Of all the wonderful people in my life, there is one person who I can rightly say has been the constant and unwavering presence. I fondly call her Sanj. The two of us are knit together in a very special way, and no particular person, no amount of time, no measure of distance, and no explosion of emotions can ever tear us apart. Ever.
Sandra had a milestone birthday earlier this week. She is my beloved Sister.
True Story: Our family consisted of Dad, Mom, and five children when we rolled into Santa Barbara from Ohio in 1961. My brother Brent — almost four years old at this time — was able to get his hands on a pack of matches, and proceeded to set fire to our house. This somewhat humorous story will be saved for another post, but the short of it is that we lost all of our possessions in the fire. The City of Santa Barbara came to our rescue with clothing, toys for the children, and a new place to live. My mother, who was pregnant, was so grateful that she promised, if she had a girl, the baby would be named after our Fair City.
And, sure enough, Sandra Barbara was born into this world, and I, a two-year-old, had a new baby sister to enjoy!
Sandra might not use the word enjoy to describe how I treated her during our years of growing up together. I was an expert at being mean to my little sister. Very mean. Sometimes downright cruel.
Despite all of that, she managed to forgive and forget. I was angry with the ugliness of life then, and I took it out on her. Somehow she understood that.
Remember, though, Sanj, that I saved you from drowning at The Plunge when that boy pulled you into the pool — and I couldn’t swim either! And that bully in fourth grade? I told her I would punch her if she didn’t stop picking on you, just like you asked me to! And I did give you guitar lessons — though it wasn’t very nice of me to mash your fingers onto the strings to make that chord ring out. Sorry.
When Mom decided to move back to her hometown in Ohio, Sandra and I stayed together. She was 17 and I was 19. We were no longer fighting but helping each other cope with the loss of the most important person in our lives. What’s remarkable is that, except for my school year in the UCSB dorms, we shared the same room or house from Sandra’s birth until we were in our mid-twenties.
Often we would be out somewhere together and notice that we had chosen the same outfit. And it was a frequent occurrence for someone to call out “Hi, Sandra” as I walked down the street. We shopped together and wrote songs together and hung out with friends together. We’d pick up our guitars and sing harmonies with Firefall and Fleetwood Mac and the other Seventies bands that we both adored.
At one point, I decided to follow my boyfriend to Northern California to “start a new life.” The hardest part about it all was knowing I would be leaving Sandra. Someone who had always been near, available, dependable — like no other person had been in my entire life, then and to this day. And it was hard to let that go. She wrote me a goodbye note that brought me to tears. I don’t remember the words, but I can clearly see in my mind the paper and her handwriting with a sentiment expressing how much she’d miss me.
I didn’t end up staying away for long. Nine months and we were back in town to stay. But Sandra had taken to Life Without Darla just fine. She had taught herself how to play electric bass and had joined an all-girl rock band. This was a complete surprise to me.
Sandra wasn’t exactly what you’d call shy, but I never imagined her on stage in a band. It was quite a shock and I remember feeling like I had missed out on something very special while I had been away. Sandra wasn’t Darla’s little sister anymore.
So began our gradual physical separation. Sandra married soon after I returned, which finally took us to different households after 20-plus years. Our children were born (one month apart) and our responsibilities to others increased. Life, with its joys and disappointments, rolled on for the two of us.
But there has never been a time that I’ve felt a total separation from her. There is a heart connection we have from years of experiencing life together in the way that we did. The dynamics have changed, yet the sisterhood remains.
My little Sister. So precious to me.
I love you, Sanj.