The Day After

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Christmas yesterday and received your hearts desire. Or at least that laptop or digital camera you've been dying for!

Now it's the day after Christmas, which means hitting the 'After Christmas Sales' or returning that truly horrid gift that Aunt Mary gave you yesterday. I've heard and seen firsthand some scary scenarios the day after Christmas in retail stores as both one of the minions working retail once-upon-a-time in what seems like another life and as a consumer insane enough to brave going to a store on Dec 26.

For me though, December 26 has a different meaning aside from all the retail and holiday memories.

Today would have been my sister Shelly's 50th Birthday.

She has been gone these past 12 years now and I miss her very much. She died under suspicious circumstances all those years ago and yet it feels like yesterday that it happened. I miss her terribly.

My beautiful, tall, (5'11) slender, charming, intelligent, talented, funny, and oh so sweet big sister with the heart of gold. Shelly was the quintessential big sister in my mind and the one that I had dreamed of, begged for and prayed to God daily for throughout my early childhood before I knew she existed. God apparently DOES answer prayers.

See, Shelly (and my two half-brothers) are from my father's first marriage. It ended quite ugly and for various reasons, Shelly and I were kept away from each other. Shelly and our dad were at odds on top of the brainwashing and controlling attitude of her mother. Joey, the middle child, was problematic and very wild in his mothers care until she just couldn't handle him anymore and called Dad to come in and take him in control. That Dad did. He brought Joey to live with us when I was a little over 1 year old. Thank God for that. I became Joey's shadow, even as a toddler. Joey thrived and improved under Dad's strict rules and the love he got from my Mom and complete adoration from me. He always had time for me. Even so, for as long as I can remember, I had been harping at Mom for a sister. "Mama. I want a sister. Why don't you bring me a sister? Should I have a talk with Dad about this?" This was literally DAILY, a la Arianna. (So yes, I know exactly how she feels)

Joey got older and so did I. When I was about 4 Joey joined the Navy and left home and then I was alone, and my harping at Mom intensified.

I didn't even know Shelly existed… still. She had gone and gotten married very young and wasn't apparently in much contact with the family. Anyway…..

I remember clearly the day I found out about Shelly's existence. Mom was making my bed, (I think I'm about 4 years old) and I was on the other side of it and started my usual sister request and I guess poor mom got fed up. She looked at me across the bed and said quite clearly and full of exasperation: "You already HAVE a sister!". WHAMMO!! "I HAVE A SISTER?YAAAAAAAY!? Where IS she?"

Poor Mom suffered my interrogation, I got my details, but I found out no one knew where the heck she was, specifically. Ok. Close but no cigar. (See? I told you I'm determined! Heh.)

Years pass. Tenacious as a terrier, my desire to know my sister is not quenched. I told EVERYONE, Joey, Dad, my Aunt, and most particularly my Nana, (who, after my mom, was my LIFE) Nana was my confidant and whenever she was around, which was quite often, we were always together, with me nattering about this and that. Unbeknownst to me, Nana, believing that Dad was holding out info on us-and her in particular- feisty woman that she was, decided to hire a private detective to find Shelly for me.

The guy searched and searched until one day, when I was 11, Mama came home from work and told me she received a phone call that day at her office.

It was Shelly. Nana's private eye had found her, and on Nana's instructions, given her the contact info. Nana also spoke to her and told her just how badly I wanted my Big Sister. When Mom told me that Nana had hired a private eye to find Shelly for me and that she wanted to talk to me and write letters and see me, I was so thrilled. I was over the moon. My prayers answered.

We started talking and exchanging cards and letters. She was living back East at the time, had divorced her schmuck husband after 10 years and was getting on with her life. We were in Los Angeles.

As we got to know each other, I realized that she was everything I had dreamed of in a sister, in the flesh, and even more than I ever could have imagined. She was a lot like I wanted to be when I was older.

A professional equestrian rider since the age of 5, she adored horses and talked about them a lot. She, like me, loved all animals (ok, mostly). I talked to her about boys, and school and life in general; she gave advice and shared her own experiences with me. About this time Shelly moved to Europe. First to Paris, then a short stint studying and achieving her dream of training with the Lipizzaner Stallions in Austria, and then on to Malaga, Spain. Shelly was studying languages a little late in life and she figured that while studying at school, it was best for her to be immersed in the language.

She was so good about sending me pictures, and cards, and letters and calling me. She would try to write me a LONG letter at least once a month. We got close and she imparted perhaps not necessarily wisdom as much as her take on life, her good and bad experiences and her wonderful, intelligent and LOGICAL advice.

Eventually she moved back to the US to Virginia where she set up shop… literally. Some more years passed and I got married, which she was very against. I. Mean. Very. So much so that we were actually estranged for a little over a year when she died.

I think that is what hurt the most of all. No chance to say goodbye. (ok, chances missed never to be regained) No chance to mend broken fences. Perhaps we both took time for granted. Assumed we were both young, with our lives ahead of us. No chance to say one last time just how very much I loved her and adored her. But I think, that despite everything, in her heart, she knew. I certainly hope so.

Shelly's was the first death of someone I loved that I had to deal with and it taught me some valuable, painful lessons that, I think, made me a better person.

A year ago, I happened upon an old newspaper article interview on the internet of an old friend of Shelly's since they were teenagers. (God Bless Google!) This friend talked about her, the kind of person she was from her youth up through her adulthood. The way she was with people, children, and even animals. Her easy, infectious laughter. I noticed similarities between myself and Shelly from the description of her. Things I noticed myself and things about me that my friends that know me well say. I felt proud that I have at least some of her good qualities. I still feel proud.

So today, I just want to say: "I love you and always think of you my big sister. Happy Birthday Shelly."

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