In middle age, I find that my younger sister is my best friend. It wasn’t always that way. I remember writing a memoir about Amy when I was eleven and she was almost nine. Okay, it was handwritten on loose-leaf paper, but it does have five chapters among its seven pages. It was called “The Book of Amy.”
There were chapters with titles such as “Occupations,” in which I listed Amy’s dream jobs (ice cream truck driver, baseball player and owner of a candy shop) and one called “My Fair Tomboy,” in which I began by praising her abilities at sports but wound up complaining how she taunts me at night when our parents can’t run interference. Mainly, the book is an unrelenting rant in which I excoriate her mercilessly for being basically a loud and annoying pest. I wrote about how she drives me “Crrrrrrrrazy” (the seven extra “r”s were for added emphasis), and then in the last chapter, titled “The Nice Side,” I wrote about how she could, once in a great while, be a decent human being.
We spent our childhood together, sharing a bedroom as well as our neighborhood pals. She was a people pleaser, active and energetic, whereas I was rather self-contained, preferring solitude. Once, when I decided to be a clothing designer, she was excited to be my model. I bought fabric and sewed her into a dress. Later, we proudly made my mom watch the brief runway show before she had to take a scissor to the dress and cut Amy out of it.
I could be mean, too. Having age on my side, I would relentlessly exploit her intense need to be seen and heard by simply ignoring her. She would write in her diary (after seeing me keep one) and caution me not to read it, hoping all the while that I would. She would leave it lying about and I’d pretend it wasn’t there. One time, she ran into my mother’s room in tears because I wouldn’t read her precious diary. My mother was speechless.
Another time, I agreed to be a backup singer in her band, “Amy and the Apple Seeds.” We’d get my friend Judy to come over and practice with us. We stole our theme song from Josie and the Pussycats. My sister would run up front and sing, “Ameeee …” and Judy and I would pipe in with “… and the Apple Seeds.” There might have been more to that song, but I’ll be damned if I can recall it.
We did sometimes have fun, stringing a line across our big bedroom from her bed to mine and attaching notes on clothespins. I guess nowadays, we’d just sit in our beds and text one another. As we grew older, Amy became a Deadhead and, although I liked the band, I left them to my sister, just as she left reading books and writing stories to me. When I was 19, I moved out of our house in Queens for good. Two years later, Amy moved in to my Soho apartment and became my roommate.
Then, something happened — we became incredibly close. All of the things that used to irritate the hell out of me were now charming, like her goofy sense of humor, innate playfulness, fearlessness and sense of adventure.
And I had somehow become cool to her. Two years older, I was a junior at NYU when she was a freshman. Suddenly, I knew things and had hip friends. The fact that they sometimes had pot was also no small thing.
As the years passed, we grew even closer. Amy got married young and set upon making babies. I held out for a long time. When my first marriage busted up, I imagined that I’d live in a penthouse apartment in the Los Angeles building that she managed. I’d paint and write and be a fabulous eccentric aunt to her kids.
When I married Eric and gave birth to Annabelle, I found Amy's knowledge of all things baby to be priceless. I had, by that time, moved to San Francisco and the distance between us was both tolerable and manageable. We’d speak at least once a day about all things great and trivial.
Now that we are on the other side of 50, we are closer than ever. She is my best friend and the person who knows all of my secrets. Her loyalty and the ferocity of her affections are a thing to behold. She’s so kind to me, she says, to make up for how rotten a kid she was and how much she put me through.