The sun shines, the breeze breezes and the temperature temps. But the keyboard calls so I sit at the picture window watching life in 3-D. Happy behind glass, it’s National Sibling Day. I know because I was on “the book.” Seems Facebook has replaced the other book we used to call “The Book.” We have a national day for just about everything from hemorrhoids to hotdogs. I’m thinking we need a National Everything Else Day in this age of inclusiveness and maybe we can hand out all those little trophies that still mean nothing.
As the youngest with my twin sister, I’m fortunate to still have them all. Our gang of five lives in four different states. We try to get together about twice a year but manage all of us in one room for weddings and yea funerals. I never knew how important they would become. Growing up in an out-of-place farmhouse surrounded by twin homes, I’d play in the small barn used for cars, to get away from them and ask for a horse every Christmas. After all, how much land did Mr. Ed need?
As kids we are surrounded by death but we were so focused on life, we never really slowed to take much notice. Death was on TV every night—the Vietnam War. Dying was in our Westerns. Shoot, the Rifleman killed a bunch every week and that was before the opening credits were finished. We played combat and shot Germans and Japanese, not knowing the difference.
In our neighborhood houses burnt, grandparents passed, and kids played. Death hurt. It hurt, but we shoved the hurt in our back packs and walked to school. At a time when no one had money or credit, we all had school bags, rain coats, boots, maybe even an umbrella if we didn’t use it for a weapon. We all had coats, hats, and mittens in the winter. Sure, they may have been some other kid’s but no one noticed. No one cared.
We had each other—brothers and sisters both. At school, at the dinner table, on the hill framing our house, we invented games of tag and feats of strength.
“Oh, your Chrissy’s little brother.”
“Andy Davidson? I coached your brother.”
“Hey, is Beth you sister?”
“I know your sister Suzie.”
It was all part of growing up in the age of kids. Today they’d say we grew up harsh. Helicopter parents? We didn’t know what a helicopter parent looked like. I guess that would have been the parent that brought their kid to the first day of practice and the parent didn’t come back.
“Why didn’t he bring himself?”
“Poor kid, he must not have a bike.”
When someone died, someone on TV, maybe someone’s grandparent, and yea, maybe someone that was just too young and never should have… we’d get in a small circle and talk. Not all night, maybe not even a long time. Then we’d pick up our bat and glove and walk to the park.
Maybe we see each other at the pool. We’d never really said much but we’d share a frozen Milky Way and teach each other how to jump from the high dive.
Looking down from the diving board, it was so far. I could barely swim. I don’t remember any test for jumping in the deep end. The test, I suppose was making it to the ladder. If you made the ladder, you got to jump again. If you didn’t, you didn’t.
I just watched my sister jump the day, or maybe it was a week, or summer before. I’m not telling. The day before I crawled back down, and did the walk of shame back to the shallow end. Now I stood there near the edge of the board, not bouncing, perfectly still. I could feel the other kids below waiting their turn, shivering as chlorinated water dripped from their stretched suits and bathing caps. My sister stood on the side near the deep end ladder.
At last, I jumped off the corner, to get as close to the side as I could and fought my way to the top before I even hit the surface. But there I was, alone, under the water. No one to help, no one. Maybe they were looking from the top. Maybe my twin was waiting at the side. Maybe the lifeguard stopped twirling her whistle and stared. But it was just me pushing myself to the top—reaching for air.
I burst through. The life guard shook her head and went back to twirling. What should take two strokes, took about ten to make it back to concrete. I was exhilarated, I was exhausted. Everyone else forgot.
“See, I told you,” she might have said, “Let’s do it again.”
I have to do it again? And I begrudgingly followed her to the growing line behind the high dive.
“Bout time,” someone likely said. “Shut up,” my sister would have replied.
Back then jumping off the deep end meant more than dying. And somehow it taught me all I needed to know about both. But I still don’t want to do it again–jumping or dying.