Friday afternoon, my sister arrived at my office in the suburbs, weary from a five-hour drive east on a grey-skied I-80. I scrambled between my cubicle, the lunch room and the reception area, followed by my 21-year-old shadow, collecting things to pack into the car and run off for the weekend.I propped the kitchen door open with my right foot and grabbed the plastic box of rapidly rotting strawberries — and as I got my balance back to come into the hall, a coworker saw my sister and stopped in his tracks. "You………must be Paige's sister."
We sort of look alike, I guess. Sort of, she says with a sneaky smile. Both tall. With big, sparkling eyes. And our mother's nose. Twin grins, the very same sneaky smile. When we open our mouths to speak, we could be the same person. (My grandmother can't tell the three of us — her own daughters and two granddaughters — apart on the phone, actually.) Our mannerisms. Sailor-caliber cursing. The jokes and idiosyncrasies that set us off cackling for minutes on end, the hysterical kind that suddenly tapers off into a satisfied sigh. You can tell our voices apart when she says "milk" (it comes out "melk"): Cue hysterical laughter.
The weekend was brilliant. It feels as if her turning 21 flipped some sort of switch that brought down that barrier that had been keeping us apart for so many years — the tinted limo window between the tuxedo-clad passenger and her driver in the jaunty hat — one that had kept us strictly sisters, not friends, for the most part. Didn't hurt that we could both legally consume alcohol, I suppose.
I showed her more of my Chicago. We quoted old Disney movies. Ate ourselves stupid. Drank ourselves stupider. Drove around listening to the radio, harmonizing as we sang along. Shopped for clothes and whined that we'd eaten ourselves stupid just beforehand. Talked about our mother. And boyfriends. And school. And the holidays. And sex. And music. Our happiness. Our sometimes lack thereof. Absolutely forgot to take any photos. Not necessarily in that order.
I have few friends now whose company I enjoy more. Target trips are rarely so thrilling. People watching is funnier because we can trade ideas and pass judgments with mere glances. Every conversation is veiled with an extra layer of understanding. Magical sibling understanding.
We stumbled home at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning, after an evening out that was meant to end so much earlier and so much…soberer. The group of thirtysomething couples that we met and one bar and followed for the rest of the night had no idea we were sisters — and scarcely believed us when sister admitted she'd just turned 21, but who would? — but they were as drunk at the beginning of the night as we were on the way home. No matter. They bought us drinks and made me feel like a well-adjusted, beer-drinking social butterfly instead of a bar-scene leper. And halfway between the last bar and my building, I realized we'd locked ourselves out of my apartment. With anyone else, I might have sat down on the ground and given up, disintegrated into desperate tears (I really had to go to the bathroom) until the Knight showed up with his Shining Spare Key. But after a night like that? The keys were on my coffee table, and I had to gear up for a world of hurt — and a big hangover breakfast — the next day. So we laughed it off and braved the stairs together when our hero arrived. We recuperated together, two lumps on a third-floor, one-bedroom log, the next day. And she went back on the road this morning, back to school and sorority life and an inevitably complicated love life and popcorn shrimp and a too-small shower stall.
Our next reunion is home in Kansas, in a month. But Chicago's here whenever you need it, sister.
And for the record? It never gets old, the double-take. The "are you two sisters? You have to be." Because of course we are. A blind man would know without even looking. We just are.