The first woman I “tortured” in lieu of my mother was my sister Amy. It started when we were both too young to understand why I did it and continued far past the time I should have known better. She is one of my closest friends now, but as teens we were anything but. We grew up to become rivals for my mom’s limited attention span most of the time. Another startling revelation that is a fairly recent discovery for me. While it’s been many years since we really leaned into a fight, the ones we did have still bring me a fair amount of shame.
We were damn near inseparable early on. I was always tiny for my age, so people often mistook our 11-month difference in age as no difference at all. As such, we were cute “twins” all the way to our pre-teen years where identity management became much more important to us. There isn’t a single memory prior to 1983 that doesn’t feature my sister Amy as my best friend before I knew what having a best friend meant. She was also the first “friend” to burn in the emotionally-charge fires of rage that consumed much of my life over the years. We found peace as adults, but it wasn’t easy.
The women in my life have long given me charity I didn’t earn. I’m committed to spending the next fifty years earning every bit of their faith in me. Thrice on Sunday.
My most cherished memory of us as adults came by way of losing our father in 2011 after he succumbed to nearly a decade of pain and suffering from kidney failure. Neither of us were prepared for the call from our Uncle Kent, but it came as no real surprise. He’d been circling the drain for years by then. He was beyond tired and gave up. Surrendered to his demons at long last, chasing forgiveness and light in the next life after this one. I can hardly blame him. My dad walked some rough roads, most of them alone.
Amy and I flew into Portland, Oregon, and rented an SUV for the trip south to Eugene where dad clung to his last breaths at Sacred Heart Hospital. We drove mostly in silence, processing the drama that was about to go down. Neither of us quite knew what to expect. I’d never faced the death of someone close to me. I don’t think Amy had at that point either. It was surreal. I also felt a vague sense of shame for not feeling worse. I’d had a nightmare about my mom dying when I was still in the Navy. The grief was so immediate and so severe I stopped breathing and woke from a dead sleep. This was the total opposite of that night. An emotional dead zone.
I could tell Amy was conflicted as well. She had a way more complicated relationship with our dad than I did. He’d done a number on her a couple times, the last one draining her meager savings account and leaving her stranded in Eugene with a 2-year-old son and massive anxiety. She recovered from that one in short order, but never really trusted the old man again. I don’t blame her a bit. I had trust issues of my own for sure. At a certain point, anyone who had ever been close to Larry Miller had to create strict boundaries or they’d lose as much as they were willing to give and then some. My dad was a black hole of need.
Both of my uncles and their wives were waiting when we arrived. So was dad. He’d been hanging on for us to get there. He made it for another hour of soft goodbyes before he died while we stepped out to eat lunch. A final consideration in a life that mostly devoid of them. We stayed the night and next day grieving with our uncles, cousins and their families. It was a wake of sorts as Amy and I leaned hard into a bottle of bourbon to cope with our pain. Pain that was short-lived for us both. That was the saddest part of all for me. That a man could walk the Earth for 61 years and leave a mostly positive impression on the people he touched except for his own children.
My sister has been a bulwark of strength while I negotiated my last few weeks of emotional and spiritual pain. Amy provides a different flavor of feedback and advice than my mom does, evening out the spectrum of female counsel available to me at any given moment. She’s also been a mom and step-mom for decades, so there’s that reservoir of knowledge to draw on as a “young” dad moving into an evolving future. Our relationship has matured and mellowed into a respectful friendship. A friend I count on today (and tomorrow most likely) like few others. It gives me great comfort to know we found “the twins” again as we head into the last half our lives with vigor and confidence.