One day in sixth grade, my classmate Dusty asked, “Ronnie, do you know what the strongest geometric shape is?”
Though out of the blue, he seemed pretty confident about this topic–and the answer. I had no idea what he was talking about. I hated geometry and preferred spending time in my head thinking about important topics like recent storylines on “Battlestar Galactica” or “Charlie’s Angels.” But he was my friend, so I indulged him.
“No,” I replied.
“A triangle,” he said smugly. “Know why?”
I’m sure I shrugged. (The little know-it-all really could have skipped the question-and-answer-round and just gone right for the explanation.)
“Because it has three sides. And each side supports the other two.”
Weird or not. It stuck with me all these years (possibly as the most boring conversation I’ve ever been party to). But he was on to something.
A time-tested theorem, my two sisters, Shelli and Ronda*, have supported me through the ups and downs of life, as I have tried to support them. Three is a magic number in that regard. You can lean one way or the other, and a sibling will be there to right you. Though as children, it always meant–no matter what–every showdown came down to two-against-one. Each defeat was decisive.
Aside from the usual teenage/young adult angst bullshit, we’ve always gotten along. As adults, I realize how fortunate I am to have these two–who have known me for my entire life. They are part of “my tribe”, the hybrid that develops as you grow up and create a chosen family to compliment one’s birth family.
These two chicks are very funny women, though I don’t think they fully believe me when I tell him by guffawing at something horrifyingly mean or cleaver they’ve said. I think we all share that in common. When life hands us lemons, our first instinct is to make fun of the lemons. Have a cocktail. (The lemonade comes later–unless it’s needed for the cocktail.)
My sisters have been married forever and between them I have several nieces and nephews. (I lose count.) In the last couple years, both have become grandmothers–which is a little hard to fathom. Growing up, our grandmothers were old. Always old, it seems. Wise and only sometimes shockingly irreverent. Where my sisters are…well…my age-ish…therefore young. Always young. Forever young! And forever irreverent!
I look forward to going for a visit to my folks in the house the three of us grew up in. It’s the safest place I know of. Yet no one is safe from jabs, quips, zingers and pile on’s. Everyone is a potential target. Our parents. Each other. Their kids. Our shared childhood. It’s a free for all. And I love every second of it. I remember during my years with Ken, he would usually remain pretty uncharacteristically quiet while visiting my family, and remark on the drive home he couldn’t keep up with how fast the zingers were coming. And I was like “Honey, you gotta get in there and start swinging! You’ll hit something eventually!”
There aren’t other people who know you like your siblings. The experiences of childhood are somehow more vivid than those of adulthood. And the shared memories and retelling of these stories makes them richer–more textured–each time we talk about those stories of growing up in the 70s in a small farm town with a dad who wasn’t a farmer. We were big city people (Hammond, IN) people who relocated to Hooterville and eventually became proprietors of The Dime Store of Broken Dreams.
Shelli was a hellion of a trailblazer who certainly made it easy to know what NOT to do by patiently reading the rule book she was handed then promptly burning it. Ronda–middle child–was a social butterfly who thirsted for and achieved social acceptance and popularity. The introverted TV-watching baby, I really wanted nothing more than to play with my best friend Carol down the street and when at home, be left alone to watch TV and eat candy.
Shelli usually indulged me. As her baby brother, she would go along with whatever dumb game I was playing. We had improv down pretty early. We made up a baby brother named “Freddie” while our grandma babysat us one time while our parents were away, and she began to believe us.
Ronda mastered the art of blackmail early on. This “Jan Brady” was no one’s fool. “I won’t tell Mom you did blah blah blah if you let me watch what I want on TV.” A painful trade for me, but usually worth it. “That’s blackmail!” I’d exclaim. “That’s right,” she’d reply smugly.
“I’ll get you back someday,” I swore to her, shaking my fist as she changed the channel away from something amazing like the New Zoo Revue.
And I just did. Boom.
However, no one protected me when I shot my squirt gun into the back of the television and it went off. Permanently. It was the old kind of picture tube TV with vacuum tubes with bright little dots shining that were begging to be shot with a water gun. It was our only TV at the time. A 13-inch black white. And when that TV went out, those two bitches were very clear that they were going to throw my ass to the wolves (meaning Mom). And they were not lying.
I decided my best defense was to go to my room and pretend I was napping. What mother in good conscience would awaken their sleeping 7ish-year-old baby boy angel?! Mine, that’s who. And not in the sweet-singing-voice kind I would get in the mornings for school. The scary-high-pitched-voice kind. I blocked out the punishment part, but before anyone knew it Dad came home with an 18-inch color television. You’re welcome, sisters. You’re. Welcome.
We each had our own journeys and trials to get through as we grew up and moved away. Our lives because busy with love, children, career. Each of us surely had our “dark time” when we were on the outs with the family. (Yes, Ronda. Fine. Except you.) But we figured out our paths which naturally led us back together. In a world where friends can sometimes fall away, these two friends are a permanent fixture in my landscape.
At least up until they read this.
*Though the name belies it, Ronda and I are not twins. My parents are just incredibly uncreative.