My sister calls from Minnesota and asks how I’m enjoying not having to be perfect all the time.
“I like it,” I say, the phone tucked under my chin. I’m talking to her while I dust my rock collection.
“Like how?” she says. I can tell she doesn’t believe me.
“Well, you know how I used to say I got this or that 'for when people come over’?”
“I don’t say that anymore. What people, you know? People are not coming over to my house.” I snicker. I’ve been snickering a lot lately. “I should just live the way I want. It actually frees me up.”
“People do to come over to your house.”
I ask my sister to name one person who regularly comes over to my house, and she names three. I’m impressed that she remembers the names of three important people in my life down here, since we live so far apart.
“You’re right,” I say. “I was just feeling sorry for myself.”
“Why?” My sister is driving and watching the road. I’m done dusting my rocks, and head to the kitchen.
“Because so many things are goin’ wrong, man. So many things at once. I had no idea when I treated myself to getting my house painted this year that this would be the same year my insurance company would screw me over on making me pay two thirds for my new roof.” I pause. “The fargers.”
My sister laughs. “Bastages,” she adds. We’re remembering the one movie that made our father laugh so hard, he stopped making noise. The image of him laughing with such abandon, with tears rolling down his face, is one of my favorites. The movie also gave him two swear words he could use around the house in the presence of our mother, not that she liked those either.
I start up again with my litany of financial woes: “And then there was the two-week getaway in July at the Monkey Farm. And then roots were growin’ in my water pipes and cost $1500 to get out, and now my fridge is another thousand, my God. I am living without a refrigerator right now! I didn’t even have time to save my condiments because I’m too busy grading [BLEEP] papers. Do you know how much condiments are?” I pause for effect. “Do you know how frickin’ rotten that is?”
“But you paid for everything, right?” The voice of reason from my older sister.
“Yes.” That certainly is the correct answer. And I lost my emergency cushion, and I’m out here all alone. I know I’ve been out here all alone for twenty-one years, but still.
“So it’s over. It’s done. Move on!” my sister says, suddenly a life coach. “Do you know how many people would go into huge debt over all of that? Be glad you’re not one of them!”
I’m taken off guard by my sister’s change in tone. My heart is instantly bruised. I had thought she was on my side in this discussion, but quickly realize that she’s right. I had been feeling sorry for myself again. What’s done is done.
“I am glad,” I say, agreeing that it’s good to avoid huge debt. I used to have huge debt, and my sister knows this. It remains one of the greatest mysteries in my family how my ex-husband could so easily take the money I offered him—all of my money, little by little, from what I had made off selling my own house—to pay for his mortgage, his second mortgage, his car, his child support, his lawyers, the $70,000 in credit card debt he had hidden from me…the spaghetti in his bowl, the cool air in his home…for the two years I lived with him, without working, and then try to get even more from me when we got divorced (including spousal support and half my retirement)—without being the least embarrassed, or ever asking me how I felt about things. People still ask me if I think he ever really loved me.
When we found out he was a zombie, it made all the sense in the world.
I decide not to tell my sister that I paid $275 at the Animal Hospital last night because my kitten has conjunctivitis. She doesn’t need to know, because she would have done the same thing if her dog had been sick. In fact, this is the same sister who would listen to me on the phone when I first met the zombie who would be my husband, interjecting, “That’s a red flag. That’s another red flag.” I mistook the flags for party favors. I don’t do that anymore.
It’s time to hang up so my sister can continue her tour of rummage sales, and I can get back to my computer and work. We say we love each other, and we mean it.
I think siblings should count as friends.