I remember going to pick her up. There was snow on the desert road. That made it even more exciting. What kind of place for a baby is an Army Hospital? I didn’t wonder that back then. All I knew is that the drive was exciting, and we’d be returning home with a baby girl. I felt very responsible and grown-up. I sat proudly on the edge of the backseat, peering between Mum and Dad at the barren landscape of the central plateau.
That’s the only early memory I have of meeting her. I don’t remember the hospital, or the first sight of the baby, or even the trip back. Just that glimpse at the snowy road ahead and the feeling of excitement.
I remember her starting at my primary school though; Just as I was finishing. At least for her first year, she had a big brother standing guard. People questioned us because I was white and she was brown. She would answer them proudly. “I’m adopted!” I loved her for that, her zero shyness and inherent pride in everything she did.
I doubt she needed me much anyway, attracting friends like I attracted trouble. I remember our time outside school more; we lived on the beach. Always at the beach, the river, or the local pool. I have flashbacks of her splashing and giggling.
She thought up crazy names for everything and everyone. I don’t know why. Weirdly, she had a pet goat, and named it something unpronounceable. She charged about re-naming everything. Never stopping.
Then we weren’t so little anymore. No more playing together. She excelled at school, swimming, and hanging with the right crowd. Flying around the place, joining stuff, winning awards for whatever she tried. Even listening to her made me tired, I don‘t know where that energy came from. I doubt I gave her much credit for any of her successes. I used to call her a nutter. And I Ieft home as soon as I could, so didn’t see half of what she achieved.
I wish I’d carried on being that big brother I was at primary school and been more proud of her.
Her first job was a government one, dealing with the unemployed and their benefit applications. I recall her at a family gathering, lamenting the fact that people lied to her. We laughed at her naivety. Later, she set up some kind of business, winning a government contract to help people find work. I can’t imagine it made much money. It would have been a way to use all that energy though. That and the two or three dogs she always had, bounding around her on long walks over the Port Hills.
She married a good cop and had a beautiful daughter. Just ten years ago now. The earthquake smashed their house up and they’ve only just finished rebuilding it. Not to mention helping others with theirs and shifting her company‘s role into earthquake recovery somehow. Nothing stopped her relentless pursuit of life.
Ovarian cancer doesn’t care how much energy you’ve got or how good a person you are. Or even that you’ll leave a young daughter behind. It’s taking her body like the earthquake took her house, but it’s not repairable. They told her she had a year, but that was before it spread to her liver.
She has days now. I’m flying home to see her for the first time in years and also for the last time. I’m scared of flying, and that’s all I can think about. Typical of a brother that hasn’t been much use since primary school.
I don’t even know if she’ll be aware of me, but if she is then maybe we’ll remember the times on the beach when we kids. I’ll apologise for not being around since then, and I’ll tell her how proud I am of everything she achieved. Hopefully she’ll hear it.
It looks like there will be snow on the roads when I get there. The drive won’t be exciting this time. I’d rather remember that other drive all those years ago when I couldn’t wait to pick up my new baby sister, Stephanie.