Wednesday, June 6, 2012

When a Wheel Comes Off

Sister S and I woke at dawn on Friday to catch our flight with sister C to visit our youngest sister, T. But before we even left for the airport, C called, sounding cruddy. "I've been up all night," she moaned. "I'm sick. I can't go." We tried but couldn't book a later flight for her; everything was full. And after six months of planning! So S and I went anyway, but it felt all wrong.
We were a little red wagon with one wheel missing. The four of us have been together in life for over 50 years now, and were heading to Florida to celebrate that fact, it being the year of T's 50th birthday. But without C, we wobbled. 

When S, T and I met up at the hotel, we collectively fretted. Should we have rescheduled? When we canceled her flight, should we have kept the return flight, in case she could make it later? We walked on the beach, had drinks by the pool, went out for dinner, but it felt as if we were cheating on her, somehow. "C would love this," we said at the beach drum circle, at the warm turquoise rise of the sea. C has always been our Sister of the Outrageous, in word and adventure, our party starter. Without her, we were a little on the quiet side.

Like most sisters, we have our issues and grievances, old wounds and irritations. We've had fights and riffs and snits, but even so, that's how we are together and we seem to have found a way to be ourselves now, inside of all that, and to accept each other. Ours may be an imperfect container with a few cracks and bumps, a little plastering over in spots, but still, we it's ours. We're as familiar with each other's pet peeves and needs and quirks as we are our own. We know that S will need naps and T will have difficulty making decisions, and I will be bossy, among many other annoying behaviors I've accumulated in life, but without C's off-color language in, say, a restaurant, it just wouldn't be right.

Within hours, she'd booked a flight for the next day, hoping she'd feel well enough to make it. She would arrive at 9 pm or so. "Don't wait for dinner," she said, though we wanted to. So, after our dinner out, the three of us went shopping, procuring C's favorite beer—Corona with lime—then headed back to the hotel to wait for her. As her arrival time drew closer, we called room service.

When she arrived, you'd have thought she'd come back from the dead. "C's here!" we exclaimed, rushing out into the hallway. "We have beer! And a cheeseburger and fries!" Paltry offerings for her first night in Florida, but C didn't care that she'd missed anything. She just seemed happy to be squished into our hotel room, the three of us watching her eat and talking about what we'd seen and done that day, what we could see and do the next. 

We clinked beers and breathed a collective sigh of relief, all of us. Now we could get this party started.