Brandon, my brother, put down the phone, looked over his shoulder, and announced, “Tammy you have a little sister.” I imagine I bounced up and down in my walker for I was only 17 months old on January 10, 1971, the day my sister Tricia was born. Although my memory stretches far and wide, I cannot recall a life without her.
My sister and I were as much different, as we were the same. Everyone thought we were twins, although my silvery blonde hair was stuck in a stubborn bob for it refused to grow, and my legs turned in at an awkward angle. My sister had the princess hair, as it grew long and thick down her back. Always mothering her, I’d try to style it, but Tricia was such a tom boy, she hated anyone messing with her hair. I remember my hands meeting huge knots nestled in the underneath layer, and her crying as Momma tugged them out.
Tricia was an extremely shy child, painfully so, for she buried her face in my shoulder blades, and whispered what she wanted me to say to those who couldn’t resist trying to get her to speak. I didn’t mind being her spokesperson, for I loved to talk. My mother used to say I could talk the cows to sleep.( I’m sure she meant it as a complement.) I also think it was my way of compensating for not having the princess hair.
When children or adults acted unkind to my sister, she ran to me, and I ran to them and fought them with my sharp tongue and turned up chin. No one was allowed to be mean to my little sister for she was my baby.
Tricia was the first person I talked to in the morning, and the last person I talked to in the evening, for we shared not only a room, but a bed. I knew everything that happened in her life, and she knew everything that happened in mine. Many nights, I slept grasping onto her nightgown, for I was scared someone would come into the room and steal her away and I had to protect her. It was my job.
That room became a little crowded in 1989, as we moved in a crib. Tricia brought home her first-born at the tender age of 18.
“It’s your turn.” We’d nudge each other in the middle of the night. And, whoever’s turn it was stumbled out of bed and nestled down to feed my nephew Caleb, who was loved and mothered to death by the three women living in our home.
When Caleb was two, I moved into an apartment ten minutes away. Suddenly, my sister was mothering me. A wise mother had evolved, and I was a career and college girl in my twenties. We were in very different stages of our lives. Looking back, those years I felt as if she skipped in a totally different direction.
Then the day arrived, when I took the few steps down the center aisle, in an intimate ceremony in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While Thomas’ hand nestled on the small of her back, I knew she no longer needed my back. Her voice was loud and clear when she said, “I do”.
A year later, I accepted a job promotion in Tampa, Florida. Tricia was not happy with me for going. She argued her points including the “my boys will no longer know you argument,” but I knew it was time for me to get out of her life and find my own. When I hugged her goodbye, I felt that pain that makes the air leave your lungs.
Although I live in Orlando, my sister has been there for every major event of my life, from my wedding to my babies, she and I have managed to not miss a heart beat.
Last April, my sister announced she had an advanced form of breast cancer. I gasped. I put on my boxing gloves, tilted my chin and went to work. I wrestled with her over doctors. I flew her to Orlando, and we went straight to MD Anderson, where I had made an appointment to see the top doctor in the field of Breast Cancer. Once again, I was her spokesperson, asking the questions in the fight for her life, while Tricia quietly sat on the table. I discussed my plan with her doctor. She would fly here and receive chemotherapy with me. When she felt better, I would put her on a plane and send her home to her family.
Dr. Shaw looked me in the eyes and said, “I don’t think it would be beneficial for your sister to fly back and forth. You would be exposing her to the risk of infection.” I was not deterred. She can live with me until she completes all her chemotherapy. Peyton (her daughter) can go to school with Colin. We have a room for both of them. I would redecorate one for Peyton. I mentally planned my attack.
Later that day, Tricia said, “Tammy, you tried, but I can’t live here with you. I have to go home. You can’t save me.” I swallowed back the words, “It’s my job.”
Today is Thanksgiving. I did not have to thank about what I’m thankful for. I am thankful for my little sister. Her princess hair is gone, along with her eyebrows, and eyelashes. She is swollen from the chemotherapy. One of her arms is lymphatic and is bandaged from the shoulder to the wrist. Even with all of this, I have never seen her more beautiful. She is glowing. She is surviving.
If there is one thing I have learned through all of this, it is I have needed her more, than she needed me. I am thankful for my sister.