"Who else could buy you underwear?" my sister asked, handing me a Lands End three-pack of high-cut cotton briefs in white and baby blue. "But as well as Lands End fits," — her voice ran up the scale, then paused for effect as she whipped out a pair of black cotton, five percent spandex undies from a plastic bag — "these Balis fit even better."
Of course, she was right. My sister and I have the same shape, smaller versions of our mother's hourglass figure. Okay, hour and a half.
Because my sister loves to shop and I don't, she's my scout. Years ago, when we were both in New York visiting Mom, she called from Syms, where she was rummaging the racks of that discount mecca the size of two football fields.
"Get in the car and drive here immediately," she commanded. "They have pants that fit us. Norton McNaughton, small waist, big hips. I take a twelve; you'll take a ten."
A few weeks later, when she was back home in Wisconsin and I was home in California, she alerted me by cell, "I'm at the Lands End outlet. They have cotton twill capris on sale, thirty-five percent off. Do you want me to get you a pair in midnight blue? They're irregular. I'll have to try on twenty pairs, but I'm willing to do it. Mom is ecstatic. She just found a windbreaker, price slashed to $16.99, then discounted another forty percent."
My sister and I are like twins separated at birth. Six years and 2,000 miles apart, we have a spooky psychic connection, most evident in matters of retail. Make that wholesale.
The first documented event was decades ago, when my sister showed up in California with the same weird collapsible hairbrush that I had just purchased on impulse on my way back from Tahoe one hot summer night. The next time I visited her in Milwaukee, I couldn't wait to recommend my new SAS sandals. I knew she would thank me forever for saving her aching tootsies. When she picked me up at the airport, she was wearing the very same sandals.
We buy the same brand of Zen green tea and the same bras, sliders for furniture, and cup holders for cars — sometimes on the same day, without prior knowledge of the other's latest find.
On one of our sprees in Milwaukee's Marshalls, after separately filling our carts, she called over the dressing booth's plywood partition, "Laur, you should try this on. It might look good on you."
I replied, "And this might be good on you."
Unlatching the locks on our flimsy booth doors, we stepped into the neon fluorescent corridor and saw our mirror image. We were both trying on the same cinnamon silk shift.
When we're together we burst into the same song, at the same moment, on the same note. We convulse with laughter at the same sound or sight — a primordial laughter that bubbles from a place so deep, it's an instinctive physical response, barely filtering through our brains.
We share memories that trigger exactly the same mental picture or reaction. How Daddy's green bathing suit, made of a nylon so indestructible he wore it for thirty years, ballooned like pontoons around his hips when he waded into the pool. Mom leading us like ducklings across Delancey Street, loaded down with bags of skirts, blouses, shoes, and underwear on our annual shopping pilgrimage to the Lower East Side. Our brother banging out chords on the piano in our Long Island childhood living room, writhing in his James Brown imitation, while my sister and I sang back-up.
She once visited me in San Francisco without her husband and son. A sister week. Within minutes of arriving she was on a ladder in my study changing the smoke alarm battery, replacing the defective garden hose, shopping for cushions for my patio furniture, introducing me to the miracle of Febreze to kill the smell in the suitcase stored in my garage, editing my latest magazine queries and essays, and issuing directives.
"Send the queries to Oprah, the essay to Vanity Fair. If you offered me a million dollars, I couldn't write this," she praised me. She offers me her energy, her advice, her care.
"Neither of us lives near family," she said. "It's not right. You should sell your house and move to Milwaukee."
"There's this thing that happens in Milwaukee," I said. "I think you call it winter.”
"You could sell your house for a bundle and buy one in Wisconsin for much less. You wouldn't have to work." She was pulling out the stops.
Periodically, I weigh the options. Mill Valley . . . Milwaukee. Hiking along a stream in the redwood grove behind my home . . . trudging on a treadmill, slip-sliding on an icy sidewalk trying to get to my car.
Mill Valley . . . Milwaukee. My attachments here . . . my sister there.
I love the Mill Valley home I designed and built on a hill overlooking San Francisco Bay. How do I balance my friendships, knit and purled over forty years of living here, against my love for my sister?
Maybe some day my sister and I will have adjoining rooms in the nursing home. For now, we'll make do with calls, visits, and our psychic sisters' hotline, sharing deep laughter and underwear tips.
Prompt: Write about your relationship with one of your siblings. If you are an only child, are you happy about that?
Copyright © 2013 by Laura Deutsch