I have a beloved sister, Conny, nearly 13 years younger than I. We’re quite different in appearance, profession, proclivities, talents and even in sexual orientation, but in our hearts, we’re pretty much cut from the same cloth. We’ve worked together in one way or another, for a lifetime, certain this is not the first lifetime we’ve spent together – we knew each other too well from the start, for this to be the first time. Listening, helping, shoring each other up in the dark times, laughing together when given half a chance to… sharing history, joy, memories, anguish… we’ve pretty much been there for each other for a half century or so.
My sister Conny isn’t easy to describe… nor is our relationship, which seems to me somewhat more profound than that of the sisters I see around me. She’s smart and serious and funny and stalwart… that’s the easy part to describe. Her brilliance is banked behind a serious façade that’s only partially accurate. A façade made necessary by a lifetime in finance and by having been born into a time that was cruel to Lesbians… not that her nature would have been frivolous, even without such constraints. There’s an innate dignity she exudes – a strong yet delicate grace you don’t expect from someone who can take a Mercedes engine apart and put it back together again, or who could write code for a main frame in a time before anyone was sure computers would ever catch on.
Conny’s childhood was harder than mine in many ways, because my mother’s anger had escalated wildly after her birth. Because of our age difference, I struggled to be her protector from afar, but Conny was on the firing line, the boots on the ground whose struggle was for survival of the heart on an often rocky road. She came to live with me at 16…I wish for both our sakes, it could have been sooner.
A Study in Contrasts
Always a study in paradox, she was the financial brains of our agency, but ran the art department, too, and could spot an errant line of type, or a dangling participle as fast as any art director or copy chief… never mind figure out how to pay for the typesetting, while she was at it.
Too practical to call herself psychic, her psychism takes the form of intuition and insight that sees what others miss. She can explain the inexplicable, and untie the Gordian Knot faster than Alexander. Can zing to the heart of complexities… build a house from scratch… talk me down off an emotional ledge… tell me the truth about my manuscripts with enough compassion so I can work with what she’s said. On certain days, I wouldn’t put it past her to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Conny’s very analytical, I’m somewhat loosey-goosey, as you may already have ascertained. We make a good Left-Brain, Right Brain balancing act. She understands and excels at things that send me scurrying from the room: finance, insurance, legal documents, contracts. Yet there’s a delicious creativity that lives within her that you’d never expect from what Dakota, at age 8, described as “a lickety-split math person”…to say nothing of a wild, Irish sense of humour and a highly developed sense of amusement at life’s absurdities. Like today’s children born with a chip in their brain that allows them to understand electronic gadgets without reading the manual, Conny has a chip that understands the legal and financial mysteries that cause my mind to go numb.I’ve sometimes pondered the question of how people who don’t have Conny as a sister actually survive the legal paperwork of life. Yet she understands the larger mysteries, with great perspicacity… mysteries like the strange and circuitous pathways of my heart, and why the world is the way it is. And she has a vast store of eclectic knowledge that fascinates Dakota. “If we need to know the average length of a Narwahl horn in Greenland or the atomic weight of plutonium,” she says confidently, “we call Conny.” It isn’t any surprise that Conny’s financial website is called AskConny.com.
Our past is not un-checkered, I have to say in the interest of full disclosure. We’ve had misunderstandings and ups and downs, as sisters do (once or twice, we didn’t speak to each other for a year or so) but, I think, our bumps in the road have been fewer than most, and with less lasting consequence. Maybe the age difference meant we weren’t competing for the same toys or parental attentions, or maybe my initial take at 12 was right: she was just my soul-friend from the get-go.
Who but Conny knows the truth of the mountain climb… who but she shares my secrets, holds my history, comprehends my strivings and in the only slightly misquoted words of Rabindranath Tagore, knows my failings and loves me still. Who but Conny could ever really understand the heights and depths of the bas relief of time?
Conny is Conny
And then there’s the fact that Conny is Conny… brilliant, feisty, willing to go the extra mile, willing to buck the system for a just cause, willing to laugh or cry with me at Fate’s peculiar vagueries. The staunch ally, the voice on the phone when trouble looms, the one who understands what no one else can of my evolving dream, which has been so frequently interrupted by cataclysm or tragedy. I think God knew I could never navigate this rock-strewn path alone, and so, in His/Her infinite compassion, conjured Conny, relenting enough to provide me with the soul friend from the start, so the climb up the treacherous mountain trail would not be done alone.
She and Dakota are the ones who would walk across Finland with a crowbar in hand, if that’s what it would take to free me from the Lubyanka. I don’t doubt it for a minute.
So, how do you thank someone who bears witness to the people, places, tragedies, triumphs that have crafted the visible and invisible substance of who you have become? Someone who’s a haven in which to expose the deep secrets, without fear of being harmed by the vulnerability of honesty… a place to share truths, whether these truths are the same or different, and know you’ll be heard with acceptance, and at the very least, an attempt to understand. What words could ever express all that?
Truth in Few Words
There’s a little plaque she gave me once that reads, “A sister is the best friend you can have.” Such a monumental truth in so few words. What it doesn’t say, of course, is that had she never been born, life would be a poorer, sadder, lonelier, colder place. And that the very fact that she’s in my world has made bearable what might have pulled me under, and made joyous some of my most precious memories. The philosophy on the garden swing, the voice of reason on the desperate phone call, the kitchen laughter on Christmas Eve, the burgers at the Broome Street Bar, when life was young and full of dreams, the shoulder at the grave, when it had all gone so terribly wrong… all encoded in a tiny plaque by some dazzling trick of time. And it doesn’t explain how much I love her because there really are no words adequate to that task. But perhaps she knows every jot and tittle of what’s indelibly written in my heart about her, anyway. Just as she’s known so many other vast truths across the staggering years. Because she’s Conny, perhaps she simply knows.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2012