My early experiences in life were not the most pleasant. The obstetrician had cold hands. The room was even colder. The bright lights nearly blinded me. They kept taking me away from my only comfort. Then my parents took me home and things got worse. My very first day, I was minding my own business, lying on my parent’s bed when “GI Jane” attacked, pulling me off the bed. That’s how I met my sister Shirley. She kept insisting they take me back. She is fourteen months older than me and she has never forgiven me for robbing her of her position at the center of the universe.
It wasn’t long until she fell for my charm and adopted me as her very own animated doll. As soon as I could walk she drug me every where she went, when allowed. We were inseparable. I did everything she wanted to do or else she beat me up. Thus began a lifelong fascination with strong women, and some skill in relating to them.
I had a severe speech impediment and she was my coach/therapist. Mom gave her instructions to help me and she accepted the challenge with glee.
“No, no, no, it’s not Shu-wee. It’s Shir-lee, Shirley. Now say it again.”
Over and over again she drove me to try to enunciate her name until I would burst into tears and run to my mother. She was my playmate and my constant antagonist. If I didn’t do what she wanted she would smack me. I’d cry and go running to my mother.
I could take you to the place, the exact spot, where that all changed. We were just in front of the steps to our house on Harrison Avenue. I was five or six. She hit me for not doing what she wanted, the tears swelled up in my eyes and I was ready to turn and run to Mom when a light came on. “I don’t have to cry. I don’t have to take this anymore.” An inner strength gathered in my stomach, I drew back and punched her right in the breadbasket. The shock on her face was priceless. When she burst into tears a second later I was forever liberated. In that instant we became the truest of friends.
Other than Cheryl, Shirley has been my best friend and confidant throughout life. She knows most of my secrets and I suspect I know most of hers, which is not a lot to say since we are both children of Ellis Johns. What you see is what you get.
On the continuum of human goodness there are the nice, the good, the very good, and then there is Shirley. She is thoughtful and compassionate. She’s the one who remembers everybody’s birthday, especially the children. She’s the annoying one who spends too much on Christmas gifts for them making the rest of us feel guilty.
She teaches high school science and really cares about her students. We all thought she was going to be a doctor. She certainly has the intelligence for it. We were inducted into the National Honor Society together. Her undergrad GPA was higher than mine. I guess I should not have insisted she be the nurse when we were little, “Girls can’t be doctors.” I’ve spent a life time trying to undo that lie.
Don’t get me wrong, she has not perfected all of the social graces yet. Don’t ask for her opinion unless you want it. She’s a scientist and can blurt out biological facts no one cares to hear during a meal. Don’t draw her into an argument unless you have plenty of time on your hands.
I guess you can see why we get along so well. We share the same since of humor and I never laugh as much as when I am around her. One of our favorite past times was pushing the buttons on our mother’s puritan scruples. In jest we would discuss some aspect of nature just to hear Mom cry out, “Lord I tried to raise em right. I did the best I could. I did. I really did.”
I am thankful for Shirley. She has been a true friend, and a great source of joy. I am blessed by her generosity, compassion, and listening ear. She’s not a bad cook either.
March 2, 2010