What You Take

I just finished reading a great novel by Kristin Hannah, Fly Away.  It is the sequel to Firefly Lane, a story about the friendship between two girls.  Fly Away tells us what happens to one friend after the other has died.   As the book is drawing to a close, the two friends part ways one last time and it brings back memories of my childhood friend, my best friend, my sister.

Katie died when she was 13 and I was 11.  Being two years apart, we grew up very close.  Katie was a tomboy.  She was carefree, unafraid, sporty, talkative, funny.  She was a star.  I was her opposite “twin”.  Timid, shy, extremely girly, not very coordinated, and never one to want to be in the spotlight.  I was tall, she was short.  Thus, we were often about the same height, with similar hair color.  Sometimes we’d switch jackets and put our heads down as we walked to the bus stop, hoping to fool the other kids into thinking I was her and she was me.    Katie and I did everything together.  She was my rock.

The last memory I have of Katie, and probably the strongest memory I have,  was after she died.  We had just said goodbye to her in the hospital.  Seeing her laying in that hospital bed, it didn’t look like my sister at all.  Her face was swollen, she was bandaged and had tubes everywhere.  There was no life…it was not her.  But we held hands around her and we said the Our Father.  And I said goodbye.  When we got home, I told my parents that I should go upstairs and call my friend and tell her why I haven’t been in school.  I will never forget my dad asking me if I needed help.  I did not understand that question.  Why would I need help calling my friend?  I was eleven.

So I started walking up the stairs in what felt like slow motion.  I remember looking over to my left hand slide along the railing.  And when I reached the top of the stairs I felt something on that hand and I shook it.  And then, immediately after I shook it, I knew exactly what it was.  It was my sister’s hand, holding my hand.  I felt her fingers slide into mine.  It felt so real that I knew then and there, at age eleven, that if I had just looked over, I would have seen her standing right beside me.  And suddenly, I knew exactly what my dad was asking when he asked if I needed help calling my friend.  Because as I went to make the call and started speaking, all of a sudden, I couldn’t get the words out.  The realization that my sister was no longer by my side hit me all at once.  And there was my dad, ready to take the phone and finish the conversation.

I hold that memory tight.  It was the last time my sister physically held my hand, letting me know that she was with me.  Her message rang clear in my heart, “I am always with you, holding your hand through life.” And many times, in the 29 years since that moment, I have felt my sister with me.

As I read Fly Away, one particular line hit me like a ton of bricks and instantly brought tears to my eyes, “…my best friend, with her long, tangled blond hair,  and thick eyelashes and her smile that lights up any room.  My other half. The girl who took my hand all those years ago and didn’t let go until she had to.”  And suddenly, I was missing my sister all over again.  But I noticed, as I sat silently crying, that after so many years had passed, so many memories start to fade.  You forget exactly the expressions that she made and how her voice sounded and you try so hard to bring back so many memories that you know you shared.  The tons and tons of conversations you had when your parents thought you were sleeping, but really you (she, mainly) was talking for hours and hours into the night.  What did you talk about?  It all  fades with time.

But here is what I remember.  I remember the love.  I remember feeling safe with her.  I remember feeling like we’d always find something fun to do together.  I remember feeling like she would always protect me.  And I remember her holding my hand.  And that’s what you take with you.  No matter how much time passes, you never forget that love that you shared.   The love stays with you forever and in the end, it’s all that you have.  It’s all that you need.

Until we meet again, and hold hands.

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