Annick (my 28 year old sister) came down to NYC, from Boston, for a day visit. It was one of those warm, cerulean days between Christmas and New Years. Annick’s in a surgical residence, in a pandemic, but still somehow, she got away.
We’re dining on a shaded, outdoor, sundeck - I arrived first, by a moment but then the elevator opened and Annick emerged, looking like a model - familiar but I don’t know - more completely adult - more than ever like my mom. It was all I could do not to weep for happiness when we hugged.
After that long hug, Annick gave my clothes a slow, censorious looking-over. When my mom and I shopped for “school clothes” last year, in Paris, I bought some stunning designer (Anna Molinari) clothes - only to find out they were completely out of place at Yale. Now they’re sentenced to a trunk under my bed and my replacement clothes are from FatFace and Patagonia. Ordinary clothes, bought for their ordinariness.
I’ve been dressing to disappear but I wanted her to see a “new me.” How I’ve survived in a rough, academic country - not just survived - but thrived. I also wanted her to think her sister was beautiful and hoped I didn’t seem too strange. She cupped my chin - just like my mom does - “You look wonderful,” she said.
Annick mentioned we’d have company for lunch but she was alone - then this tall, fair-haired, man was with us. He slipped his arm around Annick’s waist and they smiled, together. I’d never met one of Annick's boyfriends before so this was a little disconcerting - part of me wanted to pull her away and say, “MINE!”
Annick made the introductions, “Anais, this is Gerard - Gerard, Anais.” Gerard leaned into la bise then half hugged me, patting me bearishly on the back. I decided he was too tall and too handsome and began to examine him for flaws.
He wore a dark-charcoal-gray cashmere suit with a light-gray oxford-cloth shirt. “Are you always so dapper?” I asked? “I wanted to look substantial,” he said, with a very slight French accent. He held me at arm’s length. “You’re definitely sisters,” he said, smiling.
We settled in. At first we were a little stilted with each other, uncertain how to best introduce ourselves. Annick said that Gerard is a “Child Neurologist.” “Funny,” I said, “you look older.” and he laughed. I was warming to him.
“How’s school going?” Annick asked later, moving some of my fly-away hair out of my face - a trace of the maternal in her solicitous fussing - but I liked it.
“Easy peasy,” I said, the lie warming me like an ember or black magic.
There’s no real sibling rivalry between us. Imagine you’re Beyoncé’s sister, what are the odds that you’ll eclipse Beyoncé? Yeah, it’s ZERO.
“Ha!” she laughs, “you are such a little fibber.”
“I am NOT,” I hotly say, but my defense is ruined by my laugh. “I’m doing ok - but it’s a lot,” I say, to erase the fib.
I tried not to act stunned but I doubt I was very convincing. The news thumped me like a gust of wind. Suddenly, I knew. Our yesterdays were no more substantial than a story we’d read together growing up, that you can mourn and rejoice at the same time.
Otherwise it was a family lunch, although at first I was a bit nervous around Gerard. At one point Annick says, “What are you doing?” as the table gently quivered.
I smiled wincingly, “Making circles with my ankles,” I said.
Annick smiled knowingly.
a slice of college, Christmas holiday