Wingman

I was always your wingman, whether I liked it or not. I got used to it. Whatever insane scheme you came up with, I covered for you, backed you up, because you and I, we were family—sisters in every way that mattered. As children, we could spend hours discussing everything from bigfoot, to the city we were going to build under the ocean when we became famous scientists, to the meaning of life itself.10-Yr

But even as children, we were already having long talks about death. All the way into middle age, you were forever calling me up to tell me what you wanted me to say at your funeral. It varied, depending on who you were pissed off with at the time. To me, these conversations were theoretical, just a way for you to exorcise your demons, and I gave them very little thought—right up to the moment you left this life.

Only an hour before, we were walking across a park in Denver, stretching our legs after a late lunch, just you and John, me with Todd. And—just like old times—you fooled Todd into falling for the old dog-shit-on-your-shoe trick; then you made fun of John for talking too much; then you gave me crap for getting all uptight about honesty over yet another one of your white lies. We argued all the way to the comedy club, where you bought us all front-row tickets to the show that night—an anniversary gift to Todd and me—before Babesdriving us back to your house to cool down with a couple beers.

That day, like we always did when we got together, we recounted wild stories about our youth—how you and I used to crash the college keggers where nobody knew us. How you’d go striding in, claiming to be a famous doctor, the leader of a biker gang, the founder of an elite equestrians’ club, and I would sagely confirm every word. Guys always fell for it, and we’d enjoy free beer all night, then make our getaway before anyone was the wiser.

You and I dominated these trips back in time, no matter who else was in the room. The last words I can remember you saying are: “John—shut up!”

One moment we were laughing together in your kitchen; the next, your heart betrayed you and you were gone. We called 9-1-1, followed the ambulance to the hospital, sat in amazement as the doctor told us there was nothing we or they could have done.

The next several hours were a nightmare of pain, shock, disbelief. Our heartbreak enveloped us, burning us as if we were on fire, and there was nowhere we could run to escape the flames. We alternated between staring numbly at an all-night marathon of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and crying until our voices were gone. I fell into something that was not sleep and was not waking, afraid to open my eyes.

But I would not allow this to be my memory of you. You and I—we have almost five decades of wild nights, stupid fights, midnight walks, broken hearts, mad laughter, cryptic jokes, road trips, and sisterly love as deep as any blood ties. The stories of you and me would fill a wall of encyclopedias. When I think of you, that terrible night is only a passing footnote in our grand, uproarious epic.

The middle volumes would fall under the chaotic, hairsprayed heading of: High School.Datsun

We used to cruise up and down Main Street at night in my ’77 Datsun, blasting Ratt and Bon Jovi on my ghetto blaster, looking for someone to buy us a twelve-pack of Bud Light. You’d roll down the window and yell at random people to fuck off, and we’d fight about it afterwards. You’d go up to the rental houses where the tech school guys lived and distract them while I sneaked in the back door and stole their beer.

The last volumes—the ones where we became new people again and again but remained steadfastly the Dynamic Duo—are inscribed under: Adulthood.

When Todd and I flew back to Denver for your funeral, your daughters handed me an old, worn diary. It was filled with all the anger, confusion, and rebellion I remembered from our early twenties. There were memories of getting lost while country cruising, ourPlane road-tripping anthem, “Sausalito Summer Nights.” There were lists of the things you wanted to do with your life. You were going to write a book. There were lists of the goofy words and phrases you and I had invented over the years (such as, Jesus Tits!). There were fierce vows of love for your children, for their future in this world.

There was the credo that when you died, this diary be given to me.

But to fully address the depth of our ties, I must reach back in time to the day it all started, the first chapter in a dusty old tome titled: Grade School.

We were six years old. It was recess time. On the playground, another girl and I were playing with a little dog and laughing. Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around and was smacked across the face.

As I recovered, my watering eyes focused on a girl with long, blond hair and a furious expression. All I knew about you was that your name was Shannan, and your leg was in a cast. Your eyes were narrowed at me, your lips pressed together. “I saw you laughing,” you snapped. “If I catch you laughing again, I’ll hit you even harder!” Then you gripped your crutches and hobbled away.

My friend and I stared at each other. “Was she naughty to you?” she whispered.

I shrugged and soon we forgot about it and went back to laughing and playing with the doggy.

“Hey!” said an angry voice behind me. “What’d I tell you?” I turned around. SMACK!

Not long after that day, you said, “Let’s ask our moms if I can stay overnight at your house.”

I wasn’t about to tell you no!

From day one, you were always fucking with us.

Just like you were the day we walked across the park to the comedy club to buy tickets for a show we would never see, and you said, “Uh—Todd? Ya might wanna take a look at the bottom of your shoe…”Sho&Shan1

Or the time you put butter on my chair and I had to spend the rest of the day with everyone in the third grade making fun of the grease spot on my butt.

Or the time you convinced me to help you pick the lock on the telephone repairman’s trailer and rearrange his furniture.

Or the time you called me up to warn me that Nebraska was having rolling blackouts and we needed to stock up on batteries and ice for when the power went out.

You had this evil, raucous laugh that would just explode as soon as the jig was up.

You see, I’ll never run out of these.

About three weeks after your funeral, Todd and I were working on a fireworks crew, and during a break, I dozed off in my car. You sneaked up and whispered something hilarious into my ear, and when I opened my eyes and sat up, I could feel your laughter all around me—I could feel you, fleeing like an ornery child forever young, beckoning me to follow.

I guess I’ll never be rid of you—will I? Because we’ll always be sisters, you’ll never stop fucking with me, and I’ll never stop being your wingman.

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