I wouldn't be wondering this if I didn't live in a goddam peat bog. I swear, there must be a complete cosmic funnel through which all the spiders, ants, moths and billion-legged robo-bugs in the world are sucked, and then there is my house, right under the butt end of the funnel, getting continuously crapped upon.
You'd think walls would make a difference, but they don't. I had better protection when I was living in a tent, even though I never really lived in one except for that week I went whitewater rafting in Colorado. My little sister lived in a tent, though, actually lived there with her husband, Eddie. She said it was nice, with interior tent walls that divided it into separate rooms.
When I think of my sister's tent, I think of Richard Burton in Cleopatra, when his army made "camp" before going into battle. Only Richard Burton's tent was like a mansion, with massive candelabras and gilded doorframes.
Doorframes, in a tent. There weren't even doors, but there were red velvet drapes tied to the side with gold-tasseled cord. His bed, though, is what really cracked me up. It was an ornate, four-poster colossus, with about 50 pillows. That was a stupid-ass way to portray a Roman about to go into battle, but back when my sister told me she was living in a tent, I liked to think of the one Richard Burton had. "It's nice," she told me, and I really wanted to believe her.
Because what else was I gonna do? She was living in Zurich at the time, and I couldn't fly there from California to save her, especially since she didn't want to be saved. I'd already tried talking her out of marrying Eddie a year earlier, and all that did was build a wall between us. We'd started out living in Zurich together, along with my mother, who'd been contracted to design weapons for the Swiss government. When the contract expired, I tried to get Kim to come home to the States with me, explaining, with all the gentleness of an angry bobcat, that she'd be a fool to stay. "Alcoholic walrus," for example, is what I called the man she loved. I blamed him for everything, too. I especially blamed him for the tent.
I didn't expect her to turn me down. Kim and I had been roommates in college. She kept the place clean and made sure the bills were paid, and in return I kept my cadre of meaningless boyfriends down to basic parade level. It was a great setup, if you ask me. It just seemed natural that my sister and I would emerge from the mended shipwreck that made up our childhoods to have a home in the same place. In my mind, she would always be there, being my little sister, believing everything I said. I remember when her dimpled fingers used to be too short to reach the bottom of a bag of candy, so I'd tell her the candy was gone and finish the bag myself. I remember accepting money from my mother for teaching her how to read when, really, she'd already learned on her own somehow. I remember having dreams in which she was horribly hurt and then waking with inconsolable sobs. I still have those dreams. Those don't go away.
Now here she was living in a tent and telling me it was nice. Sometimes I was fine with it. Sometimes I could put the thought of my homeless-but-for-a-tent little sister into a special compartment in my head and keep her there for long periods. "She says it's nice," I'd tell myself.
But other times, I'd let it hit me with the dull thump of dead birds. Jesus God, this was my little sister, living in a tent halfway across the hemisphere, and in the end, I left her there. I cannot believe I left her there. To this day I still don't know what is best: to sit a world away while your little sister lives in a tent and do nothing but buffer your worry with walls you build in your brain, or drop everything and make your way back to her, so that you can take her dimpled hand and bring her home. All I know is this: Her home and my home had become two separate places, with walls all their own, and she knew that before I did.
She is no longer living in a tent, thank God. She lives in a nice house with real walls now, in Dayton, Ohio, of all places, with her husband, Eddie -- a big dreamer whom I've grown to love. We had our walls up, yes we did, my sister and I, but eventually our devotion returned. It made its way in, seeping through the cracks like insects, and after enough of that, the walls weakened and we loved each other again, or we were brave enough to let each other know we'd never stopped.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood, published by Harper Collins. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered." To hear the latest, go to Moodswing at www.atlanta.creativeloafing.com.
Wait did did you get the Christmas gifts or not yet? Writing about gun control…
Funny and interesting. Thanks.
"Stadium Love" - Metric
Ben Palmer is a funny dude. I'm saving up to buy his book someday.
Some call it poverty - others call it a simpler life.