“Go to sleep, girls.” My increasingly annoyed voice carries over their hushed murmuring and the sound of a slow mechanical lullaby. I am struck by how easily the words fall from my mouth.
My mind suddenly goes through a cloudy flashback sequence as if from some 1980s sitcom. And, actually, I am transported to the ‘80s again with my sister, Mary, and instead of a mother’s voice like my girls now endure, it’s our frustrated father standing in the hallway, hands curled into fists jutting into his bony hips, uttering those same words.
We weren’t unlike Harper and Hannah, Mary and I. Mary, too, had flowing hair down her back and a propensity for cozy, long nightgowns. By nature, she was the quiet one, filled with a motherly maturity. I had an innate combustibility, ignited by either mischief or laughter…often both. Many a night I found glee out of bringing down Mary’s well-behaved walls in a fit of giggles. So, too, do Harper and Hannah’s personalities intermingle and support the other.
Memory is a funny thing. It might have only happened once. It might have happened countless times. It might have been when I was first sleeping in the same bed as my sister as a toddler, or a bit later and closer to the time of his death.
But, in my mind, the echo of our father’s angst growing to its height occurs in one glorious, guilt-riddled moment. The final threat that we’d be spanked if he heard “one more peep” out of us was just enough to bring our noise down several decibels…but there was no way that he didn’t still hear our stifled snickers. I like to think that he had selective hearing and didn’t actually intend to follow through with the deed. Or maybe he knew at that point that his cancer was terminal and that it simply wasn’t worth the energy (or, if he was in touch with his foresight, any additional future trauma it might inflict).
It’s one of the small handful of memories I still carry of him, and it’s ghostly at best. The giggles, his frustration, and the sense of my childhood bedroom are there, but the one thing that I’ve agonized over since we lost him is that I have no recollection of his actual voice. There are no recordings. No well-planned goodbye messages. No letters to open on special days to tell me that I mattered. None of those romanticized things that movies suggest are left behind out of sage and thoughtful planning by the terminally ill.
All that’s left are faint memories, and the occasional bright red cardinal. His voice may be gone, but the few, simple words remain.
And my girls remain. As they speak across the room in their beds, sharing secrets and nonsense. They continue the legacy of sisters, and I’ll continue the legacy of a frustrated, secretly laughing, parent.
It’s the least I can do to ensure that some things, undeniably, never change.