Friday, October 17, 2014

The Strength That is Found - To My Sister

My older sister would take me to the library. She never came out and said that's what we would be doing that day, but a Saturday morning would happen and we'd be on our way. There was a neighborhood library about half a mile away, but it was our city's main library that was our destination.

The Central Library was a grand structure, looking as official as the White House to a six-year-old like me. My sister would hold my hand for the block long walk from home to the bus stop, where we would wait for the bus to come.

We would see the No. 22 bus lumbering closer in the distance, and when it finally pulled in front to pick us up, she'd help me climb the stair well and hand me my coins to drop into the token slot. We'd still be holding hands while we'd look for a seat near the driver. I'd sit and look out the window quietly, wondering what everyone else was going to do on this day and if they knew we were headed to the library. The ride was long, and if you included the idle minutes of waiting time, both ways, our entire Saturday would be spent getting there.

The first bus took us most of the way there, then we would transfer to any next connection headed up the main street of Milwaukee's downtown. Though there would be no clue on my solemn face, I couldn't wait to get there. Our central library was a massive concrete structure with majestic columns in front that told you, this was the library that mattered. Our one level neighborhood branch held a corner of the building for children's books, but this library had an entire floor dedicated for children.

As we neared our stop, my sister would pull me up on the bus seat so that I could pull the buzzer. She would lead and step off the bus first, immediately turning around for me. She held her hands out, and I would stand. Frozen, every Saturday it was the same. I couldn't make that jump to the curb.

It was so high and away from the street. I was a child that feared disaster. Life had shown itself to be unpredictable, and I knew that things could happen in an instant. I worried that I could disappear in the unexpected flip of fate, like rolling under the front door of a city bus. I would look to her face and feel the dizzying squeeze of panic begin to make me feel light headed. Somehow, she could read my eyes and she would lean in, softly saying, "It's Ok. Come on, you always do it."

I would hold my breath, stretch my arms out hoping she would meet them, and jump. My grip landing on her so tight I could feel the rings on her fingers cut back into mine, but she never pulled back. She stood, and gave me the time to settle on my own feet, as I lunged from bus to sidewalk.

Without a word, we would walk up the twenty cement steps to the heavy brass front doors. She would press the door open with both hands, and I would walk in. I knew she was behind me but I couldn't stop myself from turning around to check every time. I would walk with small steps, so scared that the back of my shoe would catch on the door before I got my body all the way through.

We would cross the slippery marble floor, me on tiptoes to keep my heels from echoing against the tiles under us. I didn't want to be the one to make noise and disrupt the hush of people buried in their books. The children's section was on the second floor, and though taking each step upstairs had my knees tapping my chest with their height, I managed with the solid railing and my sister's hand.

On the second floor was everything I could have dreamed of. Shelves no higher than my shoulders, so I could see things for myself, filled with books on princesses, queens, servant girls, and saints. Books on fairy tales, rescue dogs, heroes and heroines. Tales of families, history, made up silly nonsense rhymes and achingly true biographies. I read them all, not for pleasure, but in hope that if I read every single word, I would find ones that matched the silence caught inside me.

I would pull a book off a shelf, and turn to the last page, first. My heart would pound because I couldn't bear to find an unhappy ending. If I saw that everything worked out well, I would walk the book over to the pile where I had set aside the others to take home.

An odd thing happens as you get older, things occur to you that you missed before. I remember the ages I've been, and what I did then. When I think back on being a child, I don't hear laughter in those memories. I don't hear the sound of my voice, or the sound of anyone's voice.

Our house was a stunned silence, not by nature, but by the drop of a bomb. Our father's suicide, when I was 6 and my sister was 18, had left us wide eyed, and without tongues.

I can't imagine my sister, being newly 18 and all that a monumental loss at a time like that knocks out of a tender adult. But she found the strength while in her own darkness to take a little girl, numb and holding her breath, to the only place she could exhale, in between the spaces of those shelves of books. There must have been so much she needed to do for herself in her new life as a grown up, but she was with me.

I'm moved to tears while I remember, because she knew. I had lost the words of my own, and so my sister took me somewhere where I would find books that spoke for me, until I found a way back to my voice again.
* * *  


  1. Amazing piece. All of your work is tremendous--but this is amazing.

    I need more adjectives.

  2. Oh Alexandra. Sisters have an amazing place in our lives. They are not only family but they are our friends like no other girlfriend could be to us. They know us deeply and love us unconditionally. They know us even when we don't speak. They just know us. This memory of your sister fills me with warmth and happiness because of what she was able to give you but brings on a flood of tears because of the pain sheist have been feeling and what you and for the deep and painful losses your family had to experience. Oh Alexandra I want to run to your house right this instant and just hug you!!! Just a deeply touching and beautiful story!!!!

  3. Jocelyn: I am so glad we met.
    SUEBoB: Your words mean a lot. Thank you.
    Carrie: Sisters. We don't stop and think of how they are in our lives. Thank you. xo

  4. Your sister was amazing! She got you what you needed to bring you back. I love your voice!

  5. Great piece Alexandra! Your sister continues to be amazing :-)

  6. Thank you for telling us. So beautiful. I have three sisters myself - and as Carrie said - they are lifelong friends - but so much more because no one knows me better.
    Alexandra, this was such a touching, heart-ful piece. <3

  7. smiles...what a cool sister you had eh? and what a gift she gave you as well...of words when you had none....a really touching story alexandra

  8. This story brings tears cuz I lost my only sister in 2008 before we could become friends as adults. She chose to take her family to Moscow and raise them there and that's where the blood clot got her. It changed me in ways I cannot verbalize yet.

    I am so happy for you and for the love and relationship you two have; may many years stretch before you....

  9. I'm so glad she was there to take you to the library and help you get your beautiful words back. Maybe holding your small hand in hers provided her comfort as well.
    I love this, Alexandra.

    1. Holding a small hand in ours is so comforting; the world can seem a big, scary place even for grown-ups and feeling those little fingers wrapping 'round ours brings a stabilizing influence we don't get anywhere else. Thank you for reminding me of that, Shannon.

  10. Beautiful piece, thank you for sharing!

  11. I was moved to tears with this beautiful and sad post. My gosh. I'm so gald you had your sister to help you through the sadness and silence.
    xo jj

  12. Oh, A. What a wonderful tribute to your sister. And how truly amazing is she? xoxo

  13. GrandeMocha: You're always so kind, thank you.
    Veronica: Yes, she is. She is to so many. Thank you.
    Tess: Thank you, friend. My sisters have all been there for me. xo
    Brian: Thank you, Brian. It's a close relationship that goes beyond a post, but we try.
    Lynda: How sad, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your sister with me today.
    Shannon: We helped each other through that time, in ways we didn't understand yet.
    Lindsay: Thank you so much, and good to see you!!
    Joanna: I know you count on your sisters, too.
    Alison: I never thought about it until now. It's so far in the past, I forgot about it until I read about libraries and then the memory came back, so clear. xo cntintil g

  14. Your words moved me to tears. The ties that bind...

  15. Thank you, Robbie K. I was surprised by how much I could remember, once I concentrated. I just remember always being at the library, and then I thought, but who took me, how did I get there, what else was going on at that time. And I was bowled over.



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