Once when I was eight years old, my hair caught on fire. My older sister saved my life by shoving me out the front door and burying my head in the snow. We were never close, thanks to an imaginary line my mother had drawn between the obedient, dependable daughter (me) and the obstinate, wild one (my sister). But that day, we sat shoulder-to-shoulder on my sister’s bed, counting the minutes in dreaded silence before our mother returned home to discover what had happened. My sister and I had directly disobeyed her instructions not to use matches, and the complicity of our crime, along with the shared trauma that followed, were enough to make for a rare tender moment between us.
Thirty years later, just west of where the hair-on-fire incident took place, another sister would come to my rescue. Born two decades after me to a different mother, and a continent away, she was practically a stranger when she came to live with us in our newly-rented house. At 18, she was also not much more than a child; yet there was an air about her of someone well beyond her years. Looking back, we were both like refugees, searching for safety and rest in those purple mountains we’d hoped to call home. My sister, who had just finished her high school exams while helping to care for our dying father, arrived from Germany still laden with the burdens from home. I, myself, with three young children, a relationship in trouble, and many personal demons just beginning to rear their heads, was already teetering on the edge of collapse.
That year, my younger sister and I kept watch over each other, waiting for the death of so many things: a father, a marriage, youth. During the day we’d take long walks and sneak cigarettes while I got to know my father through her stories; at night, we laughed as we jumped on the trampoline in the backyard and watched too many episodes of our favorite t.v. show (“Weeds”). I’d say goodnight to my sister as she headed up to her attic bedroom, only to find her in the morning curled up asleep beside one of my children. Neither of us wanted to grow up–neither of us wanted to be left alone.
Strangely, for one reason or another, all five of us sisters have never been in the same room together. Still, a bond exists between us that is as undeniable as it is unseen; a bond even stronger than a father’s love. Whether or not we’ve shared the same blood, I have had many “sisters” in my life who have sat with me, waiting for a storm to end; searched alongside me for a place to plant our roots. We are all here–living, searching, waiting– like strangers in a strange land; like seeds in snow.