When we were much younger, my older sister was forced to share a bedroom with me. We fought constantly and she strategically placed her rocking chair to mark the centre of the room in a domestic Maginot line that she dared me to cross. My sister’s half was organised, stylish and sophisticated; my half refused to be tamed.
On a good day the rocking chair was cooperative and we devised a game where, once I was sitting comfortably in the seat, she would pull it back on its rockers, and fire me across the width of the room in the hope I would land on the bed rather than miss and crash pathetically into the wall. The landing was usually soft and, if it wasn’t, we found this hilariously funny. (Well she did, my face was too busy sliding down the wall to engage in a smile).
When my half of the room risked a call to pest control, with military precision she would call me to task, block the door and supervise proceedings until the carpet and bedspread on my side of the room were visible again.
When we moved house my sister understandably begged promotion to her own bedroom, and, when successful, must have punched the air knowing that at last her clothes could be safely catalogued and her friends could visit without any risk of a younger sister gate-crashing.
I missed her terribly and painted the walls of my own room purple in protest, but this is a story for another day. I wouldn’t want to face those walls again.
It seems appropriate that my life has continued in its messy vein, for you can’t expect to keep stashing things away in bulging drawers and not expect the mess to explode out at some point. It’s totally uncalled for however, that my sister has been refused a good housekeeping pass and finds herself battling cancer for the second time. I’m really angry about this debris.
Over 8 years ago when sis first developed breast cancer, she approached this messy explosion in her usual calm, organised and positive way. No knitting around the guillotine was to be allowed; she started sporting the most glamorous false eyelashes and we chose a wig that was actually better and longer than her original hair – this way she could catch the cancer critters unawares and ensure that she was ahead of the collapsing hair follicles which she knew would follow the start of chemo. One friend actually asked her for the name of her new hairdresser, so authentic was the new look. There was no need for me to block the door and supervise the reality of the next few months, for she had gathered her research, surrounded herself with positive people and started clean eating.
Well, I say clean eating, but she’d always lived and eaten clean, that’s what was so flipping unfair. In her one fit of rebellion she banned ‘bloody’ blueberries from the house (and she so rarely swears) for she’d been eating them for years in the belief that they were anti-carcinogenic. Stuff that.
I’ve kept all our texts from that time, not to blackmail her with in future years you understand, but to record her indomitable spirit, grace and faith under fire. I read them through today for reassurance and to remind myself of the rules.
We tidied up after that first chemo mess. (I’m glossing over the operation, hospital visits and sickness of course because she wouldn’t want me describing herself as being ‘done to’. She will never let the critters take charge). A total clean bill of health was awarded for her good behaviour and life looked neat and tidy again. No need for sis to start living life faster or to start working through a bucket list, however, for she’s one of the few people I know who has always got stuck in, always uses the best china and never saves her scented candles to be lit only when guests arrive. Love her.
It’s a measure of her grace that a couple of years ago, when my marriage imploded for the first time, she was there on a freezing winter weekend hunting for a flat rental with me when I was crying too hard to read the property particulars. She made me laugh at the bizarre double act of the letting agents she dubbed ‘French & Saunders’ when they allowed me to be gazumped on a flat through their comedic incompetence. Most tellingly, she made sure I was moved in and ‘sorted’ before revealing that she’d been diagnosed with secondary liver cancer. I felt the need to hide my face from her as it slid down that wall again in a sick parody of our childhood game.
Again, I’m glossing over the months of treatment and setbacks of knocking liver cancer into shape, because that’s what sis does. I just worry that this week it feels like she has been the one caterpaulted from the rocking chair and suddenly it doesn’t seem so hilariously funny any more.
I want the rocking to stop for her.
She’s hit the wall a few too many times over the last few weeks and although she insists on smiling, I know she’s shaken. I want life to be what she deserves rather than what she has to deal with. I can cope with my messiness; I just can’t cope with the rubbish on her side of the room. I need to clean up for her.
She’ll tell me off for worrying, and she’ll tell me off for writing this, so here’s a promise that we’re regrouping and that I’m going to think of a new game for sis to play for it’s just not time for her to face the wall right now. I’m drawing up a new Maginot line and I’m inviting sis over to my side to give herself a break – scary though that will be for her. She can return when we have order restored and our sense of humour has returned. Cancer critters and blueberries, stay on your side of the line; face the wall alone. We’re not playing.