Monday, September 26, 2011


I called my sister Teena. Her name was Christine but when I was a tot the word Christine fell out of my mouth as Nee-nee. And from there it evolved into Tee-nee and then into Teena. And the skewed spelling was appropriate because as my sister emerged into early adulthood in the hippie days, she asserted her autonomy by experimenting with brash spelling permutations of the name Chris. She wanted to spell Chris like no one ever had before. She first went with Kryss then Crys. She finally settled for Cris.

Here’s a childhood story that explains our relationship well: The catholic church down the street had several stairs on the front entrance. So when mom went to church, which she did sporadically, she sometimes required Teena and I to watch Mass for Shut-ins. Mass for Shut-ins was a mass broadcast live from a local television studio. Just the name Mass for Shut-ins gave Teena and me the willies. Who were these shut-ins, anyway? That sounds like people who never leave sickrooms that smell of Vicks VapoRub. They never even pull up the shades and let in sunlight. That certainly wasn’t’ Teena and me.

And the only thing more boring than going to mass was watching mass on a black and white TV. So eventually one of us said to the other, “I won’t tell if you won’t.” So while mom was at church we watched cartoons instead. And if mom quizzed us about what the priest said in his sermon, we’d say something like, “Oh you know, he said to be nice to people.” Mom was not easily fooled but what could she say? That’s the message every child our age took away from every sermon.

Fast forward 40 years or so and Teena and I are very opposite people. She’s a born-again Christian and tea party conservative. I’ll be prima ballerina for the Bolshoi before I’ll be either of those things. So what was left for us to have in common? History. We were each other’s only sibling, so there were experiences only we shared, like watching Mass for Shut-Ins. We survived the state-operated cripple boarding school together. And as our mother died in a hospital bed in 2004, I held mom’s left hand and Teena held her right hand.

That kind of history means a lot. It means a helluva lot more than political and religious views. You can’t undo history. Religious and political views are made to be undone.

And Teena and I always had each other’s backs, like when we agreed to keep our secret about Mass for Shut-ins. When my first wife Anna fell dead in the middle of a routine Saturday morning, when Teena was in the ICU numerous times with pneumonia, we always tried to hold the other one up. That means more than anything.

Who the hell cares about ideology? No ideology can cancel all that out. And so my sister and I stuck together until the end of her life last week. I find comfort and satisfaction in that I’ll never find in ideology.