It was late-December of 2013 and my sister and her finace had recently made their way from his parents’ home in Wichita, Kansas to my parents’ house in Lincoln, Nebraska. There was a lull in the week’s excitement–the last-minute grocery runs, baby with bronchitis, purchase of a wedding dress, toddler insisting she didn’t need naps–and Abbie and Zach were in the basement, sitting on my parents’ over-stuffed country-blue couch not really watching the game that was playing on the television. My mom’s long white stethoscope (a remnant from her nursing days) was lying on the blonde wooden coffee table in front of them. Abbie picked it up and started fiddling around, trying to find her own heartbeat. “Do you know what you would hear if you listened to mine?” Zach asked, not realizing I was listening. “It would say, A-bbie, A-bbie, A-bbie.”
I don’t have a lot of memories of my sister and her husband together yet, but this is one I hold to. It comes out shiny and golden from my pool of memories, the pool from which we form the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Our lives and relationships are made of memories–recent and distant, good and bad, hazy notions of something-that-maybe-happened-long-ago and crystallized moments we will never forget. It is memory that allows us to form inside jokes over drinks with good friends, memory that gives us a sense of comfort and familiarity when a whole family is reunited after months of being apart. It is the memory of what was lost that makes us sad when we grieve and the anticipation of new memories that excites us when we dream about the future.
The memories I have of growing up with my sister are what make our relationship, each of them one of the tens of thousands of little strands that tie us together–from the days we pranced through Super Saver’s towering aisles of cereal and paper towels pretending to be puppies running away from the dog catcher, to designated Best Sister weekends spent building bed sheet forts in our unfinished basement and forming pinprick images on the black paper of the LiteBrite, to cruising O Street in my red ‘96 Grand Am wearing oversized sunglasses and sipping 24 ounce cups of Juice Stop, to family vacations during which we argued and laughed, stood on the beach watching the sun set on the Pacific and then sneaked away to the hotel hot tub to talk about the boys who would later break our hearts. Our memories are what make us.
When we begin to forget, when we stop remembering, sometimes it feels like we’re losing ourselves. We don’t know who we are because we’ve forgotten where we come from. We’ve forgotten our own stories. It is in those times that we benefit most from those who remember.
Two years ago this summer, Zach was driving to Seward, a small town in Nebraska, best known for being the home of Concordia University and the nation’s official Fourth of July City. He was returning to celebrate the Fourth and see friends from his alma mater. In the middle of a phone conversation with one of his college buddies he learned about my sister, a recent Concordia graduate who was moving to Las Vegas where she would be teaching high school Spanish at Faith Lutheran School–the same school where Zach taught middle school English. “You should meet her,” his buddy said. “You should date her,” the guy’s wife added.
There was a sticky hot day several weeks later when Zach joined the cadre of male teachers who were helping to move my sister’s black-painted furniture into her Las Vegas apartment, an apartment to which Zach would make many returns.
There was an afternoon in August when my sister walked into Zach’s satellite classroom looking for the director of the middle school play.
And there was an evening in September when the two of them shared drinks at the top of the Stratosphere before watching the Bellagio Fountains dance to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady.”
That is where Zach and Abbie’s story together began–where the narratives overlapped and they began to share memories. From that point on they learned each other’s histories–they shared stories of their friends and families, their college shenanigans and moments of struggle, memories of the times they were deeply hurt and flashbacks of the days that meant most. Zach learned of my sister’s childhood dream of growing up to be a dog, her intense love of coffee and her obsession with Michael Jackson. Abbie learned about his love of Kansas, that he used to have facial hair, a lot of it, and that he really likes olives, but perhaps not as much as he likes to win board games. And all the while–as they were entrusting one another with those memories of their pasts and pieces of themselves–they were building new memories together.
In honor of Nevada Day (oddly enough) the two Las Vegas teachers visited friends in California, where they ate delicious food, rode the carousel at Disney Land and went wine tasting in Santa Barbara. There was an evening when the couple took a walk along the beach. She was wearing a long blue maxi dress and as it ruffled in the soft breeze of late October, he summoned the courage to share something special. Six weeks after their first official date he was drawn to the whole of her. He could see himself being with this girl for a long time. With no expectation of a response he told her that he loved her, and though she wanted to reciprocate immediately she took some time before she did.
It’s the stuff of our lives, memories. And as they begin a new life together, a continuation of a shared story, they do so as spouses. As life partners. And as memory holders.
This is for my sister and her husband, in celebration of all that has been, in the times they have shared and the memories they are yet to create. May every shared experience be another strand that strengthens the bond between them.