When they brought my sister home from the hospital, I was Lucy’s age now (5) and psyched. Not just for the baby, but because there was this giant dishwasher wrapped in a pink bow in our kitchen, and I was pretty sure that thing was going to take us to Mars. Ex-Pink House residents take note: that was the same dishwasher that we had in our kitchen in Chapel Hill, to give you an idea how old it was.
Since first holding her that afternoon, I have always been preternaturally comfortable with my sister, and I took her on as a pet project. I prided myself on being the only person that could make her stop crying, I learned how to change her diapers in under 20 seconds, and when she got older, I was in charge of brushing her hair and picking out either the green or purple dress that hung in her closet.
When she turned five herself, I distinctly remember thinking that she had “turned” on me, but what really happened was simple: she’d developed a mind of her own. Her singular drive has been the source of perennial jokes in our family, but it has also saved her from the kind of navel-gazing and paralysis the rest of us endure. In fact, she turned into the best-put-together of any of us, skirting past depression and ADD to run whatever show you’ve got simmering.
winter 1976, with Dad
My mom always says she’d always choose me for a long road trip, but I think I’d always choose Michelle. She has a gift for the absurd, an intolerance for fools, a thirst for experience, and she’d probably get us there on time.
Now there’s the matter of her husband Jon. I’ve recounted this story before on these very pages, but falling in with Bud, Chip and Jon was very much like going to college and discovering you had three brothers your parents never told you about. Jon is not touchy-feely, not demonstratively warm by nature (his college nicknames were “Will You Stop Touching Me” and “Needles”) but sleeping in the same bedroom – nay, the same BUNK BED – FOR A WHOLE YEAR – was not only effortless, but frequently hilarious.
mock party frustration, Nov. ’87
He can seem like an old man, but when one of the guys in our dorm mistook our room for the bathroom and peed all over Jon’s styrofoam plates and jars of Goober Grape, he thought it was kind of awesome. He has saved all the boarding passes for every flight he’s been on, and has them arranged in a book by year. What he doesn’t know is that I’ve saved almost all of my boarding passes too – except my accumulation is a little like Steven Wright’s description of his seashell collection (“I keep it scattered on all the beaches of the world”).
at party with Colette, 1986
In short, around these two people, I admit I have always been the fuck-up. I’m the one making them late, I’m the one who did something with careless disregard to someone else’s desire, I’m the one who didn’t do the summer reading and has to glom onto their notes. I have always been easy to hate; it usually doesn’t last long due to a modicum of charm, but I know how I come off. I try too hard, I don’t try hard enough, I beg you to come, then ignore you, I’m too wide a target, and nobody will ever name their kid after me.
We’ve been way too far away from Jon and Michelle over the last week or so – separated only by a rocky California coastline, it’s still oddly hard to make a quick jaunt to Santa Cruz. We want to follow the rules and make sure the baby avoids the usual confluence of germs visitors would bring, but when your sister has a baby… it’s just weird not to be passing it around the room the way we did the day she came home.
On Friday, Michelle left me a message saying she had “news” and to call her right back. From our outpost in Durham, NC, I finally reached her, and she told me the baby’s name: Andrew Ian Williams-Vaden.
And none of this is supposed to be about me, I swear, it’s all about our kids, and their generation, and giving them the best chance to be awesome, kind, and full of passion… but I just had to stop for a second and well with tears, because I really never thought I was going to be the kind of person who gets a namesake. In all of us lies a little soul that feels forever damaged and ugly, and for some, it’s closer to the surface than others. Occasionally, though, you get a reminder that you might have made some right turns along the way, and this little guy will always be here to remind me.