My big sister’s favorite game to play with me as a child was a simple one that I’ll just call “Lure John into the dark basement, then race up the stairs and lock the door.” It was a game that I always lost, and she always won. I’d beg her to open the door, and she’d just cackle. My sister had a wicked snicker. She wasn’t sadistic. This was just the law of the jungle. The price I paid for her not smothering me in the cradle. The door would eventually open like her arms and her laughter would be a sprinkler on a summer day, soaking us both. So we’d both end up laughing, and there would be no grudges. Because there really aren’t any grudges between brothers and sisters. Brothers and sisters are as close as peanut butter and jelly.
The world would be a better place if men treated the women in their lives the way they treat their sisters, with a healthy mix of respectful fear and total devotion. A sister is defense and prosecution, warden and cellmate, closest ally and greatest adversary all at the same time. She’s the monster under the bed, and the crack in the door. Best friends will walk the road to hell with you, but only a sister will knock on its gates and follow you in. She’s the cavalry, the last line of defense, and the victory party.
The old saying is wrong: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool a sister. The best way to make a man confess isn’t to interrogate him. Forget rubber hoses. Just drag him in front of his sis and watch him melt into a 6-year-old version of himself. If the vicious tickling doesn’t make him blab, or pee his pants, or both, then the sisterly form of torture known as “the float” will. This is an extremely effective way of getting a little brother to talk. No one can hold out when subjected to “the float,” which is two scoops of vanilla ice cream and root beer. There are no secrets between these siblings. There are just things that are spoken and things that are not spoken; then there’s a wink and that is that. A sister steadies you when you stumble and makes fun of you afterward.
Sisters teach their brothers so much about women and life, lessons of immense importance to the princes in their lives. For instance: sometimes you get punched in the arm for no reason, and you can’t hit back. Ladies come first, especially when it comes to the front seat of the car, the bathroom, or Christmas presents. Without sisters, men would never learn the truth that women belch and those belches can rattle walls. The male impulse to defend a woman in distress isn’t just antiquated chivalry. Even the meekest brother learns early that when it comes to his sister, he is a lion and his sister has the leash. A brother learns to tolerate, even like, whomever it is his sister falls in love with. But it goes without saying that a brother always keeps an eye on the guy, even if he’s the sweetest, most decent man in the world.
To say I look up to my sister is an understatement. She’s funnier than I am. Any joke I’ve ever written is an imitation of her twisted sense of humor. She could find the humor in anything. To some, jokes are emotional crutches. But her one-liners, quips, and delicious witticisms were wings. My sister taught me so much. She taught me to rock, having fed me a steady diet of AC/DC, Queen and Guns ‘N Roses since I was small. She taught me how to deal with credit cards. That the right to be lazy was directly proportionate to how hard you worked. As a project manager for a telecommunications company, she demonstrated how to juggle with your hands, feet, and nose. My sister taught me to never suffer fools. That love is a curse you never want lifted.
I would go to visit her in Virginia when I was a starving little troll in New York years ago, and we taught each other how not to cook Thanksgiving dinner (our turkey gravy was more like turkey spackle.) Once, when I was a kid and she was a teenager, she taught me that one week out of every month, a woman is capable of great fits of murderous rage. And that a little boy like myself would never really know when that week would happen, so it was wise to always be nice and do whatever she said.
And then there was her laugh — her wicked snicker — which would sometimes explode into a joyful howl or a stampede of giggles. Her laughter was a song that reminded me of home. I’ve had many lonely nights where I’d think I was lost and I’d call her collect from a pay phone on the street.
That her wisecracks also had a way of making aching nerves sigh was just an added benefit. Her wit was fearless.
Our father’s military funeral was a terrible day. The Texas sun baked our tears as we prepared to bury his remains. My dad’s name was Jack, and when they presented the biodegradable case that contained his ashes, my sister leaned into me and whispered “Hey. Look. A Jack-in-the-box.” She then let out one of her special laughs, a series of mischievous little hisses, like a Muppet up to no good.
Making my sister laugh was a rare triumph. Whenever I managed to get her to smile, it was like feeling personally responsible for the dawn. The basement door is closed now, but I swear I can still hear her on the other side. I’m going to need a better joke than “Wendy-in-a-box.”
My older sister, Wendy Yvonne Parker, died suddenly on Saturday, October 2nd. She was 46. She is survived by her loving husband, Robin.