Each of us knows a different part of Pat; very few know the sum total. Certainly I don't. But I can share parts of her past that are known to a very few.
Pat and I were born seven years apart. Pat was the blessing; I was the surprise. Our mother had had a partial hysterectomy, with no expectation of further children. Raised at a time when children meant poverty, she was likely happy with one. But there we were. Patsy and Pamela.
When Pat was 14, I was seven. I was the skinny, asthmatic kid with allergies and a drippy nose, who hung around my older sister, irritating her with my mere presence. “Mum, can’t you make her stop sniffling?” But I was busy trying to figure out what it meant to be a real teenager. I was infatuated with her red pumps and crinoline skirts. I would put on her hoop crinoline, left for washing in the basement, and twirl on tiptoes on an imaginary dance floor. I read her pamphlet “On Becoming a Woman”, try to discern the mysteries of Kotex pads and menstrual cycles, and how to speak to boys (or, as the pamphlet suggested, how to listen carefully).
When Pat was 17, I was ten. She had a boyfriend, a dashing young man who knew how to ballroom dance. And Pat loved to dance with him, gliding across the floor in waltzes and two steps. She was an accomplished actress, part of a bright, shining group that captivated my world with Shakespeare and Moliere. I would sit entranced, listening to her careful elocution and measured tones, even then bringing language to life.
When Pat was 20, I was 13. Now in university, she was working for the summer in the North Battleford Psychiatric Centre as a ward aid. A mental institution, as it was known then. A place of dark secrets. She learned to smoke and swear, and in turn taught others how to use tampons (Rule #1 -- remove the cardboard applicator after insertion!). I was busy trying to figure out nylon stockings and garter belts.
When Pat was 22, I was 15. In fourth year university, Honors English, she was an intellect. Surrounded by dark young men debating Camus, she drank beers with her professors at the Park Town, typing papers late into the night, due the next day.
And then Pat was gone, a married woman living in Ontario.
Over time, seven years has shrunk from a canyon into a crack in the sidewalk, easily stepped over in shiny red pumps and sensible walking shoes. We had planned to grow old together, sitting on a front porch, clutching plastic purses and calling out to the young men walking by. Living in a house by the sea filled with art, music, ideas, and friends. For now, we will turn back time and grow young together.