My sister Kate wasn’t really my sister. She was biologically my aunt. She was also my part-time parental figure and called me her sister because my grandparents (her parents) had more to do with my upbringing than my mother did. She was 24 years older than me, the eldest of my grandmother’s children.
That’s her on the left, and I’m the curly-headed cutie on the right. I loved her like a sister, a mother, a friend. I saw her beauty and accepted her flaws. She was my cheerleader, with a copy of my finished novel in a 3-ring binder on her bedside table, though the first sentence gave her the shivers. She was part of who I am, but she was not my whole world. Still, when she died, my world came crashing down, and the weight of all that shared history suddenly being mine alone crushed my writing.
I tried. I really, really tried to keep the chin up and keep going. In the process, I took HUNTERS, my “nearly there” novel in mid-revision, and demolished it. I shredded every bit of what made me love it enough to keep writing and perfecting it through the years of floundering to find my voice and my story.
I took a few months off. When I came back to it, I rolled the changes back to right before she died and breathed a sigh of relief that I keep archives of everything — but it didn’t help. Nothing fit. The story was alien to me, foreign, not as if someone else had written it, but as if it were an invader in my head and in my heart. I forgot the point of writing it. I couldn’t even remember what it was about. I still haven’t found it, that spark of life that made the story worth telling. I’ve been poking at it from a distance while working on another project for the last month, and still nothing seems right.
My sister was fifty-eight years old when she died. Young, by today’s standards. Too young by mine. She left behind a legacy of love, of caring and humor and generosity that I have rarely found in the world. She taught me how to laugh at my own foibles and frailties by example, and I find that I feel no despair at the difficulties I’m experiencing. Frustration aplenty, but not despair.
I don’t know what the solution is, other than to keep knocking my head on the wall until something rattles loose. She’d have wanted it that way. I guess she taught me persistence, too.