Monday, August 4, 2008

Sisters


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.

6 comments:

LNG said...

Oh, Pam....what a lovely, incredibly lovely thread of memories...it's clear the writing gene has blessed you both...

Ah,those Shakespeare days. Mr. Hinitt. Grand period-accurate costumes we dyed in the sink in the staff room, the rush and jazz of being a part of something larger, something that made mere school routine a kleenex to shred. We lived across the back from you (we were on York) and Pat and Mardi and I were intoxicated with our lives in the drama club...club? Ha. It was a school invasion.

Thank you for giving us those moments in your lives as sisters. My sister is younger by seven years, too, and it's so true -- that chasm is a mere crack; as we are older, the hands reach across easily.

Love to you both
Lorri

Anonymous said...

Never having had a sister makes the reading of your beautiful piece even more poignant. I can read the love. And what a wonderful picture to share of the two of you together.

My love to you both

Gaynor

Anonymous said...

Oh Pam,
your writing is so luscious and rich and it sweeps me back to the time when I could still hold my sister in my arms and travel with her in that special space that exists only in the immediacy of this present moment when serious illness wipes out the external world and the normal boundaries of time.

And having read some of Pat's writings about growing up, its so delicious to hear your perspective!

I have only met Pat through email and phone, but she feels like chosen family to me. When my sister Hannah died of Ovca, Pat was one of very few people who wanted to dig deeply into the questions about living and dying that it raised for me, and the dialogue that we have had since has been one of the most profound and joyous of my life.

I would like to ask you a favor. I will probably never get to touch your sister physically, so it would mean a lot if you would hug her for me, so that my heart can touch hers by proxy.

All my love,
Kato
ps.
If there is any way I can support you, or any help of any sort that you need, please let me know. I was Hannah's medical manager through a long bowel obstruction and colostomy and there may be a time when you just want to talk to someone or ask questions about something that comes up - and I would love to help in any way that I can, including giving you phone hugs if you need them. Pat has my phone number. I will write her a separate email shortly.

Sherri Rinkel Mackay said...

When I read the posts, I am struck. With Pat at the centre, there is a jeweled net of the most amazing people. Her life has woven us together and all our stories can converge here. Pat is rich with incredible friends and a beautiful, strong sister.

Last week, when things were going sideways for Pat and she needed space and rest, emails were sent out informing “the net” of what would be in Pat’s best interest. I heard that sometimes people would still come to the hospital in an honest mistake. Surely the emails meant everyone else should stay away but not “I”- since each one of us feels special in Pat’s gaze.

I spoke with Pat about this yesterday. I told her that she seems to see the gifts that each of us has. In her friendship, we can show her our worst and her generous gaze provides space for our best. Each one of us probably feels like we are her “special” friend and that these visiting rules must be for everyone else. I giggled when I said this to Pat- “Imagine, that each of us feels like that special friend”. She blinked at me and said, “Well, each one of you are”.

So here is to Pat’s Sister and all the sista’s (and fella’s) in this beautiful jeweled net.

Donna Hay said...

Pam, as I read this amazing blog, I remember growing up with all of my sisters, and contemplate my own mortality; and worse...theirs.
How does one really prepare to say, "Good-bye"?
Thank God for memories. They let you live over and over any moment you choose to. And thank God for feelings and imaginations that allow us to put ourselves if even for one painful moment, in the place of the ones who suffer.
True friendship and love is knowing that no matter how painful a situation is, people who truly care will throw themselves into the path of pain over and over, just to "be there" for you. If not to successfully diminish suffering, at least to help carry the painful weight so you are not alone through it all.
How sad, how tragic, and how very bitter-sweet.
Pat, you have my admiration and respect. You are an amazing woman.
And Pam, because you have done and continue to do the very things I've just written about, you have both my admiration and respect, and also my love,
I wish you were my sister.
With love,
Donna

Anonymous said...

Hey Pat,
your beautiful sister wrote an exquisite post that was so full of love that it made my heart ache. I've asked her to give you a hug from me but I wanted to send you a verbal one too.
I've been traveling the last five weeks, without internet access, and was so sad to see that you are obstructed again. I hope you are getting lots of loving touch to help your brave guts heal up and get going again.
Since I can't put my hands on you to help with the physical healing, I want to send you a pledge of through the ether writing support. I'm sitting right now at my sister Julia's desk on the last day of my travels. When I get home I will begin to write a play about Hannah's ghost appearing at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night after her memorial ceremony. This play has sort of sprung fully formed from my heart, without any interference from my head, and has been fleshed out during these weeks of travel. I can't wait to get home and let it all the way out. And every time I sit down to write and light my candle to Hannah to come in and help me with it, I will also be lighting that candle for you and for the creative joyous juices to flow through you too. So we will be on a long distance writing retreat together!
And when you are better, we can send our work to each other and chew it through in another one of our delicious phone conversations.

With all my love,
Kato