My parents had left in a hurry. Mommy hadn't been feeling well all day and before we knew it, Daddy bundled her up and whisked her out the door and into the car. I looked out the window as the snow fell softly and hearing my grandmother's voice to come away from the window, I turned away. It was cold and I was only in my nightgown and she was reminding me to put on my slippers.
My brothers were already sleeping, visions of sugarplums truly in their heads as it was Christmas Eve 1972. The house was silent save the gurgling pump of my father's aquarium which stood near our Christmas tree twinkling with red pinpoint lights. I spent hours in my dad's bug chair curled up by that fish tank watching tiger barbs chase (and eventually consume) each other in the light of that tree which was bought the year I was born in 1967.
It was a sturdy respectable tree which ended up serving us well over twenty years and was replaced by a gigantic Siberian spruce replete with fake pine cones and snow and was so ostentatious in comparison to our humble first tree, that it only spent two or three Christmas's in our parlor before being exiled to the basement in favor of real trees, the first of which was some indiscriminate pine that leaked sap and dropped needles everywhere, and more recently a glorious Frasier fir, always with red pinpoint lights.
The phone rang and I walked over to my dad's stereo which back in the day resembled furniture rather than mere electronics. It was encased in a large mahogany cabinet which often served as a type of buffet surface whenever guests were served. There was a large area behind sliding doors where my dad kept his record collection and I often hid things there that my brothers wouldn't leave alone like Barbies and once, a diary with a lock that never worked. The telephone, an ivory colored Trim-line, sat on top of the stereo and I answered it breathlessly as ordinarily at 6, I was not allowed to ever pick it up.
I said hello and my father answered saying, "Hi sweetheart! Guess what? We have a Christmas gift for you and your brothers! We're bringing home a new baby sister and we're naming her Amy or Noel."
I was dumbfounded and delighted. I had no idea that a baby was coming (or even how a baby arrived) but the idea of A SISTER filled me with such joy that I turned and looked out the window at the falling snow and then back at the twinkling tree and that moment of me standing there in my white nightgown covered in holly, was imprinted on my brain and remains there like a photograph to this day.
I remember the heavy evergreen damask curtains and white sheers that my mother had hung up for the season, parted so we could see the streetlights and the snow piling up on the cars and sidewalk. I remember the glow of the aquarium that had red foil backing so itself was quite festive. I remember the manger under the tree and how Baby Jesus' fingers were always the first things to break off when I surreptitiously played with it. And I remember that Santa Claus brought me a baby sister for a Christmas gift.
I don't remember that Christmas Day...I don't recall even seeing my dad. I imagine he stayed at the hospital with my mom but they came home a few days later. Mom had more of a lap and was tired, but happy to see us and she held this little bundle in her arms. My brothers and I came over to investigate and found within the receiving blanket a baby, a little squirming doll that didn't look like any of us! We were all very fair with blonde to light brown hair. This dusky baby had beautiful dark skin and black hair and when she opened her eyes they were deep endless brown fringed by long curly thick lashes. She opened her dark rosebud mouth in a tiny yawn and looked at us and it was love at first sight.
I think we were at an age where this was the first arrival of a child that we remembered. I don't recall my brothers' births. I wasn't aware of any preparations or even talk of a baby and in fact my parents didn't even tell us my sister was coming. My mother had always been chubby, soft and round and evidently carried as if she just got bigger around as opposed to obviously popping out. Perhaps they didn't think we would understand but that whole day before, my mother laid in bed softly moaning and when we came to her and asked her what was wrong she said she had a stomach virus.
In fact, she did indeed have a bug which is why she didn't know she was in labor until it was almost too late. My father was able to get her to the hospital but only so far as the steps when she almost delivered my sister there until she was brought inside. There in the emergency room, my sister arrived into the world, eyes wide open and meeting my father's eyes...the first (and only) of his children to do so, in fact, the first to be born naturally and in his presence. I don't recall if she cried but he said she entered the world as an old soul and I believe it. Their bond was strong and special to the end.
My mother kiboshed both names my dad liked in favor of Lisa and so she was, however we called her Sinky, because of her diapers and because Donny couldn't pronounce 'Stinky'. I called her Boo.
Lisa was a quiet and happy baby. There was nothing she did that didn't fascinate us. Even a diaper change was an event and I'm sure we exhausted our mother with our antics jockeying for position to see who had the best view and who could help. Because of her coloring my mother dressed her in bright colors, in particular a yellow fleece onesie that zipped all the way from ankle to chin. I don't know if it's a coincidence but my sister's favorite color was yellow. I just realize now that I typed 'is' because she is still with me if only in my heart.
Lisa's arrival into the world and into our family was a surprise to my brothers and I and so was her death at age 35. She slipped away in her sleep as effortlessly and peacefully and suddenly as when she was born.
The details of her death are still painful so I choose to dwell on her life. My sister was brilliant, intuitive, outspoken, generous, creative, supportive, open-minded, loyal, endlessly forgiving, funny as hell and had a heart of gold.
She was also spoiled, self-destructive, selfish, narcissistic, lazy, brutally honest, ruthlessly competitive, blunt and at times cruel. She was so possessive of me that no one...not one of my friends or boyfriends was good enough and she eyed everyone interested in me with suspicion. I was her hero and role model but she took it a step further and was a saturated more concentrated version of myself with no inner censor. Me, if I were a free spirited wild child. I adored her. I admired her.
The world is a better place for having her in it for a short period of time, and I pity those who never got a chance to experience her. It was truly a privilege and yet it had its price.
She was my only sister. I loved her more than I love myself. I miss her everyday. I ache for her everyday.
Happy Birthday in Heaven, Christmas Angel.