The delicate scent of the lilac bush I had just finished planting drifted across the wrap-around porch of 227 February Lane. Lilacs always made me think of Tessa, my younger sister who had passed away in a severe car accident only a few months before. The dark clouds moved quickly across the evening sky creating streaks of broken sunlight, the cold rain splashed down from the patched roof onto my bare feet. This had once been my favorite time of day in those months leading up to Tessa’s death. But somehow nothing seemed to ease my pain anymore. Not even the chatter of robins off in the distance.
I thought silently of tucked away memories, only brought to my remembrance in recent days of my Mom, Dad, and the younger siblings gathered around the kitchen window on evenings like this. I distinctly remembered listening to the roaring thunder and little ‘pitter patter’ of the rain hitting the pavement outside. I could still hear Mom singing the words, “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, what a glorious feeling I’m happy again!” Each of my siblings would join in one by one creating the improvised harmonies of different ages and vocal abilities. Tessa and I turning to each other joining in the chorus in-between giggles of pure delight. I could still remember the sweet sound of her infectious laughter, an all too distant memory of the past. Those memories had once given me a sense of belonging and peace, but at that moment it only enhanced the reality of what was now missing in my life.
I closed my eyes to try and get my mind off of the things I couldn’t change, trying to ease myself out of the past. My attempted solitude was broken by the screeching of the old swinging door on the side of the house. I waited with my eyes still closed to find out who would come around the corner. Several minutes went by before I felt someone brush against my shoulder and take a seat on the swing next to me.
“Jenny, what are you doing out here in the cold, and with no shoes on?!” I opened my eyes and was surprised to see my younger sister Tessa sitting next to me; instead of one of children. My breath caught as I saw how beautiful she looked. The evening sun was shining on her long golden blonde hair that reached half-way down her back. My own hair was almost raven black and most people had a hard time believing that we were sisters at all.
“What are you doing here?” I blurted out without thinking, barely containing my excitement that Tessa was here with me. Tessa sat quietly as if considering how she might respond without surprising me too much,” Tessa explained. “I felt like I needed to come back and talk to you so we could clear some things up.”
“I know these last few months have been difficult,” Tessa’s voice fading off as she looked to Jenny for some sympathy, some sense of understanding. “I want you to know that this wasn’t how I ever saw life happening, I hate seeing you hurt so much.” I looked away, fighting the tears that had started to build up, knowing I wouldn’t be able to hide from Tessa for long. We used to tell each other everything before she passed away. She knew me too well for me to try and pretend her death hadn’t affected me so deeply.
Although we were nearly four years apart in age difference we had spent two years walking to campus each morning on our way to classes at the University, swapping stories about the events of our day to day lives – I would tell her all about the chaos of raising two kids while balancing my school work and Tessa would tell me all about her plans to be an elementary school teacher one day. She never seemed to have a shortage of stories of trying to navigate through the woes of college dating life. We would laugh when she would tell me about her latest doorstep scene. Those memories creeping back into my memory made the distance I felt from Tessa feel that much less real. I didn’t want to continue feeling that way. Not now or ever.
I looked back over to Tessa, the tears came easily now. I started slowly, “I know this isn’t easy for you either Tessa, it is just so hard now to imagine my life without you by my side. I know you can’t stay here with me, but I need you. We had so many plans!” Tessa hesitated before she spoke again, “I think this is just a new plan for us; learning how to continue even if we aren’t together as a family. And I’ll still be here with you, in your heart, right?” Tessa said hesitatingly, “I guess that’s true,” I said reluctantly. “But, promise you won’t stay away forever.” I said looking directly into Tessa’s now tearful eyes. “I promise,” Tessa agreed.
I opened my eyes, for the first time realizing I had fallen asleep and the sun had begun to fill the spaces where night had once held its place. I looked to my right half expecting to see Tessa still sitting beside me, with her knees pulled up to her chin as she always used to do. But she was no longer there, it was just me now. In the distance I could hear the pleasant chatter of a family of robins in the Cottonwood tree that stood on the edge of our property. The chirping, slowly increasing in clarity as they woke for a peaceful night of slumber.
The rain had now stopped and the clouds had cleared creating a soft glow of sunlight falling to the porch around me. For the first time I realized hours had passed since I had taken my spot on the old rickety porch swing. I reached into my faded Levi pocket, a hand-me-down from Tessa, pulling out a small photo me and Tessa had taken almost two years before. The edges of the torn paper fading with the crease. “This is how I will remember you,” I thought out to myself. Not as the woman with a fake smile lying in a casket of pink satin. Not as a lifeless girl lying in the stiff hospital bed. Irregular heart beating, only a reflection of the girl I once knew so well. “I promise I won’t ever forget you,” I thought as I stood up, walking past the freshly planted lilac bush, the aroma following me around the corner and back inside through the old swinging door.