My Sister, Izzy
I didn’t start out hating my sister. Not in the beginning. I was the older one, the big sister, and with that came the task of caring for any offspring my parents decided to have as a big sister should. That responsibility came in the form of Isabel.
Izzy was a wonderful little baby. As first impressions go, she was quite the charmer. She never acted out the way I noticed other babies did. She’d cry for a bit of attention when she was hungry or when she spoiled her diapers, but didn’t cry for much else, really. If she could get a wink of attention from you that was it: you would officially be her very best friend. And so, because of her open and gentle nature, she was universally adored by all, especially by my parents which, oddly enough, never bothered me the way it should have. I loved her as much as anyone, almost too much it seemed at times from the way my parents described how jealously I fought for her affections when others were around. In truth, I was so ecstatic to have a sibling to grow up with, to get into trouble with and to do whatever it was that sisters did together in childhood. I had three years of only-child solitude to make up for. And it seemed Izzy was just as excited for our sisterhood of friendship to begin as I was. Like she felt the same connection I felt when I first saw her.
For the longest time, I was obsessed with her being able to walk. She had been crawling around the house for what seemed like years to a young kid like me. I would relentlessly follow her around the living room while she crawled, coaching her through her movements. I remember thinking that I wanted her legs to get stronger and stronger so that she could eventually use them to move on two legs like I could. She loved the little games I invented for her, all created to condition her legs for upright walking. I would stack her little letter blocks at one end of the room into some fantastic scene. Each day it was something new – a castle full of goblins, a tall building in the midst of a larger city, anything my young mind could imagine. Even then, it was like she knew what I was doing. She wouldn’t budge an inch until I finished creating the scene. Then I’d turn and smile at her, and she was off, crawling like a huge, crazy insect. She would reach the structure I built, and we would knock the whole thing down to pieces in seconds and play like mad scientists. As mad as any three year old and crawling baby can get.
I remember the day she took her first step. We were in our usual routine, tearing apart some building or other. Izzy seemed different that day. I had noticed it while she was crawling towards the toys that morning. There was a different light in her eyes that day. Some glint of determination that was never there. She would stop every so often while she crawled to me and push her torso up a little, like she was trying to lift herself off of the ground. Sometimes she would sit up with her legs folded under her, thinking about who knows what. I thought that she would get up in those moments; she would finally start walking, and then the real adventures of Izzy and Sammy could begin! But she crawled her way to our game like every other day.
We were in the thick of it, Izzy and I. Destroying the house I’d built. I was pretending that we were a terrible storm, meticulously and mercilessly taking our time with the neighborhood below. The neighbors were escaping – we’d decided to let them go – while the storm made its way through. The last fixture was the town water tower. Isabel and I glanced at each other and laughed. “To the tower!” I screamed, as I marched Storm Samantha closer to her target. Something made me stop then; it was Izzy. I couldn’t hear her crawling after me, and that strange connection I felt between us was telling me something amazing was happening that I needed to see. When I turned to look at her, I saw my dream finally come true. There she was, standing on her two chubby little legs, wobbling from side to side with that same glint of determination in her eyes. We looked at each other and laughed. It was a new kind of laugh because it felt like we were sharing some secret, like nobody else could capture this feeling of satisfaction. No one else could say they were the first to see Izzy stand up and walk. It was me and her, as I thought we would always be.
She didn’t make it far. She took one or two tentative steps before she fell back on her bottom. But that was it. That was what I had been waiting for and what I had been hoping would happen because of our special game. It wasn’t long before the two of us were off romping around our backyard or begging mom and dad to take us to the park. We were a more superior team, Izzy and I; running on two legs, we were an unstoppable force, and we loved every minute spent together exerting our new combined power on the world.
I remember the day Izzy had an accident. It wasn’t like the other accidents we’d experienced. We had scraped our knees or fallen down and cried like any other kid. I knew this time was different because my parents acted differently. I had never seen them look that way before. I remember how scared and helpless it made me feel. If they were this frightened, what could I do? My parents were supposed to be brave always, no exceptions. I couldn’t understand at the time how this accident was different.
It all began when she and I had concocted an incredible game of hide and seek. We created our own rules for the game. Instead of running to a home base to win the game, you had to run to new places to hide without getting caught. The seeker could only become a hider in the next round if she could catch the hider running to a new hiding place. Our game was a brilliant one in our book, but it soon got boring playing it in our backyard. So we decided that we would only play the game when mom and dad took us to the park. The park was the most fantastic place to play our game with what seemed like miles and miles of grass and trees and endless places to hide. It was even more fantastic when our parents joined in. Most of the time it just ended with us all running around like crazy animals in the middle of a field, laughing and completely forgetting who the seeker was, as well as forgetting that we were playing a game to begin with.
That day Izzy had the accident was the day we stopped playing the game altogether. Even the fonder memories we held of it were lost completely, as if forgetting that we played it would somehow reverse what had happened. It was the worst day for me, looking back, because it was the day Izzy and I stopped playing altogether. Something snapped in her when she realized what happened. She couldn’t help but connect me to the accident and blame me for everything:
We were all having a little breakfast that morning at a table in our kitchen. Izzy and I hadn’t yet made plans as to what new adventures we’d get up to that day. At some point, Mom and dad announced that it was a nice Saturday, and, since we had nothing better to do, it would be a day best spent at the park. We were thrilled! After breakfast, Izzy busied herself in the kitchen with mom, making ham and cheese sandwiches and packing cookies, veggies and other tasty treats they could think of; and since I usually did more eating than making when mom or dad solicited my help in the kitchen, I was assigned the role of helping dad pick the toys, books, blankets, and any other odds and ends we would need, into the car. We were soon ready to take on the day with all that we needed to pass the time in leisure.
The day began well enough. Mom and dad took turns reading stories to us out of the books we brought along with us. It wasn’t long before we were hungry again, so mom and dad laid out food from the picnic basket onto our little blanket. Izzy and I were eating fast, ready to move on to our game. Mom and dad scolded us affectionately for a while, but after realizing they were not making us eat any slower, they soon gave it up altogether. As we wolfed down our last bites of food, filling our stomachs to full capacity, we simultaneously hopped up, bounded around the blanket mom and dad were still sitting on and begged them to play hide and seek with us. Somehow they convinced us that the game would be more fun if they could watch me and Izzy running around the park, playing the game ourselves, with them cheering us on. We didn’t need much convincing: Izzy and I had too much fun playing the game with just the two of us.
I was the hider at this particular point in the story, and I remember seeing Izzy from the safe vantage point of a huge tree behind which I occasionally peeked around to know her whereabouts. During one of my peeks, I saw Izzy in the far distance with my parents; she looked a little frustrated because it had been some time without her seeing me to commence the chasing. I recall feeling that I should do something to stop her from feeling too sad or too frustrated, so I called out to Izzy, saying, “You can’t catch me!” as I dashed off to my left towards some other cluster of trees to hide and, eventually, get “caught.” I didn’t realize how determined Izzy was. She caught up with me faster than I thought and was soon at my heels before I reached the next cluster of trees. We were running along the border of a sidewalk that separated the park from the street.
It was then that I got the notion to run to my right on the sidewalk, so that I could run around the trees and back onto the grass to create more distance between me and Izzy. I replay that moment in my head constantly, wondering what would have happened if that childish whim hadn’t come into my mind. Izzy was a fast runner, but she wasn’t as coordinated as I was. She matched my turn to the right on the pavement well enough, but she didn’t anticipate my quick turn to the left to run around the trees in a tight curve. She kept running forward for a few steps. Enough to run right into the busy road. I see that moment in my head. I see her dark curly hair bouncing, and I hear her laughing, and, finally, I see her happy face turning to look at me with mock frustration as she prepared to turn and catch me up. It all happened in a matter of seconds, as most people say when they recall witnessing something tragic. She didn’t see the car.
Then it was screaming, crunching, crying and a massive length of silence that haunts me to this day. My mind blocked out the car hitting Izzy. There was something about the horror of it all that protected my young mind from recalling it from the depths of my memory. I only remember seeing Izzy’s face looking back at me, and, after that, only the sounds. Perhaps, in some way, that is far worse than seeing the images. My mom and dad were right at my heels by that point. I was too dumbstruck to make a sound. I don’t even remember crying, though I remember feeling a vast emptiness growing inside of me as the time passed. Then ambulance sirens and people shouting and mom and dad scooping me up and me looking back at our happy picnic spot. Mom and dad saying it doesn’t matter as I scream about our things being left in the park while we rode away with the ambulance. Izzy lived. But she wasn’t the same. I sometimes hate to admit that it might have been better for her, for all of us, if she had died that day.