When I was eight, and Rebecca was two, our great-grandmother died. It was our first experience with death, and the visitation was sad and confusing. After it was over, the lights of the funeral parlor dimmed. It was late and the building was closing. Mother gave me a job, “Go get your sister. We need to leave.”
Like all oldest children, I relished being given tasks and sought to complete my missions with the maniacal gusto of an SS officer. I marched into the room and inspected it for signs of Rebecca. The lights on the stage illuminated giant swaths of pink carnations on stands. In the center was my great-grandmother’s coffin. Hundreds of empty chairs faced the stage. Rebecca was nowhere to be found.
“BECCA!” I hissed, hands placed on my 8 year old hips with an air of authority, “We have to leave! Where are you?”
The voices of my parents and extended family drifted in from the hallway. They were crying and exchanging goodbyes and here I was, task ridden with corralling my sister. Again. The sweet sensation of self-righteous persecution rose up in my chest.
And then I heard a resounding, yet muffled, “NO” from the depths of the shadows.
I marched to the source of the sound, which happened to be Granny’s coffin.
Becca was crouched behind the coffin like a tiny unhinged mental patient.
“Come out from behind there!” I ordered, trying my best to show no fear, but truthfully I was totally freaked out about the whole situation.
“NO. Don’t look at me,” Becca stated, crouching even lower.
Rebecca was a childhood picture of angelic beauty. She had white curls encircling her face, tiny pink lips like rosebuds, but her voice left something to be desired. It was overly husky, with a booming quality that can only be compared to a logger like Paul Bunyan.
It was at this point Mother marched into the room. The funeral director was standing behind her, glaring at us. His thoughts were clear.
“Lady, get your kids out of here… I’m missing Jeopardy.”
Mom bent over and snapped her fingers, “Rebecca, come here to me right now.”
“NO. Don’t look at me.”
This meant only one thing. “Don’t look at me” was code for “I’m taking a giant crap in my pants and I’d like some privacy please.”
Mom reached into the shadows and gripped Rebecca’s arm, dragging her toward the door.
“Stop that, you need to potty in the toilet like a big girl,” Mom ordered.
“NOOOO! I will just do it in my pants.”” Rebecca boomed and the funeral director took a step backward, clearly unnerved by disparity between her cherubic looks and the John Wayne-esque quality of her vocal chords.
And so it went. Mom would drag Rebecca a few feet and then Rebecca would crouch, straining with all her might in hopes that she might “just do it” in the comfort of her own pants and not have to rest her laurels on the cold, unwelcoming lid of a toilet seat.
I glanced up at the funeral director and he gave me a half smile. He pitied me. I pitied myself.
But I didn’t know then that one day, that strange, crouching, diaper wearing, man-voiced toddler would be my best friend. Everyone always says that God has a sense of humor. I’ve heard that men’s nipples are proof. But I think sisters, women bound together by blood, DNA, and childhood memories of poopy diapers behind caskets, are the greatest proof, and blessing, of all.