7.27.2005

Sister

When I was four years old, I ran off the end of a dock at my family's summer cottage in Upstate New York and fell into the lake. I remember looking up and seeing the shock on my sister's face dissolve to guilt as she accepted the ugly predicament as somehow being her fault. Mary Beth was only six years old herself, but that's the kind of kid she was, a stern little general in a pair of droopy knee socks. Though my refusal to flail and spout and fight for my life eventually became family lore -- early proof of what an odd little girl I was -- I actually liked it down there. It was true peace, my imminent demise, not at all the panicked horror you'd imagine drowning to be. Before I knew it my sister had run into the house and gotten my father, who jumped in, fished me out and warmed me up with my first ever shot of whiskey.



Last night my sister drove up from San Diego to save me again. She didn't like the way I sounded on the phone, she explained to her husband, leaving behind the dog, house, job and brand new pool with an infinity edge overlooking the canyon. She arrived here after midnight, armed with a box of Krispy Kremes and a doll from one of those ridiculous Hallmark kind of shops for people with sizeable balances available on their credit cards. It's a "You Can Do It Wish Doll," wearing a "Hang In There!" dog tag and a bracelet with "Go Girl" and star-shaped charms dangling from it. "Her name's Aurelia," my sister tells me. "That's how she grabbed me, anyway." I look at Aurelia and wonder how much I can get for her at the Fairfax Flea Market.

My sister is not happy about my new plan to sell all my stuff to raise some money, neither when I cry about how sad it is letting my treasures go to the highest bidder, nor when I refer to doing so as "my new business" like some kind of aspiring bag lady. She thinks I need a steady source of income, besides, you know, her. Even if it means putting aside my writing for awhile. I silently vow that my sister's "unflinching support" will not be included in my acceptance speech at any future Golden Globes ceremony.

We take a drive to Office Depot and see a "Help Wanted" sign. She tells me to find the manager and get an application. She'll wait, she says. I act like I can't understand a single word she's saying, like she's speaking some strange, Middle Eastern language where they practically choke themselves to death on their R's and H's. Office Depot. I'd rather take a crow bar to my wood floor and sell it off plank by plank for firewood. I'm feeling very Laura Ingalls Wilder, all of a sudden, hardened by circumstance. "You may call me Half-Pint!" I announce. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she snorts. (She totally does and read the crap out of those books under the covers with a flashlight.).

Cutting to the chase, we pick up a desk-sized tub of cheesy poofs and eat it in her car..

We go to some freaky indie at the Arclight, and she shares my sense of personal indignation that the Sundance Filmmaker's Lab turned down my most recent application in favor of some weird chick   with a faux-hawk who brought this turkey into the world. You have to love that about my sister, the way she knows in her heart that the movies I'm not making are far superior to the crap most everybody else has the gall to put out.

I practically knock over the comic actor Jay Mohr on the way out, but he looks right through me.  He's a pretty small guy with a very small chick on his arm, and clearly they don't acknowledge the larger people. We go to dinner at Chan Dara Larchmont where damn if another small person doesn't wait on us. At least she has the excuse of being Thai.

"Tell her I'm fine," I say as Mary Beth deposits me at the foot of my drive. She'll be reporting my overall state of mind back to our mother in Umatilla before she makes it to the corner. I'm actually okay with this. When you're an artist, it's a good thing to have one or two people who are not artists on hand to love you from a reasonably safe distance.

I know my sister will always be here to save me from drowning. I just wish she didn't have to do it so often. I wish she could understand that sometimes I like hanging out beneath the water line. It's cool and quiet, and all you have to do is hold your breath. How long you can make it down there without any hope of surfacing, well, that's just another one of those things they won't tell you in film school.

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