When we were little, my father had a plastic milk crate of comic books, leftover from his childhood, which were stashed in a sliding cupboard in the dark, old paneling of the basement.
Most of the comic books were about Spiderman and Batman and whoever-else-MAN, but, a few were about a dark-haired Amazon named Diana. Wonder Woman. I remember my sister reading those books. I remember her drawing the costume on pieces of paper in uneven, little-child drawings, like Egyptian hieroglyphs, where feet faced different directions than torso and head.
A few months ago, the trailer for the movie was published. We were excited. She organized some friends to go together.
Together we watched Diana fight for love and humanity on the silver screen. It was a good film, we all enjoyed it, all of us smiling and striking our most super-hero poses in the lobby afterwards.
My sister left for a different state on Saturday. She’s leaving for grad school and for dreams that are years and years deep, and I couldn’t be more proud.
On Saturday, before leaving, she was going to a wedding. My mother had given her a new dress, Grecian-style, flowing and long, and my sister braided her dreads on top of her head like a queen. I asked if she wanted to borrow some earrings. This is the language of sisters, I feel, the support in the situation, however we know how.
She turned down the earrings, but borrowed the flower crown of light blue flowers I bought in Krakow square, the last time I went to Poland, when the nights were cold and dark. I tied the ribbon in the back of her neck, the flowers peaking out from her hair, twisted and braided up around her head.
We played this game of party prep, as we have for years. We have often joked that we’re professional wedding-goers, that we should advertise our wedding-guest services on Craigslist, should anyone need partygoers as experienced as us. And we did this again. As a parting gift, almost.
But soon, she was ready. There was no more to be done. So then she asked if she forgot anything.
I gave her the rehearsed speech we remind each other with, as we have for years, since we first started traveling together, way back in high school.
Only, this time, she was going alone.
“Do you think I need anything else?” She asked, “Did I forget anything?”
(This is a script. We say this every trip).
“Well,” I said, “you’re going to a city. If you really need something, you can buy it.”
“You’re right,” she said, “you’re right.”
“Besides,” I added, “we know that the Camino always requires less than we think.”
“I guess that’s it, then,” she said.
“Yes,” I added.
“Good-bye,” she said.
And I said, “Good-bye,” too. But I said it fast. And kind of hidden. Because you don’t want to cry when you say good-bye.
And then I said that I would miss her. And that I loved her.
And then she left. I heard the door of our front porch slam, the way she slammed it when she would leave, when we were children, to deliver papers to our paper routes.
And I waited a second, then peeked outside, and her car was gone, her car packed with things and with the bike on the bike rack. Her pink bike. I found it once, in the trash, on my paper route, but it was a nice bike, and I knew she wanted a pink one, so, it’s hers, not mine.
And when I knew the car was gone, I went and stood on the back landing, because I waited until she left to cry.
She used to not be tall enough to open the back door, but I used to be tall enough, and I would open it for her. And still today I am tall enough, and I stood in front of the door she used to not be able to open, and I cried.
We used to share a room, a bunk bed, two broken dressers. She used to listen to a wind-up bear-in-a-box, every night. She said it helped her go to sleep. One night, a few months ago, I heard the old, rusty lullaby, and I said, “Did you just wind up the bear???”
And she said, “Yeah, I really need to sleep right now, Okay??”
Because Christine is a woman of impeccable comedic timing and I still hold that she could pursue professional comedy as a livelihood, but she doesn’t.
Last summer I wrote a play. And maybe it was a stupid play, and probably nothing about it will ever been remembered in the long run of anyone’s life, but in the eleventh hour I needed a lead role, a person to carry the whole play and to sing a solo and to remember all the lines. And I didn’t have a person. I tried everyone I could think of, and still I drew a blank.
And my mom kind of made my sister do it for me. And she did. My sister showed up to my stupid play and was the lead role and sang the song I wrote and recited the lines I wrote…and she doesn’t even like acting, okay? She doesn’t even like it, and that’s how she spent her summer last year. This is the kind of woman she is. She is a woman of deep charity, deep mercy, deep generosity.
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, but maybe a deep part of me always knew, and that’s why it hurt to loose her on Saturday.
Two years will go quickly. But maybe out-of-state will be more appealing than in-state, in two years. Maybe. Who can say?
There are a lot of things that I can’t say.
But I can say that there was this part in the Wonder Woman movie where Diana is going to leave her island, and Diana and her mother both know that things will never be the same. And I thought about my sister and her grad school, even as we saw the movie together.
But, I thought of something else, too, and that is a saying from the Pope, “Realities are better than ideas.”
You can take that saying in several different directions, granted.
In this situation, though, I thought of my sister and Diana…and how rich and real it is for me to know an actual woman with athletic strength and charity and grace and courage (and brutal, brutal honesty…but who’s counting? ;)).
Realities are better than ideas. And Christine is better than any superhero you could imagine…because Christine is the real deal. And now she’s off…to save the world. And I couldn’t be more proud.