By Heidi Hendricks/photo credit: Carol Craven
When there are three sisters who share twin bunk beds it goes like this. The oldest gets the bottom because she tends to roll off and get nose bleeds. The middle child claims the top and the youngest, homeless and drifting, is passed back and forth like slightly turned meat. Usually a rock-paper-scissors game or something equally fair is used to decide who is forced to share their bed for the night. Once the loser’s been identified and a partial bed has become available, there ensues a squirming, squiggling mass of arms and legs and tangled up nightgowns. Rules must be established. Which direction do you face? Who gets the reading light? No talking. No Farting. Absolutely no Butt Biting.
Here’s another one. You’re standing on the buffet cabinet, blindfolded. There are five sisters this time, from two families who grew up across the river from each other; each sister born a year apart exactly. Boom, boom, boom, boom, and you, boom. The youngest. You can hear the china rattling as you crawl up onto the cabinet, but you can’t see it and you don’t care about it, ‘cause in the highly exciting game of blind-man’s-bluff, you only care where the others are. The breathy giggling. The swish as someone teasingly runs past. But then, all of a sudden; silence. Which is not normal, but you can’t take the blindfold off, it’s against the rules. So you just stand there wondering what’s going on. And then you hear him admonishing. The Father has come home.
“I’m sorry P.J.” you mumble, quickly ripping off the blindfold. This gets everyone giggling because his name isn’t P.J., it’s actually J.E. Judge J.E., and you’re standing on his grandmother’s china cabinet thinking, “Should I have called him Sir?” and meanwhile he’s speaking… “And it’s not really appropriate in this household to stand on the furniture.” And then he turns to his own daughters and says, “And for God sakes, why is she naked?!” These are the things you have to live down, being caught naked and blindfolded standing on the magistrate’s china.
Here are the sisters together again in their twenties. Four of you have walked no less than 15 miles to a wilderness in-holding to celebrate the fifth sister’s birthday. Splayed out in the sagebrush, heads touching, legs starfishing in five directions; boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. One is wearing a tutu; an accessory she has adamantly stated she will henceforth be wearing for the rest of her life. One looks around and says, “Let’s check some fence. Isn’t that what people do up here? Check fence?” One (this one’s you) is so overcome with the heartbeat of the land that you’re sinking into the ground where you lie, speechless and awestruck. One starts to wipe at her eyes. Another instantly breaks out in tears (sympathetic sobs) only to find out it was just something in her sister’s eye. The tears dry up. You lie in this sister-star for many moments.
There is cheap beer, cigarettes with the filters ripped off, Carhartts and bon-fires at every turning point in your lives. Your crossroads are littered with them: graduations, weddings, moving away, moving back, the birth of a child –one of your own, the death of a father, the deaths of friends. These things are marked each time by this fire ritual. In the changing orange light you can see your sisters dancing. They are weeping and laughing. Eating and drinking. Rolling the drunks out of the coals and mourning and singing and propagating. This is the ceremony of sistership. These are the nights when you remember, through the hazy smoke, when your sisters would rock-paper-scissors to see who got to have you in her bed.
Heidi Hendricks grew up in the Rocky Mountains. She was the youngest in a town & house full of strong and outrageously independent women.