“Stay close to me, there might be thunder!”
It was a stormy afternoon in California, dark clouds covered the usually blue sky as rain pounded down. My sister and I had been playing outside when the downpour started. We rushed across the yard to safety, and my sister, being older and very protective, grabbed my hand and said to me, “Stay close to me, there might be thunder!” And, just as she said it, a huge thunderclap burst through the sounds of rainfall.
I was probably 3 or 4 when this happened, but I still remember it clearly. It was one of the few moments in my childhood when I felt completely loved and safe. My sister and I were very close when we were young. From the moment I was born, she loved me. She often showed it in weird ways like tricking me into eating a mud taco, pinning me down to spit on my face, and trying to throw me out the bathroom window of a hotel to save me from our parents, but despite the questionable moments, she was always there to protect and love me. The first line of defense against a dark and dangerous world.
As we got older, it became harder for her to protect me. Danger lurked in unexpected places in our household. Slaps that flew for no apparent reason, quiet whispers of things children should not know. We lived with the constant nagging feeling that something terrible was about to happen, and it was only a matter of time before someone really got hurt. Eventually, I learned to protect myself. But the nasty side effects of growing up knowing mostly fear and sadness showed themselves as I raged into my teenage years full of anger and pain. There was no way for her to reach me, so we drifted apart.
As teenagers, I worked through my internal turmoil with drugs, promiscuity and a fully immersive socio-economic study of the drifter culture, she sought her escape by channeling her intense fight for survival into academia. She graduated valedictorian and I narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion. But even worlds apart, she was always there. She did the things our parents should have done. She had the hard conversations, she offered support and she showed me love. She did the best that any slightly older child could do. And so, with time, we found our way back to each other.
Our reunion started when she left for college and invited me to join her for a skirt party and underage drinking. Next, I visited her one year for Thanksgiving. It was just me and her in a little apartment making chicken, peppered brownies, and rekindling the love and joy we had shared as children. We drank too much champagne, made incredibly stupid videos, and laughed until tears of joy rolled down our faces. After that, the visits became more frequent and the calls longer. The space between us disappeared, and there we were, as close and full of love as two children running from a rainstorm.
This year, thunder struck again. With my sister in Los Angles and me in France, we reach across the ocean to escape the storm. We both protect each other now. We share the hard conversations, the offers of support and show love to each other when it is needed. We call on each other to remember what is real and what is not. To remind each other not to get lost in hope. To accept our limitations and put our energy where it matters most. We help each other to make the tough calls, to face the hard truths and to prepare for the inevitable. In life, there will always be thunder. There will always be storms and scary things. What matters, are the people who will take your hand and pull you close. No matter how far away it may seem, love will always be there when the storm hits.