Some of you may not know this, but I actually have two sisters. Of course there is my baby sister, Jess, and we all know my love for her runs deep. But there is another sister in my life, and her name is Mindy. Her name is Mindy, but I haven’t called her that for years. To me, she is Mila (the name she chose for herself in a college Spanish class), or occasionally Minders. She has been a part of my life for a long, long time…by my calculations, about 89% of my years on this earth. Believe me when I tell you, there is some history there. Some of it I am about to share, and some of it I just can’t. There are promises involved, promises to take things to the grave. That is what sister friends sometimes have to do.
It all started in the most innocent of times, Mrs. Esbaum’s Lowden Elementary School kindergarten class in 1974. I don’t remember much about those years, I suppose, but I do remember this: I hated nap time. Which is weird, because now I love naps more than just about anything. But back then, napping was not my thing and according to Mindy, I allegedly spent most of nap time laying on a mat and playing with the zipper on her coat. This got our relationship off to a rocky start, and there are reports this may have led to Mindy’s open hatred of me for some years. I, of course, deny all allegations. I have no idea what she is talking about.
From there our lives were intertwined in this small Iowa town because, let’s face it, there were only 31 people in our class. In 4th grade, Mindy was the chosen one: the one who got to come along with me and my family for my birthday dinner at Happy Joe’s Pizza. At the end of dinner, true to tradition, my mom said we could both pick out a piece of candy from the well-stocked candy counter. I picked a licorice rope. Mindy picked a glass antique car filled with gumballs. She had a lot of nerve, that girl, but even then she had a convincing spirit when she knew what she wanted. She went home with that glass car, and I went home with my stupid ass licorice rope. Life isn’t always fair, my mother reminded me. On my birthday.
The friendship waxed and waned over the next few years, but really solidified junior year of high school after my mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I call that my “bipolar” year because I never cried so hard, nor laughed so much, as I did in that year. It was a year of losses and gains, a year of ups and downs. But the revitalized friendship with Mindy brought me a good dose of distraction that I really needed. I am telling you, there is no one who can make me laugh like my Minders, even in the face of grief. No one.
And she can make me laugh about the stupidest things. Like the time I picked her up for school in my sporty little orange Chevette and upon entry into the car, she slid her foot across the carpet with a big smear of dog poop. Never fear! Mindy quickly sprang into action, ran back in the house, and upon return sprayed some of her mom’s perfume on it. (Author’s note: This did not put even the slightest dent in the problem, we discovered, upon return to the car at the end of a hot, sweltering Iowa day.) The remainder of high school was filled with all kinds of bad choices and debauchery that I won’t share in such a public forum. Or, as I like to say, years filled with learning to make the right choices by making all the wrong ones first. Luckily, and quite amazingly, we survived.
College rolled around and Mindy and I both selected Cornell College – a small liberal arts school just 30 minutes or so from our hometown. Did I follow her there? Maybe. I don’t really know, but I do know that I found comfort in continuing our path together. At the outset, everyone at Cornell got the two of us confused. Not because we look alike – we really don’t – but because that freshman year of college we were together all the time. But by that first year’s end, things had changed. It was pretty clear we needed to each find our own way and develop our own sense of self. We drifted, slowly, and eventually severed ties pretty much completely. In the days that followed, my heart was sometimes broken about it, and I’m sure she had her days like that too. But we had some growing to do, and it turned out the separation was just going to have to be part of that.
In the summer between our sophomore and junior year of college, however, there was a reconciliation. I really can’t even recall what brought it about. But by that time we had both done what we needed to do, and it turned out we still needed each other. From that day forward, the friendship has been unbreakable, even when miles upon miles have separated us. We have had a million more laughs since that time, and more than once the laughter has resulted in me peeing my pants. I’m not proud of this, but I’m not kidding. (One time this involved Mindy doing a Russian dance in an elevator in Minneapolis; another time it involved a suggestion that our hotel housekeepers might benefit from the use of a Hazmat suit.) There have been times I could not stop laughing. Times I could not breathe. Times my face hurt and my stomach hurt and I needed it to stop or something bad might happen. That’s what happens when you can say anything – and I do mean anything – to another human being. It’s a freedom you just don’t enjoy in life very often.
After college, Mindy stayed in Iowa and I moved far away. It’s been that way ever since. But that hasn’t stopped us from seeing each other a couple times a year and always picking right up where we left off. We’ve taken a number of trips together – Memphis, Washington D.C., Costa Rica, Philadelphia and San Antonio. We left our mark in every city, and each time we’ve made memories that last – and even a few memories we wish wouldn’t last, but do. That’s all part of the fun.
Today I love my Minders more than ever. I love her because she can still make me laugh like no other, and we can still tell each other anything. But in addition to that love I have for her, I’ve developed a deep admiration and respect. She is an incredible teacher, inspiring high school students every day with her passion for education, her wit and her charm. Even more so, she’s an incredible mom. The kind of mom that loves her boys fearlessly and advocates for them tirelessly. She’s shown me what unconditional love looks like, and I have to tell you, it’s a beautiful thing.
So there you have it – some of the story of Mila. And perhaps, the only part of the story I shall ever dare to tell. Happy Birthday to my friend, my confidant, my personal comedienne and one of the best people I know. Happy Birthday to my other sister.