February 2, 2010

I received a much-forwarded email a few days ago, labelled “Sisters,” I think, with pictures (not photos) of bright butterflies and a ramble about what sisters really are. I enjoyed the text, but would rather not think of sisters as butterflies; butterflies are there for a season (or less), then gone forever.

Not all our sisters are born of our parents. Some are the very special friends who appear as if by magic (or serendipitously? Or is it a “God-thing” as a friend of mine would say?) just when you need them most. Some of them do only last a season, but some of them are forever.

I think back to high school. I was a misfit — not pretty, not in the “Demonettes” — the dance group, sort of, of the school, not in choir, not in band (well, I was, but I dropped it the first chance I got because I hated it. Too much marching music. I’m not really the marching militia type.), not in sports, not popular — and smart. Which then, at least, was a complete end to date-ability; no good-looking guy wants a smart plain girlfriend. And since my parents expected smart, I couldn’t pretend dumb. I would have been a total loner, but I was saved by three girls who pulled me into their group in German Club. Yes, we were all geeks, we were all the nobodies of high school, but we had each other. We tended to split into two pairs; Brenda and Darlene were the daring ones: they drank, and smoked, and may have gone out with college boys. Sue and I were the quiet ones. We had curfews, didn’t drink or smoke, and toed the line set by our parents. I’ve lost track of Brenda and Darlene, although I’ve heard that Brenda, ever the consummate actress, is working with a children’s theater group in New York. Susan has always been a friend. Sometimes we’re off again, on again, but we both know the other is just a phone call away.

My first day of college, alone in the dorm room after my parents drove away, wondering who my room-mate would be, I was surprised by a girl about my age who stuck her head into the room without knocking, and said, “Is one of you Lori?” I looked around the room (always sarcastic when cornered — it’s a defense mechanism) and said, “Well, I’m the only one here, so I must be.” She turned out to be the younger sister of my oldest sister’s best college friend, and we were tight all through college, although her path was different than mine. We still correspond. She never gave up on me, even through years of silence, and she’s still there. I know if I called her and said that I needed her, she’d be here on the first flight she could catch.

Later, still in college but with few casual friends in addition to the one above, I signed up for a spring field school (a contradiction in terms, since it started in March and spring rarely comes to ND before April or early May; we were snowed out the first weekend). I didn’t know many of the archaeology students, and didn’t know any of them well. I was waiting in front of the old building that still houses the anthropology department, to see who else would show up and how it would be, and another girl came up. She was dressed in a way I can only describe as “not North Dakota” although I couldn’t place it — maybe delayed hippie? I don’t know. She looked older than I (actually just 5 years, but at 18 or 19 that’s a big difference…) and I was slightly intimidated. But it was cold, and my body had its usual response to cold. I asked her if she knew where the restroom in the building was. She looked at me for a long moment, then said, “There’s one in the basement marked “Ladies” but you can use it anyway.” I knew at that moment that we’d either hate each other or become friends forever. The latter was true, of course. We were “partners in crime” for much of college, and she made archaeology more fun for me. In fact, without her, I might have changed majors AGAIN. She now lives a few blocks away now, and while I was gone for 16 or 17 years, any chance I got, I visited her, and we called when we called. If it was two or three years between calls, that was OK. We just picked up where we’d left off. I’ve watched her younger son grow from a four year old into a high school student, over 6 feet tall now, so I’m reminded how long I’ve lived back in Bismarck. And I know that I can call her anytime, for any reason. To share a joy, to share a sorrow, to ask a favor, or to offer help. She’s always there.

In grad school, I met the next-to-last sister I’d meet. She was an upper-level undergrad in anthropology, but I was in Linguistics and married to Thing One. In the summer of 1982, we went to Chaco Canyon for a field school dig at an archaic site in the park (NOT Pueblo Bonito, although the Pueblo loomed above us the entire time, and played a huge role in the web of our lives). She knew no one else on the dig, and I, only allowed to come as the cook, knew only Thing One, who focused on ignoring me (I don’t understand it so can’t explain it; possibly a cook-wife embarrassed him, but an archaeologist wife would have intimidated him, so it was a no-win situation). She and I bonded in my kitchen, since the students had to take turns being my “helper.” It would have been completely unbearable without her, and she felt the same way. We’ve managed to visit a number of times (she came to nurse me through a tonsillectomy, although I had to rent her a car since she couldn’t drive my manual transmission Toyota! And I drove from a meeting in Phoenix to her home in Tucson to see her and her 5-month-old baby, who’s now 17… and then visited her several times in Virginia, the DC metro area, where she lives now). We talk on the phone, and send each other books and other items we find that we know the other will love, and have proven that we are always there for each other.

My last sister, besides the two I was born with, I found practically in my own back yard. Right across the street, actually. We’re different in a number of superficial ways, but in our hearts and souls, we have become sisters; bonded over dogs and work and the neighborhood, and, well, the things that matter. Even religion, a topic I rarely bring up with people I’m not related to.

All of these women are more than friends; they’re sisters. I’ve had other friends throughout the years, but they were friends for a season, sometimes a “semester” and sometimes a few years, but they came and went, and are gone now. Something in all of us made that bond that is in many ways deeper than the ones I have with the sisters I was born with.

Don’t misunderstand: I love my biological sisters. I would do anything for them, anything to help them, and would knock out anyone who said anything bad about them. But that bond, though it’s lasted since I was born and was their “plaything” (they dressed me and pushed me around in the stroller… I was a living doll for a while, apparently), and over the years I’ve liked them, too, though more at some times than at others.

But these friend-sisters — I can tell them things I can’t tell my real sisters, and not be judged, or have them try to “fix” me. They accept me as I am, and don’t expect me to change to better fit some concept of what I should be. And I feel the same way about them. I feel very sorry for women who don’t have such friend-sisters in their lives; they’re missing out on the greatest love there is. Even closer than most husbands, at least in my (bad) experience.

One of my sisters said to me, a long time ago, that she didn’t have any friends, and wasn’t good at making them. I told her that to make a friend you need to be a friend. You need to reach out to them, and then to listen to them. Listen to what they have to say about themselves and their lives, their thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Listen and be kind, empathetic, and compassionate. Don’t dominate conversations or expect them to be your friend without being their friend first. And choose the most unlikely person you can, because she will probably be your best friend in the end.


4 Responses to “Sisters”

  1. Hi lori,
    I’ve had sisters like that. My own three daughters are sometimes sisters to me and always to each other. I recently reconnected to a sister from long ago. We’re not the same and yet we are. We’ve followed different paths, but the core of who we are remained the same. I missed her for a long time after she left. It’s nice to be her “sister” again. Eunie

  2. Hi Lori, What a lovely column. You made me stop to think about many of the wonderful “sisters” in my life, most of whom I have met not so many years ago. I practiced law for many years, and most of my friends were male, because there just weren’t that many women who were lawyers. Still, as you point out, time goes by so fast and a four-year-old is suddenly a high schooler–and the friendship remains and grows. I really enjoyed this piece. Also loved the reference to Thing One. Now I have a name for two exes: Thing One and Thing Two. Ha!

  3. leescott58 said

    Thank you both for your comments. I have a Thing Two AND a Thing Three, and now I’m done! Sister-friends can come at any point in your life — and they’re the best, at least in my opinion!

  4. Fantastic, Lori! The “sisters of your heart” are precious. I don’t have any biological sisters, but I feel that my three sisters-in-law are my real sisters. And I have friends like yours too–it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been apart, you pick up right where you left off.

    Thanks for writing this. Nice, uplifting blog!

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