When I was eighteen years old and my sister was twenty, our mother took us on a whirlwind trip to Europe for three weeks in the summer of 1990. We bounced around Italy, France and Spain to see all that Rome, Florence, Sorrento, Pompeii, Piza, Naples, Capri, Venice, Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Cannes, St. Tropez and Barcelona had to offer. From climbing hundreds of stairs to the top of the Vatican dome, marveling (staring) at the gorgeous and otherworldly statue of David, sunbathing (with tops) at a topless beach along the Riviera, to witnessing a Spanish bullfight and getting a sneak peek at the 1992 Olympic Village two years before its global audience experienced it, my sister and I explored Europe with our brash and brazen mother as two young girls still discovering who we were and what our place in the world was destined to be.
Our mom was wild at heart, to say the least, and my sister and I each had (and still have) a touch of that tumultuous part of her within us, although it was expressed in vastly different manners.
While I was outspoken and opinionated in my inner circle, I was much more conservative around people I didn’t know. There was always (and still is) an unbridled passion and fire in me, one that intimidated me when I was younger to the point that I overcompensated by keeping it buried inside and hidden from most, leading me to maintain a much more shy and innocent external demeanor.
On the other hand, my older sister (being the middle child) was the more quiet presence and peacemaker within our family dynamic; yet she blossomed into an artistic, free-spirited, social butterfly when out and about in the world. Although it's true that she and I did put on our share of amateurish dancing and singing acts for relatives in our youth (and even sometimes for our father's captive audiences of his shows while we visited him on tour), it was around our peers that my sister often seemed to express herself much more freely that I did.
She was vastly more comfortable and gregarious around complete strangers than I, and she was always (and still is) a very dynamic and charismatic personality to behold and enjoy. She was the unwitting piped piper to my cautious follower, and I wished I had more of her unabashed ability to entertain and delight those in my presence as she so often seemed to be able to do in hers. Yet she did manage to bring me out of my reserved shell part of the time, often lovingly (and sometimes not so) bullying me to become Ethel to her Lucy, leading me to do things I would never have done on my own.
Our European adventure that summer of '90 began in Rome, where we stepped out for dinner at the swanky Jackie O’ Ristorante one of the first nights there. Mom asked this random Italian man to pose in a photo with us, her young and relatively innocent daughters who were new to this city and just a bit apprehensive of what rollicking and risky predicaments our mother was going to get us into this time. Of course, my sister charmed and relaxed into the moment, in her usual style, as I stood awkwardly by, not feeling entirely confident in that same moment, nor in my young, eighteen-year-old fair skin.
And so it was for the remainder of our vacation in Europe, as well as in our life's journey for quite some years after... my sister vibrantly posing in front of monuments, performing perfect arabesques in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Roman Coliseum, and subsequently dancing, adventuring, exploring, working and discovering more of the world on her own unique terms, thus encapsulating my mom’s adventurous spirit in her own unique way.
Traveling out of our native Los Angeles, beyond California, and outside the U.S., she danced and entertained as a member of a modern dance troupe and then later worked as a sports photography editor at some of the most internationally prestigious sporting events around the world, while I joined the other spectators around her to revel in and marvel at her confidence, expressiveness and talent.
Today, my sister and I are closer in proximity, lifestyle, and mindset than we have been most of our lives. As our mom has since passed, leaving us nearly ten years ago on the eve of us both becoming mothers ourselves, we have been left to raise our children without her here to help us with whatever it is mothers do for their adult daughters while raising their kids. We now lean on each other for counsel, guidance, support, and friendship as we navigate these years of adventures, adversities, and anomalous achievements in mothering and spousing and womaning... sometimes not knowing what the hell we are doing but doing it anyway, always grateful to know we at least have one another to go through our successes and struggles together.
As I sat down this morning to write a quick anecdote about my sister on her birthday today, this is what came out of me instead. I originally wanted to share just a short story about her that I could post with the photo of us in front of the Jackie O' in Rome on Instagram, but it seems I had much more to say than I thought. I'm just going with it.
We are not only sisters in blood, sharing the same childhood memories and adulthood realities that connect us; we are also sisters in a larger sisterhood, sharing a friendship and kinship with one another, and all women, as we work and fight and love our way through the varied stages of womanhood, motherhood, and adulthood. A lot of 'hoods going on, I know, but the best of them is the sisterhood that binds us.
In the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, our sister in this collective sisterhood...
And to my sister today and always... I love you. Happy Birthday!