Friday, February 6, 2009

Damn, do you remember when we... ?

Damn, do you remember when we thought smoking was cool? How we walked to get cigarettes with a note in one hand and a dollar in the other? We claimed our mother sent us there for cigarettes pushing the note towards the clerk, but he never bothered reading it just handed us a pack of Virginia Slims Menthol.

The nearby apartments served as our smoking area. How we thought we were cool, two girls walking the neighborhood trying to fill our summer days. A trip for smokes turned out to be a few hours, and with our backs against the wall, we lowered our butts to the ground and ripped open the top of the cigarette pack. The mint smell flew up our nostrils beckoning us to take it, light it and inhale it. Inhale? Back then, we did not want to inhale. We thought if we didn’t, we weren’t really smoking. Who would have known President Bill Clinton thought the same way.

We would both take a cigarette, put it between our fingers and one-by-one light the end. The smoke snuck up our noses and watered our eyes, which made us cough. We coughed and then started to laugh about what the big deal was with kids smoking? No one can call eighth graders kids. It was our last year in grammar school before we headed to the big leagues - high school.

Once we controlled our coughing, I turned to you and asked, "Kathy, do you like these?”

Without missing a beat you said, “Yeah, don’t you?”

“No… I mean, yes, they’re good.”

“Then what’s with the face?”

“What face? I don’t have a face.”

“Yes you do. An ugly scrunched up face. If you don’t want to smoke, don’t, I don’t care.”

“But I do. I never said I didn’t want to. And my face isn’t ugly.”

You shrugged and said, “Suit yourself.”

I sat thinking about what you said, and whether or not I really wanted to smoke. My big sister smoked and she looked cool. I wanted to be like her; long hair, a boyfriend and a cigarette hanging from her fingers was the essence of cool. She hated having me around, but maybe if I smoked she wouldn't mind so much. I looked over at you taking the smoke in and then letting it drift out of your mouth. At the time, it looked attractive as plumbs of smoke drifted around your face hiding you from my stare. You finally turned and blew the rest in my face.

“Hey! Why did you do that?”

“Quit staring at me. You’re the one who wanted to get cigarettes. And you’re the one who wrote the note.”

“It wasn’t only my idea. You wanted to smoke too.”

You stood and brushed the dirt from your pants. I followed walking in silence for a while as if we did something wrong.


Hey, sis. Do you remember me wanting to play barbies with you? You didn't want to be bothered with a little sister. There are four and a half years between us, so I was more of a nuisance to you then a blessing. I would beg you to play barbies with me until you said, "Okay, set it up." With enthusiasm, I'd get the Barbie airplane and boat set up with all the accessories. When I was finished, I'd call you down to play and you would respond, "Nah. I don't want to play anymore." I sat stunned and hurt and before you knew it tears coated my face. It wasn't enough for you to make me cry, so you laughed at how I was carrying on.

Those pestering days slowly vanished and were replaced by a sisterhood that strengthened through time. Your wedding announcement brought joy to the family, and us closer together.

You asked, "Meg, will you be my maid of honor?"

"Seriously, Jen?"

"Yes, seriously! Why wouldn't I ask you that? You're my only sister and I want you by my side on my wedding day."

We hugged as if we didn't want to let go, because if we did, the moment would be lost forever. Losing that moment for others was worth it.

Do you remember how excited I was when you told me you were pregnant with my niece, and feelings skyrocketed when you asked me to be godmother. It was one of the most important days of my life. When I held Sam, the newest member of the family, I knew my life changed forever, and as your family grew so did our relationship.

Over the years, we laughed and cried together, but a defining moment when I knew nothing could tear our sisterhood apart was my fortieth birthday. Because we are so different, finding gifts was always a challenge, so I thought this year wouldn't be any different.

Pushing your gift in front of me, you said, "This one's from me, open it."

I anticipated something I wouldn't want or need, and slowly began unwrapping your present. Inside the box was a sculpture of two girls, arms stretched, holding hands and leaning back with the saying, "Sisters are guardian angels of each other's hearts." The tears started and when I looked at you I saw a reflection of my emotions.


Or do you remember when we would pretend? Mom couldn’t afford many things, so we relied on our imagination. Remember when we would play downstairs standing on the couch pretending to be angels. When we jumped down, we were on earth to save the children. Or when we swam around the basement because it was an ocean. We talked to the fish, and sometimes saved them from the sharks. We filled our younger years with make believe and that make believe helped us grow into adulthood.

Remember when we put the ramp up by the park so we could jump our dirt bikes. I didn’t have a bike because I was a girl, but you and the other boys let me use yours until I jumped farther than you and then you took it away. I’d cry home while you and the rest of the boys taunted me by yelling, “Oh, you poor baby, go home to mommy. This is for boys anyways.”

When I was far enough away, I’d turn and yell, "John! You're just jealous because I’m better than you.”

All the other boys would laugh, but I could see your eyes narrowing even from that distance. Your hands balled up into fists listening to your younger sister call you jealous in front of your friends. I wanted to hurt you too.

“Jealous! You take your bike away ‘cuz I’m better than you. Ha, Ha. You can’t ride a bike.”

The rush of my words was faster than your legs. You started running towards me so you could beat me up in front of all your friends. Luckily, I was close enough to the house to make it inside without injury. I’d hear you yell back to your friends, “I’ll be right back,” and then you’d come inside.

You'd start complaining to grandma. “I’m tired of her being around me and my friends. She’s a girl. Why do I have to play with her?”

“You’re both on the side of the house, on the dead end. Why can’t you let her play?”

“Because she’s a dork.”

“She’s not a dork and don’t call names.”

I’d start to cry at the kitchen table from all the hurtful things you said. Grandma always gave into your wishes.

She turned to me and said, “Stop crying. It’s no big deal. Then stay in here if you don’t like the way they’re playing.”

“That’s not it. He’s being mean and won’t let me ride the bike.”

“Then stay in. You can help me with dinner.”

You’d go back outside to play, and I’d be stuck in the house.


Can you remember the numerous make believe scenarios we played out? How we practiced our songs to perform in front of family, who were our biggest fans? Your bedroom became our stage and recording studio. We laughed as the other sang to distract them from their performance. I, of course, was the better singer, but you had rock star looks.

Remember autumn, when we raked leaves and outlined a house with them. You always wanted to be the mother so you could boss me around.

You would say, "I'll be the mother and you're my daughter."

"You're always the mother, Paige. Why can't I be the mom?"

"Because I'm older than you, so I get to choose."

You were only older by four months, but I would let you be the mother. Sooner or later we wound up fighting because I got tired of you pushing me around by telling me what to do.

And the time we spent on the paddle boat in Michigan with your dad. He told us stories of dinosaurs and we held onto every word.

We pretended jaws was coming after us and we paddled fast to get away.

I said, "Faster, he's gaining on us."

"His jaws are opening he's going to get us. Hurry!"

Our legs moved fast and hard, hearts pounding from the vision of the sharks approach. It didn't matter whether it was real, our imagination created our moments.


I smile, lost in thought asking the question over and over, can you remember those days? Because I do. Some days, I remember them as if they were yesterday, and others, I remember for comfort. When my age is scaring me and I feel the need to reach back in time and grab hold of those moments. It didn’t matter if I grabbed a pretend moment, or one where we fought, because it was us. You and I. Making memories for the days when we’d turn to each other and say, “Damn, do you remember when... ?"

Except those days are gone. I can no longer turn to any of you to ask if you remember. Because like those days, you're no longer the present and future. Your bodies gave out before mine leaving me in a cold world where the old count the hours for the angel of death.

My dear friend, Kathy, you stayed with me until your dying day now occasionally showing up in my dreams. Sometimes you wave and say, "I'll be here for you," and sometimes you’re that young girl again, smoking with me behind the apartments. When I start to cough from the cigarette smoke, you gently pat my back saying, "It's okay, we don't have to do this anymore."

Since your death, Jen, I've always felt someone was looking out for me. There are times when I'm sitting alone with the radio volume low, remembering our times together, and feel a sensation on my hand. I know it's you telling me everything will be all right. You are my heart's guardian angel, along with my soul. I feel you in life as I hope to feel you when I take my last breathe.

And my one and only brother, John. Our childhood fights simmered into adult friendly banter. How I miss the days where you commented on the size of my hips and I rebutted about the loss of your hair. As much as we kidded each other, the best thing of all was when you'd hug me. You'd lean in to say hello, thank you and good-bye. Those brief shows of affection from the one man I adored in my lifetime, are what I hold onto.

Paige, the rock star years have left me spent and dependent on this wheelchair. It would be something to have a last performance. In my dreams, you're still the raving brunette who struggled keeping in tune, yet hypnotizing the audience. You were the first to leave this earth at an age when your future was a blip on the radar screen. Through the years, I wondered what your life would be like if you lived. Would you have stuck to singlehood, or had a family? My assumptions always saw you with a husband and children.

Me? I stuck with the single life, and though I have no regrets with my decision, I often think about the other life, the one with me and a husband. I laugh to myself because the scenarios always end the same. I'm with someone and lonely. His presence is felt, but the emotions walked out a long time ago. It gives me comfort to know I made the right choice. That I was content with my life even though I didn't conform with the norm.

I'm here, at the cemetery, to say good-bye for now. I'll be moving to another facility far away and won't have the opportunity to make it back. I'm dying of cancer and I'm ready to join all of you. I came here to let you know that you lived through me. Through the stories I told and retold to the children. I just want you to know that I remembered for us.


  1. What a nice story. There's such sadness though, from the fleeting moments that seem so insignificant when they happen, which in retrospect are the substance of our lives, the love and companionship and connections that fill our days.

  2. Thanks, Joanne. When I was writing the moments, I had it in mind to write them as longing told from an old woman reflecting on times long gone. I guess there is an overall sadness.

    I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Take care.

  3. Hi Bea,

    This writing brings back some memories for me.

    I was about 11 and went in Grandma’s garage with three friends. We all tried to smoke for the first time. Somehow my eyes lashes got singed. Also in trying to inhale the coughing, nausea and light headedness started. I wondered why smoking was so cool. Grandma aired out the garage and complained about the smell for a couple of days after that. Unfortunately I learned to smoke sometime after that first day.

    In fourth or fifth grade there was the school yard bully who picked on me whenever he could. The nun heard about these situations. She brought us together and made us kiss. Ugh! How disgusting! The fun thing was that he never bothered me after that.

    Also I have lost four good long time friends. They were young (late twenties to late thirties) when they were called away. Many fond memories are left with me. It makes me wonder why these things have to happen. They are often in my prayers.

  4. Hi Veejay,

    Thanks for sharing your memories with me.

    I'm sorry to hear about your losses at a young age. I too lost my cousin when she turned 19-years old. It was a day I will never forget and sometimes still cry over the pain.

    I appreciate you stopping by and telling me a little about your life.

    Take care.