.,

31 10 2010

You left us on Halloween night. It was a Tuesday. And for the past 15 years, Halloween has never been the same.

It was chilly that day, the smell of winter slowly closing in on the eastern seaboard. The typical, infuriating late-afternoon rush hour traffic on I-95 South prevented me from getting to you in time. I came to say hello, or goodbye, but you had already gone.

You turned out to be the glue that held us all together, dearest P., even if the family bonds sometimes seemed rather artificial. After you left us, there was nothing keeping us from falling away from each other, and from each of us falling apart. We mourned separately and went on to live very separate lives.

In time, each of us made our own uneasy truce with death – the one who cheated me out of my only sister.  I’ve healed over the years, but some others did not. The trauma of that night gave way to an endless flood of bitterness, blame, anger and regret. The hostility went on and on and on.

When you left me, I was an adult in years, but perhaps I was still a child in innocence. After the initial numbness bled away, the little sister had to find her way alone.

I try to live a life based on principles I think are right. And the older I get the tougher it is to live in the knowledge that there is so much I neglected to take in years ago. I had so little time and attention for a big sister who loved me and wanted desperately protect me from all the bad in the world. And from my own naïve, youthful stupidity. You wrote me letters: pages and pages of wisdom in 10-point Helvetica type, signing every single one by hand. I read them once and then put them away, too proud to admit that I needed and wanted your guidance.

Your letters to me spent more than a decade preserved in a shoebox, in which they moved to six different dusty attics across Europe. Recently I unpacked the box and exposed the words to sunlight, fresh air and my maturity. They have come alive, those letters, and they glow. With the distance of time, I see a sister I’m not sure I even knew very well. I wish I could have this strong and passionate woman back, here and now, accompanying me through middle age and beyond. And even if this woman from my letters were not my sister, I would admire her nonetheless, and seek out her company.

“I want to ‘make it’ very badly,” you once wrote when you were 22. “I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. I think though, one of the main reasons I want to be ‘known’ is to prove all those people throughout my life who have doubted me (who held me back, hurt me and had no confidence in me) wrong. I will make it and when I do I will pound them into the ground.”

The older I get the more I miss you, dear P. And that is why it is time to showcase your legacy – your wisdom, your story, your poetry, your every intense, uncomfortable word. And it will shine. It will be raw and unnerving and dazzling, all at once.

My sister the ghost, on Halloween night. You are not here, oh but you are – in so many ways. Let’s get going. We have a lot of work to do.

Love, Evelynn