This is the first in my new ‘The Family Files’ series where I dish the dirt on my family members in a loving and sometimes nostalgic way.
Last Christmas I stayed with my family in Sydney for two weeks and realised how close my younger sister and I had become. When she’s not demanding my every waking moment she’s watching me sleep until I wake up and see her staring at me.
‘What are you doing?’ I say.
‘You’re cute when you sleep,’ she smiles. ‘You look like a mouse.’
I pull a face and tell her to give me more time before I have to face the day.
‘No Becca, we have to go get slurpees this morning, you promised.’
Staying in my sister’s room has its perks. It’s like having a sleepover with your best friend, only, because she’s my sister we can talk shit to each other and not worry that we won’t have anyone to sit with at lunch at school on Monday.
Mum has other plans for our morning and sets us to task moving the lounge room around for the second time during my visit. It takes us most of the morning because Mum has heavy furniture and my brother refuses to help.
‘Can we go to the gas station for lunch?’ my sister asks me.
‘The gas station? No one calls it that,’ I say. ‘What are you, American? We call it the bloody servo.’
My sister laughs. ‘Can we get sandwiches at the servo then? They’re better than Mum’s.’
I smile and tell her she better not let Mum hear her say that or she will be making her own lunch for the rest of her life. Once we’re done I tell my mum we’re leaving and ask my brother to come along. He closes his door in reply.
‘Do you need money?’ my mum asks.
‘No thanks,’ I say, to my sister’s protest.
‘Becca, take the money. You’re a bum. You’re poor!’
‘Shut up,’ I reply. ‘Come on, let’s go now before it gets too hot.’
We walk the fifteen minutes to the service station and get slurpees. My sister insists on getting all four flavours in the largest size.
‘You won’t drink all that,’ I say, picking up a small cup.
We get our drinks and walk to the park across the road and sit under the playground equipment, out of the sun. My sister is starting high school so I try to give her some encouragement and tell her that so much of your life in high school can be determined by who you associate yourself with.
‘Only hang around people who are nice to you okay? And nice to other people too,’ I stare at her until she agrees.
My sister is wearing a shirt Mum got me for Christmas that didn’t fit. Ever since I moved to Brisbane Mum is always saying how I’m wasting away, how I don’t eat ‘right’ anymore and need to gain weight. I realise an opportunity to free up more closet space and offer my sister my old clothes when she comes to visit in the holidays.
‘Cool! Can I have the shirt you have on now too?’
I look down. ‘No way,’ I reply, ‘this is my favourite shirt.’
She sighs and stares down the barrel of her empty slurpee cup.
We sit until the sun reaches us under our cubby and talk about Mum and our brothers and how annoying and insensitive they are. How they ‘just don’t get it’ sometimes. I tell my sister I’m afraid that her and my mum and brother will never move to Brisbane like Mum keeps saying. I know this because I know my mum won’t leave my older brother no matter how much of a jerk he is. Mum is comfortable, and there’s danger in comfort.
‘If you lived in Brisbane you could sleep over our place on the weekends, it would be the best.’
‘Yeah,’ my sister says, excited, ‘and I could camp out in your room on the floor and we could toast marshmallows.’
I think how my sister has been watching too much American TV and how toasting marshmallows is fun but eating them is not.
‘I don’t know about that,’ I reply. I pull at the hem of my jeans, forgetting the heat of a Sydney summer.
I’m leaving in a few days and there’s always an impending sense of sadness that hangs around when I’m about to leave. My sister complains for days about how she will miss me, how Mum never plays with her and neither does our brother, how she will feel alone and how, if I really loved her, I would stay forever. Most of the time I try to avoid the painful complexities of living away from the people I love, how dividing my time between two cities is desperately unsatisfying and how I don’t ever really see the situation changing.
My sister always cries uncontrollably when I leave. Mum gets annoyed about it and tells my her if she doesn’t cut it out I won’t be coming back because she doesn’t need to put up with that shit every time I visit, she has enough to deal with. Mum’s not the most emotional person. She prefers empty threats to comforting hugs.
My sister and I walk home through the park. We stop a moment at the top of a hill, so I can take in the view of the west one last time before I leave. I don’t really get homesick, at least, not for the place so much as the people who occupy it. Since leaving Sydney, I’ve developed a disdain for the place I used to call ‘home’. These days the only purpose it seems to serve is to remind me of who I once was, and I’m not always comfortable with that.
Later that night my sister and I can’t get to sleep because we’ve been laughing too much about nothing and our stomach’s hurt. I mentally curse the fact we share a bunk bed. My sister is at the top because I’m afraid of heights and I appreciate her courage but find it hard to close my eyes with her insistent restlessness. We talk for a while about everything and nothing really and the last thing I remember is my sister telling me she’s glad we are both weird ‘because normal people have no soul.’