Michigan Sister

Michigan Sister

Friday morning I rose before the sun. I dressed, ate, kissed Joe and Isaac goodbye and drove north before the sun showed it’s facing. I was off on an adventure.

I zipped onto Highway Eighty One in high spirits. By the time I merged onto Four Ninety Five I was gripping the steering wheel too tightly and talking to myself, my knuckles aching. I rattled along amidst six lanes of traffic. My chest tightened as traffic slowed and thickened.  I was sure I was in way over my head. There is little I dread more than city driving and I  was in the midst of morning rush hour on the outskirts of the capital of the country. The skies opened, the rain beat against my windshield. I squinted and leaned forward, bad wiper scraping at my last nerve.

Less than an hour later I was taking off my shoes, putting all of my luggage through an x-ray machine and twirling with my arms above my head as I was scanned and x rayed to ensure I had no bombs or weapons on or in my body. I felt more relaxed than I had in traffic, but vacation vibes were still a ways off.

The plane taxied down the runway. As it picked up speed I leaned back against my seat, my emotions surging along with the powerful engines that would lift me into flight. I felt the wheels leave the runway and my feelings flashed, sad, excited, satisfied.  I remembered how much Rachel wanted to go to the Tulip Time Festival. Melissa invited us last summer when Rachel was well enough to pick blueberries with us and laugh and dream of a future, her death diagnosis still months away.

The plane touched down in Michigan and taxied me into new territory. I had never been to Michigan without a member of my family, without a sibling. Michigan is where I grew up. Now I have no siblings and I had no plans to see family. My plans were to pursue what was left. Over steaming seasoned rice and avocado enchiladas Melissa and I talked, teared up, laughed.

After declaring ourselves too stuffed for dessert we whisked into town. We shopped like only my sister or mother and I can shop. That is to say, we shopped s-l-o-w-l-y. We saw everything there was to see in each store we strolled through. We fingered fabrics, savored sayings etched into plaques, admired the beauty around us, fed our creative minds. To my sister and I, shopping was as much about getting ideas as it is was about buying, as much about our bonding as consumption. So it was with Melissa too.

That evening we watched dutch dancers twirl and kick in their colored skirts, their wooden shoes pounding the pavement. They circled the entire town square, flashing color and life, as the celebrated tulips swayed on slender stems.

My thoughts blurred and bled to a different time and place. Melissa suggested we take pictures. We knelt on the rain-soaked ground, pressed together and smiled. I was there, I was someplace pretty, the pictures say and I am glad for them. Melissa posed me by a crab apple tree, the pink petals drifted into my hair, across my face, and I remembered the pink-blossomed trees in my yard in Michigan. I posed by them too, slim and solemn, trying to look more than thirteen. Now, I am fuller, sad but glad too, and hoping to look less than thirty-one.

On Sunday Melissa and I browsed through an antique store and I found myself pouring over the postcards on file. There must be love notes, angry notes, stories in the exchanges, I thought. The faded cursive writing made stories hard to decipher. Bland notes abounded. I finally left with an old postcard of tulips to place in a scrapbook. There is no writing on the back. I will write my own short story beneath it when I paste it into an album.

We arrived at Lake Michigan just after the rain cleared. Melissa loaned me her sky blue, cherry speckled rain boots, and a jacket. I clutched a bouquet of flowers. Two sunflowers and yellow daisies, and purple filler flowers. We walked out onto a cement pier guarded by Holland’s “Big Red” lighthouse. We hesitated. Waves slapped the cement and tucked among the boulders surrounding the pier. The last time we together at Lake Michigan was last summer with Rachel. She was sun-kissed and filled with enthusiasm over our day. I shook my head and Melissa and I hurried to the end of the pier. I hurled the flowers into the choppy water and watched them bob swiftly away. I felt sadness sit in my chest but I was not swallowed in it. Two months without her.

In the afternoon we toured a picturesque art town on a lake. We browsed through stores much too expensive and when we were too chilled and hungry to continue, ate at an Italian restaurant.  A big bowl of pasta heaped with steaming vegetables, garlic rolls smothered in cheese, artichoke hearts swimming among veggies and a delectable broth. Then a piece of raspberry chocolate torte garnished with mint leaves and raspberry sauce.  We brandished our forks and moaned as the torte melted in our mouths. Giggled.

I remembered the last similar dessert I had, months ago with Rachel, Melissa, her boyfriend, and family. We ate together after taking Rachel through the Baltimore aquarium. It was one of Rachel’s last wishes and we wanted to do it right. The cheesecake was sliced sinfully large and we groaned in delight. We watched the sun sink over the harbor and drove home satisfied we had done what we could.

Sunday night we drove back to Melissa’s apartment satisfied. I registered the warmth I felt in my friend’s presence. Rachel was not with us but even in her absence, I felt I was among family.