To Amy on Her 37th Birthday*

Heidi and Amy. c. 1987.

I don’t think I’ve ever told Amy this, but years ago, probably when I was in college, I internally accepted the idea that my adult life would end up with me living in her basement.

Set aside the fact that I intuitively — and, as it turns out, correctly — knew that I would not be good at being an adult. I also knew that Amy would have a better grasp on figuring things out than I would and that she would willingly house me for an open-ended period of time and not judge me for not having my shit together.

Years have passed since this personal revelation. But during those years, even though her life at times was very distant from mine literally (as she lived on two different continents) and figuratively (because I’m an emotionally distant android-like creature on a good day), I continued to live with this plan in the back of my mind. Even when she did not have a reliable address, let alone a basement.  

I love my sister. I always looked up to her as a kid. When I think back on my childhood, she is the most prominent figure in it. I’m the younger sibling, the interloper. I altered her world when she was 3½ by coming into existence, and then I’m sure I frustrated her when I didn’t go along with her plans — although, once I was old enough to follow, I think usually I was amenable (there’s photographic evidence of this).

I have held a grudge against Roger Rabbit since this day. c. 1989.

Sometimes I work as a philosophy professor, and I try to use real world examples when I teach. When European politics comes up, or Marxism, or the fall of the USSR, or I just need a random example of a country, inevitably I start talking about my sister. I had a group of students in a just war theory class who sat with rapt attention as I told them about her life adventures.

“I would read her memoir,” one of the students said.

I would, too. Because I’ve been sporadic at keeping in touch over the years, there are many holes I want filled. But I tell a highly abridged version: how she traveled to the former Eastern Bloc, managed to get around speaking a relatively obscure language, not really knowing anyone, making a life for herself, and then how she met her husband and ended back up in the U.S., closer in distance to me than she has been in years. And I tell it with admiration, and I tell people how brave I think she is, because she has done things I could never do but wish I could.

You see, I’ve always wanted to be like Amy. As it turns out, I’m too stuck in my head, ruled by fears and mental blocks I can’t quite name, and so my life has taken a different path. But the admiration, foundational to my childhood, is still there.

The sibling relationship is a special one. They’re the only person who knows you through all the stages of your life — if you’re lucky. They’re the person who has, inevitably, seen you at your worst. They have been the person you took your internal teenage shit out on, because they were there and you were too stupid and adolescent to understand your anger and your pain. They’re the person you have the most shared experiences with from the most similar perspective.

Halloween 1985.

Amy and I have a collective memory. We have the same mannerisms. Our voices are nearly identical. We finish each other’s sentences. I have more inside jokes with Amy than I do with anyone else. I can write the words, “nobody told me,” and I guarantee you she is the only person on the planet who got my intended reference and read it in the right voice. (Not to mention, she might be the only person who actually reads this blog.)

She’s also the only person who I really believe accepts me just as I am, flaws and all. I have wonderful friends, some “found family” among them, but I always feel a slight gap, a lack of investment in my life that only family has. I also have two wonderful parents, who love me unconditionally, but the inevitable expectations that parents have on their children never quite evaporate even in adulthood.

I have lived my life for years with the assumption that she is the one person who always has my back and a place in her basement, or at least a spot on the couch, for me. I’m not there yet, but it’s inevitable. 

I’m not an easy person to be around. People who don’t know me well never believe me when I say this. The people who do know me never argue. But I know Amy would take me in — no questions asked. She would put up with my foibles and my broodiness and my super unhealthy sleeping patterns. And maybe she would even kind of like having me around sometimes.

At least, I hope so.

Because she’s kind of stuck with me.

This is possibly my favorite photo of us.


*I hope Amy doesn’t mind her age getting involved. There’s only so many times one’s age coincides with a play/film of a parallel title. Although the content here has absolutely nothing to do with the play beyond the title.

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