My younger sister Lea flew up from Florida to stay with us for a few days. Before that, my dear friend Shannan and her family flew from Austin, Texas for a quick visit. We’ve been busy, busting through Manhattan, breezing through stores, spending $42 for 1 HOUR parking near Barney’s New York (kills me). Devouring too much food at some of our favorite restaurants (From the Chilean Sea Bass at Tao to the Rib Eye for 2 x 2, complete with bone marrow from Hendrick’s Tavern). Lucas took one look at the marrow and declared it, “Dino Butter.” Best marketing campaign ever. Lea later commented on Facebook, “FYI, I was the one to name it.”
And there it is, that poke stab withdraw hug joke, not a joke, thing that happens with my sister, though I suspect it happens with most siblings. We revert and regress, sure, but it’s more than that. More than ego, I think a subtext of competition exists between grown siblings, even when it’s clear to all that their lives are so different and can’t possibly warrant comparison. Claiming things, calling out for what’s ours. When she’s around, I worry that my food will be eaten and my favorite products used too liberally. I want to hoard. Because that’s what we did when we were younger, we ate the best parts and mocked the other for not being as quick or as savvy. We also subject our siblings to moments we’d never ask a friend to endure.
List in hand, I dragged Lea to Barney’s to smell perfumes I could smell only there, because the brands aren’t carried elsewhere. Upon request, Lea had brought me her old bottle of Eau d’Hadrien by Annick Goutal (a lemony grapefruit scent that stays close to the skin with the longevity of a rainbow, way too fleeting). As a massage therapist and licensed acupuncturist, she doesn’t often wear perfume. That particular fragrance she hasn’t worn since college, so she was happy to put it into my obsessed hands. I’d sprayed the Eau d’Hadrien first thing in the morning, but by the time we were inside Barney’s, neither of us could smell even the slightest trace of it (in fact, we could smell metal from one of my jeweled chunky bracelets).
I fell in love with another scent from Les Parfums de Rosine. I already own Roseberry, and I hadn’t planned on snagging another of their rose scents, but I couldn’t help myself. Nor could Lea, chanting, “Get it. You have to get it. Then, give me some.”
She meant it. Later in the week, when I was returning the shoes I’d bought for Phil—the ones he liked, except for the way the horse-bit jingled when he walked—she asked me to stop at Sephora for an empty perfume atomizer. Once I remembered to buy it, and went on to fill it with my perfume, she cried, “You really do love me.” And she actually cried.
“Of course, I love you. Now pull your shit together, woman.”
Lea’s days in New York are limited; she has an agenda. She wanted to shop for clothes and shoes, and she wanted me to help her, there to veto and to convince, to be the one to tell her it might look wretched on the hanger but to go on and try it anyway. And to me, that is WORK. Fun work, if I’m in the right mood and there is a very clear end in sight, but overall, it’s not pleasant, especially when you’re not in the next stall trying on your own pile of possibilities.
She decides she wants to hit up Macy’s and Forever 21. A few other places maybe. I say that I only have two things to do. 1) Go to Barney’s to smell perfumes and 2) Have a 5:30 Meeting at the Ace Hotel – we can have dinner afterward. We decide we’ll knock out Barney’s, and besides, she can get “high fashion” ideas and inspiration there, then put together “look for less” versions later. What we hadn’t accounted for was parking, just how much I’d end up spending for an hour, and then the EMPTY light on my gas tank, in the middle of Manhattan.
Eek. This is my fault 100%. I’m so go-with-the-flow, it will all turn out okay, no reason to stress over a good plan. This ends up costing more and inconveniencing people. I could work on beefing up this plan-ahead skill. An hour or so later, we have a full tank and have found a cheaper parking lot (thanks to the Parking App I have her download as we drive and charge our phones), with two hours before my meeting. We spend that time shopping for her, standing on fitting room lines (six at a time nonsense, Forever 21 is called such because the whole process takes forever), and we’re exhausted. She buys nothing. It’s not that she’s being awful or indecisive; nothing works. It’s time for my meeting. She hikes across the street to Macy’s, and we agree to meet up later.
Here’s where I go a little evil. I have a lovely meeting with a young writer who’s eager to write a book proposal. I tell her everything I know, walk her through it, believing in helping where I can. I text Dulce, always keen to see her, and she meets me for a drink. I check in with Lea, who’s doing terribly; nothing is working. I tell her to scrap it all and come to the hotel lobby. She arrives in a sweat, starving. There’s no proper dinner menu. I bring up the idea of the neighboring restaurant, John Dory’s Oyster Bar, and Dulce actually claps. She was going to bring up the same idea. “But is there real food there, or is it just an oyster bar?” Lea asks.
Dulce and I exchange glances, then both nod. Of course. All restaurants have real food, I mean, how could an oyster bar on the corner of Broadway not have a full menu, at least offering up some bar food, like a burger or something?
“I’m so fcuked,” I mouth to Dulce as I hide behind the menu once we’re seated at our table. I am laughing in that nervous way, where I’m uncomfortable and know I’ve done something wrong. We were lucky to get the table at this hour (people had decided to keep their seats at the bar, so we got their table when it came free), and where else could we pick up and eat right away? Lea hates seafood. Though at that moment, she hated me more. She wants me to herself, for her to be enough, she wants to know why I’ve called my friend, why SHE isn’t enough company for me, and why in fishy fooks sake I’d ever vex her with an oyster bar. She hasn’t said as much, but I know her as if she’s my own sister. Ahem.
Lea wouldn’t make a fuss in front of Dulce, but I know she wants to fillet me. Her options: Anchovy with a soft boiled egg, smoked trout or smelts, stuffed squid. Lea agrees to a lobster roll, which will mostly taste of mayo and butter, served with fries.
“I owe you,” I say once our order is in. “I totally know. I’m sorry! I really thought they’d have more options.”
“I’m going to kill you,” she says. Dulce can’t put the drink order in fast enough.
On our ride home, we stop at Gray’s Papaya, where we take 6 hotdogs to go. We each eat two and save two for Phil, or for breakfast.
I will go down in history as the selfish sister, who dragged her sister to Barney’s to smell perfume (“How can anyone feel DRAGGED to Barney’s?” Dulce asked Lea. “Because you can go with Stephanie!”) when all she wanted was help with clothes, and who dragged her to an oyster bar, despite the fact that she hates seafood… all because my friend and I love oysters, and it was most convenient (and she said she was STARVED, it seemed fastest!), and I was too lazy to plan something else. I have no intention of re-writing that history, only improving upon it. Gestures go a long way with siblings. I’d hoped the gesture of Gray’s Papaya might make slight amends, maybe it did.
Lea wears the story lightly and can smile at the telling of it. When we went for a family steak dinner the other night, and the group was deciding on the sides for the table, people looked to me, and I responded, “I want whatever Lea wants.” Then to her, “I owe you!”
“Yeah, ya do.” She said. And then love tears streamed her face again. Siblings take gestures, tolerance, the admission of wrongs, the dropping of egos, and a wee barrel of wine.
The thing too with siblings is we so often play our beloved parts, the roles we took up that served us when we were younger. What I hadn’t mentioned, not once in this story or in the living of it, is how Lea completely backed out of my Passover dinner. I’d originally planned to host for the first night, but I realized Lea’s flight would be arriving that night, and I wanted her to feel included, so I called my cousin and asked if she could instead do Tuesday night. As Tuesday night approached, I heard from my father’s wife that Lea might be having Passover with them, with her side of the family, because when else would she see them? I told Lea I’d just wished she were the one to tell me that she wasn’t coming to my house for Passover. I felt disappointed and bitched to Phil, pissy that she chose not to come, but I tried not to take it personally. I understood that she wouldn’t have another chance to see my father’s wife’s family. I dropped it. It only strikes me now, in the telling of how Lea was unable to drop my “Oy”ster moment, that I never would have thought to keep bringing it up, trying to guilt her… I think because it’s never been my role.
That’s been our dynamic since we graduated from our childhoods. She’ll complain about what a mean, bossy older sister I was, and I’ll apologize. She’ll expect me to nurture her and take care of her and pet her head, and if I don’t, she’ll tell me I don’t love her as much as she loves me. I try making it up to her, and it’s often never enough, because she likes to play that role of the wounded and wronged. She’s the young mollusk, and I’m the rough irregular shell. I wonder if we intentionally tried to play each other’s role, if we’d produce bigger pearls of hope for the sisterhood.
Meanwhile, once she left for the airport, the house felt empty, and I cried, wishing she could’ve stayed on for another week. And she texted to say that she missed me.