On December 22, 1981 my mom had been gestating about three weeks longer than planned. She was tired and anxious and in an effort to rekindle the Christmas spirit, she decided to take me for an impromptu drive around Tahlequah to look at the Christmas lights.
“Mom? Is my sister going to come out of your tummy soon?”
“I sure hope so, Ashaleah,” she answered. “But you know, it’s possible you might be getting a brother.”
“Nope. I’m getting a little sister,” I said, with the unwavering confidence native to four-year-old girls.
Lindsay Christine was born the next day. Children weren’t allowed as hospital visitors back then, but Grandma made sure Mom got a window room. We crunched through the winter grass outside of the hospital and Mom was waiting at the window with Lindsay.
“It’s a girl! You have a sister!” Mom said through the glass.
“I know, Mom. That’s what I kept telling you!”
I peered through cupped hands at the little baby wrapped in a red Christmas stocking. She’s still the best Christmas present I ever got.
We weren’t always best friends growing up – four years is a big age difference when you’re young – but I was always proud of her. She was the pretty one with golden curly hair, aqua eyes that smiled, and long skinny legs. I was the smart one with unfortunate hair and questionable fashion sense. When she was into ballet and Barbies, I was into brooding and books. Despite that, we managed to connect and understand each other and shared a private humor and hidden language that holds true even now.
We rode bikes together while inventing code names for different places in the Oklahoma countryside near the Illinois River. We dressed our sweet, longsuffering Cocker Spaniel in baby doll clothes. We played dress up in Mom’s clothes and made up dances in our tiny living room. She screamed “OW!” pretending that I hit her, even when I was across the room, just to get me in trouble.
We played hours upon hours of Nintendo, coming to the conclusion that we really enjoy games where you “run sideways and jump on things.” We watched Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs while mindlessly eating Pop Tarts. I once convinced her she had cancer just because she had a lot of bruises on her legs. She tattled on me for sneaking out when I was grounded. She drew me pictures and wrote me notes that I still have in a box in the garage.
I tried to be a good influence most of the time. Except for that one time I took her to a club on Sixth Street when she was 14. And maybe that other time when I bought her beer when she was only 18. And possibly when we got into trouble with our compulsive shopping. And you know what? Let’s not go there. Making questionable decisions is what your 20s are for.
I loved our nights out; we made such a good team. Always finding the bathroom first, rescuing each other from creepy guys, throwing ‘bows and pretending to dropkick short girls. Driving around listening to music, stalking our boyfriends’ ex-girlfriends the old-fashioned way, throwing lunch meat on cars, breaking bottles, making up fictional biographies to tell people. Fighting over clothes and makeup, sharing so many clothes we forgot who owned what, always being able to tell each other we were the prettiest girls ever. And the most related people in the world.
We have been there for each other through marriages and divorces, pregnancies and aneurysms, and innumerable really bad hair days before we discovered the miracle that is CHI. We have taken turns holding each other up through death and near-death and have always found (probably inappropriate) ways to laugh through the tears. We named our eldest daughters for each other and call each other for parenting advice. We can sit in silence for hours and then speak the same random thing at the exact same time. We know what it means when we say “Let’s take Dad’s oldest daughter’s stepmom to dinner at the martini fruit orchard.”
When she’s running late and texts that she just left the house, I know that means she’s still getting dressed and will leave in 10 minutes. When I call and she doesn’t answer, I know it’s because I always manage to call her when she’s blow-drying her hair. When I ask “What do you think I am?” I know she will always answer “Corned Beef Hash.”
We have hurt each other in the worst ways – the ways only those you love the most can. We’ve been judgmental, hypocritical and unforgiving. We’ve ripped apart and come back together so hard and so often that the scar is tender and will likely never fade. But I know we’ll always be best sisters and best friends and even with that scar, we’re still the prettiest sisters ever.
I don’t think this is the first birthday of Lindsay’s that I’ve missed, but it feels like it. The years we were fighting I think we made up enough to make it through the holidays. But this year I feel every mile of the 1,163 between us. My own daughters were arguing today and I tearfully reminded them that there is no one they should be nicer to than your own sister.
“Why?” they asked.
“Because one day I’ll be gone, and your spouses will be gone, and your kids will have families of their own and all you’ll have left is your sister. So take care of each other now, and always and forever.”
“That’s a cheerful thought, Mom.”
Which, okay. So I still have a problem with the brooding. But it actually cheered me up to picture me and Linz in our 80s, rolling around in our wheelchairs with a six-pack of Ensure, while I try to get our assisted living nurse to guess who was the older sister.
“I bet you think it’s Lindsay!” I’ll cackle through my tracheostomy. “Always told her those tanning beds would catch up to her!”
I tried to call to tell her the story while it was fresh in my mind, but she didn’t answer. True to form, I got a text about 10 minutes later. “Call you back when I’m done blow-drying my hair!”
Happy birthday, Lindsay. I hope you know how much I love you and how proud I am of you. I wouldn’t trade our laughs for anything in the world and I know we have many more in store ahead of us.