Friday, May 21, 2010

Laughter and Life Goals

My sister, just back from eight weeks studying medicine in Rarotonga (Lord, she has a tough life), came to spend a week with us before her next rotation (infectious diseases) began. She is freckled all over, and brown between, as if she'd been baked in an oven to a tropical finish.
            She brought photographs!  Tropical sunsets. Tropical sunrises. My sister on a beach, her hair pinned full of hibiscus flowers. Bucketing up and down mountain roads on a scooter. Mushrooms growing in her shower. Tropical downpours turning the world into soup under a white wall of water.  Mr Tabubil and I breathed very deeply and imagined chucking everything and buying a pup-tent on the beach at Titikaveka. But over there Mr Tabubil wouldn't have his DSL connection, and things would pall, I think.
            She earned her PADI certification on the island, and brought a folder of photos of herself scuba-diving with sharks and moray eels and octopuses and eagle rays, but the most extraordinary photo was one of my sister hanging in mid-water over the edge of the island shelf - she was a stream of bubbles almost lost in a field of blue - a pale butterfly drowned in four thousand meters of dark water.
            It was purely elsewhere.
            It curled my hair.  Echoed inside of my head and shot through my belly like a stream of fireworks.  It made me want to ride tramp steamers into the steaming jungle and ride rocket ships up among the stars.

In the evenings, my sister and I cooked stir-fries out of a book I'd been given as a wedding present.  We went shopping every afternoon for fresh ingredients.  Waiting at the checkout, we grazed the horrible weekly gossip magazines.
            "O.M.G!"  She gasped.  "I can't believe how long I've been out of touch!  Look at how many celebrity couples broke up while I was away!"
            My sister has an amazing laugh.  It ripples, like a brook I met once in Arkansas.  Or like a magpie, swinging at the top of a tree and singing a gurgling song into the wind.  You'd do or say just about anything to make it happen again.  To hear more of it.

She helped us pack for our move, boxing books in the living room while I wrapped wine glasses in the kitchen.   I heard her Howl.
            "You have disgraced me as a sister! How could you- of all people?! - " and then I heard an incoherent wail of outrage.
            "You found the Paris Hilton Biography?" I called cheerfully.
            A gasp. "How did you know?"
            There's only one book on our shelves that would win me a reaction like that.  The book is a masterpiece whose perfection of form brings real tears to my eyes: Paris Hilton - the Blue Banner Biography, by Jennifer Torres.  Regular bookstores don't stock it.  I had to order it specially.
            The back cover says: "Paris Hilton was born into the life of luxury, and right from the start she embraced life and everything it had to offer her.  Growing up in a fancy hotel with maids, butlers and posh surroundings, Hilton wanted her own identity and she struggled to find it.  Photographers began to notice the tall blonde with the piercing blue eyes who started showing up at all the best parties with her equally beautiful sister.  Paris was eventually appearing in magazines everywhere.  She was becoming a fashion icon. Modeling jobs soon followed, but Paris’s true desire was to be an actress.   She was used to getting what she wanted and movie offers began coming in.  Paris discovered that you can make your own destiny with a little hard work and a whole lot of dazzle."
            The book goes on to teach young girls that the greatest dream a woman can dream is to be a very wealthy socialite with your photograph on a perfume advertisement and to have lots of designer handbags.   My very favorite thing about this book is that I first found it in the library of an Ontario Public School. On the Recommended Reading shelf. I have been devoutly praying for a mis-filing ever since.
            I heard that laugh again.
            Then my sister and I packed our kitchen, and she flew away, taking her laugh away with her.

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