Looking at my sister is like looking in the mirror. The shape of her eyes, drawn down just a bit on the ends, and the curve of her mouth when she smiles are just two of the many physical similarities we share. As a kid, it grated on me that people thought we were twins. “I’m older,” I’d reply, indignantly.
But we were always close, joined together by love and also by the difficulties of growing up in a house with a very ill parent. When our mom died, we grieved together even if we didn’t know exactly how to go about it. I’d been away at college for much of the previous year and on trips home, I’d felt so much older than Lindsay. But when my mom died, that sense of growth and independence vanished.
We didn’t go to therapy together or talk much even in private. Mostly, we just sat together and watched television, programs that were escapist enough that we could get lost, if only for a few minutes. Lindsay slept on my floor for weeks after my mom’s funeral, as family members took up her room, and at night when I couldn’t sleep, I’d look down at her, lit up by the glow of an old nightlight. Seeing her black hair draped across the pillowcase and listening to her breathing, soft and long, gave me some comfort. I still had her.
It was no surprise to anyone that she eventually became a nurse. She’d spent much of her childhood helping to care for my mom, slowly figuring out when to be tough and when to be soft, depending on my mom’s moods. As a nurse, she was like my dad—a no-nonsense healer who knew that sometimes a hug wasn’t the only thing a patient needed. Her laugh was loud like my dad’s, and came easily.
One day a few months after Shawn died, Lindsay was helping me clear out some of the unneeded things in my master closet. “Do you want these to go in the donation pile?” she asked me, gesturing to a pile of clothes that no longer fit me.
“Probably,” I said. “I still can’t gain any weight.”
She kept going through my drawers, asking me what I wanted to do with different items. Then, she came to my underwear drawer. “What are these?” she said to me, a funny look on her face, as she held up a pair of plain black bikini underwear. They were old, with little nubby bits of cloth hanging off the butt.
“Those are obviously my underwear,” I said.
“Oh, no,” she said dramatically, and we both laughed. “You know how I feel about ugly underwear!”
I did. For years, I’d laughed at how she dressed in beautiful lingerie. “What’s the point?” I’d exclaim when we were comparing undergarments in a dressing room. “We’re both married!”
“Marjorie,” she always said, “I see people’s underwear all day long in the ER. Do you really want to have an accident and end up in the ER and have on ugly underwear?”
“I don’t care!” I said, every time. And I didn’t care.
I wasn’t married anymore, I realized. The old underwear of marriage, the pairs I’d had for a decade because I didn’t really need to think about things like underwear anymore, those pairs were still in my closet. The butts were lumpy and the sets were mismatched and they definitely were not sexy. Plus, what would happen to me if I ended up in the ER? The last time I’d succumbed to an illness that sent me to the hospital, Shawn was with me, and he covered me up with a new robe each time I vomited on my clothes. If there was no one to cover me up, I probably needed some new underwear.
We spent the afternoon sitting on my bed and ordering new bras and underwear online. Some of them even had lace. “There may never be another man in my life. What am I going to do with this stuff?” I asked Lindsay at one point.
“Look good in the ER,” she said, with a deadpan expression. I laughed and she laughed and we threw the old underwear in the trash.
Image Credit: Sharyn Peavey.