We, Annie and Evvie, are sisters, 79 and 81, respectively. Our full names are Catherine Ann and Evelyn Lee, named after two spinster aunts. Our mother was the proper sort, and at each of our births, she declared there would be “no nicknames." “The girls will be called by their proper names, Catherine and Evelyn." However, our father, who was not the least bit proper, implored our mother to consider calling us Annie and Evvie as babies. Our father insisted that he felt like he was baby-talking two old spinsters whenever he called us Catherine and Evelyn. The wit and irony, coupled with my father’s boyish smile were not lost on our mother. She loved our father most for his wicked sense of humor, so she acquiesced.
According to our parents, we were remarkably close from the beginning. I was delighted to have a new baby sister. I treated Annie with extreme gentleness uncommon for a two-year-old. For the first few months, Annie slept in a crib by our parents’ bed. I had my own crib in the bedroom next to our parent’s room. Annie awoke hungry at 2:30 a.m. each morning. When Annie would cry out, I would climb out of my crib and come running into our parent’s room to check on her. Our mother would feed Annie while I watched over the two of them. When Annie fell asleep, our mother would lay her in the crib and return me to my crib as I had also fallen back to sleep.
The following day at 6:30 a.m., Annie would begin to rouse in her crib. Our mother would sit up on the side of the bed to peep into Annie's crib, and there I would be, curled up with a blanket on the floor by Annie’s crib. Our mother reassured me that I did not need to get up during the night with Annie or sleep on the floor beside her crib. Her reassurances were a waste of time, and my reply was always the same, "My Annie."
Once Annie started sleeping through the night, we shared a bedroom. We shared two identical, white cribs, a milk-stained chest of drawers, and a multi-colored pastel, oval, braided rug on the wooden floor. An old, oversized wooden rocker with a woven seat filled with big, fluffy pillows patterned in a tiny, floral, muted pastel was in the corner. After we started sharing a room, our parents often heard Annie cooing and me whispering long before Annie was verbal. When our parents would come to the door to check in on us, they would find the two of us in Annie's crib humming, talking, and holding hands. Annie and I were drawn together as if there were a magnetic force between us.
When I, Evvie, turned five years old, my crib was replaced with a twin canopy bed. The bed was equipped with a rail to prevent me from rolling onto the floor during the night. Annie was only three years old at the time, and that is the first time I recall that we shared a dream. As our father assembled my new bed, Annie watched with big eyes. That night, our mother rocked with one of us in each arm as our father read us a bedtime story. Our father scooped me up out of my mother's arms and sat me on the side of my new bed as he said good night, big girl, and kissed me on the head. Mother then carried Annie to her crib, said good night, little girl, and kissed her forehead. That night I dreamed that Annie was calling my name. In my dream, I replied, “Yes, Annie, I am right here, just across the room in my big girl bed." Annie said, “Evvie, I am so scared; please come to my bed." I replied, “You have a baby bed, Annie. I am a big girl now, and we won't fit in your bed”. Annie pleaded, "I'm afraid Evvie."
I popped up, tiptoed over to Annie's crib, and there she sat with her arms thrust upward and tiny, tears rolling down her cheeks. I was not tall enough to lift Annie, so I climbed up on the side of her crib and helped her over the railing. We tiptoed back to my bed, scuttled around the guard rail, spooned each other, and fell sound asleep. Mother was taken aback when she came to wake us and found us snuggled together in my bed. She scolded and lectured us about climbing in and out of beds in the dead of night. However, mother made no fuss when I asked if Annie could sleep with me that night. I think our father must have intervened and convinced our mother that there was no harm in sleeping together. We graduated to a full bed as we got older, but Annie and I slept together from then on.
Our parents had seen our exceptionally close relationship from birth. We had mentioned our shared dreams to our parents from time to time as the years went by. Still, our mother would tell us that it was absurd. We should keep it to ourselves because everyone would think we were crazy. Our father would just roll
his eyes, smirk, and wink. Deep down, they worried that something was askew, mentally. When we were eleven and thirteen, our mother took us to see a doctor specializing in childhood mental disorders. Of course, she just told us he was a doctor. After talking with us, the doctor mentioned a rare condition called sleep telepathy that affected twins. Although we were not twins, he told our mother that he would like to interview her and our father and study Annie and me over a period of years. He believed this would supply important insight into this little-known field of study. Our mother thanked him for his time, and we returned home never to speak of it again.
When we were fifteen, we spent a week in the summer with our maternal grandmother, Mimi. Although we did not see her often, we loved her dearly. Mimi lived in a rural area. We helped in the garden, cooked dinner together while playing old music on the radio and listening to stories from Mimi's youth. We went for long walks, read books, stayed up late to talk, eat whatever sweets we had baked that day, and drank coffee with equal amounts of cream and sugar. One night we talked to Mimi about our shared dreams. She did not even flinch. Instead, she looked us straight in the eyes, smiled, and said, "Oh, I thought you girls may have the night visions too. You have always been so close. Just like my sister and me". We
asked if our mother had night visions. Mimi just laughed and said it must have skipped a generation. This made us love Mimi even more.
After we graduated high school, Annie and I lived at home and went to a community college. We met our future husbands while attending the community college and spent our free time together as a foursome. Then Annie and I married our husbands in a double ceremony when Annie turned twenty-two, and I was twenty-four. A year later, my husband and I moved five hours away for his job. The distance was a struggle because Annie and I had never been apart. We talked every day on the phone to the chagrin of our husbands, and we talked every night in our dreams. Once, we mentioned the dream telepathy to our husbands, but they too scoffed at the idea. The dreams continued to come each night. We would go back and forth, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. There was no script, no ritual; it just happened. We talked about all the pivotal moments in life when we slumbered without interruptions or fanfare.
I learned of my father's death in a shared dream. I was traveling with my family. Annie got the call to come to the hospital. Unfortunately, it was too late when she arrived. Our father had taken his last breath before Annie could get there. She shared the news with me that night in a dream. I called her in the wee hours the following day. Neither of us said a word. We just sobbed like our hearts were broken because they were. We were together at our mother’s bedside when she passed. Not a word was spoken between us. That night in our dreams, we shared all the ways we knew and loved our mother and all the ways we did not know her at all but wished we had.
Once, when we were in our twenties, married, living in different
cities, Annie had too much to drink. That night our dreams were herky-jerky. I was unable to connect with Annie during the vision, which was alarming. I awakened before dawn so anxious that I was in a cold sweat. I called Annie at once, but there was no answer. I kept calling and pacing the floor until midday when she called me and explained. We laughed about it but agreed that we would warn each other in the future if there was a chance this could happen again. Later, when Annie and I were in our thirties, I experienced a deep depression. The doctor prescribed anti-depressants and our dreams became dark and unsettling. After weeks of fitful sleep, Annie pleaded with me to stop the medication. So, I did. Within a week, our dream sharing was right as rain. My depression disappeared shortly after that as quickly as it had come. Annie and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Then there were the years following the loss of our husbands, who passed within a year of each other. The kids were all grown up, with kids and spouses, and immersed in their own busy lives. Annie and I often spent extended periods together, first at her house, then at mine. We cleaned and decluttered our houses to the delight of our adult children. Then we started taking road trips together, to the beach, out west to visit national parks, and even to New York City. Our kids expressed concerns about us traveling alone. We were in our late sixties at the time and still fully independent, so we disregarded their anxiety and got reacquainted. We had not spent this much time together in close physical contact in decades. Despite the years apart, in the blink of an eye, we fell right back in step.
Fast forward back to now, as I mentioned, we are at 79 and 81. I live with my daughter and her family, and Annie is living with her son and his family. Even now that we are old ladies, we still dream together. We have never mentioned our dream world to our children. As Mimi told us long ago, sometimes it skips a generation, and we knew that was true with our children. We count our blessings, of course, feeling grateful not to be in a nursing home. Still, we miss our independence. We especially miss our interdependence. Despite the good intentions of our children, we are imprisoned by old age. So, we dream of finding a little house at the halfway mark between our children, where we would live together and take care of one another. It is not a night
vision but a pipe dream.
Lately, our dreams have turned frenetic. They flip back and forth between our childhood and adulthood, like when you accidentally sit on the television remote, and the channels change in rapid succession. When I try to reach back to Annie in our dreams, there is silence. I have tried to talk to Annie about it. She becomes agitated or she denies it. Then, she blames it on a change in her medication. I cannot understand what is happening. Annie, on the other hand, seems not the least bit concerned. I know something is wrong, but I need to see Annie, talk to her, look into her eyes, and hold her hand, then I know I will understand. I have asked my daughter over and over to take me to visit Annie. My daughter has one reason after another why she cannot make that happen. She is too busy with work, her husband cannot manage without her, the kids need her, pet care is expensive, and finally, it would be too much for my nephew and his wife to care for both of us. As if Annie and I are toddlers or pets that are too much to manage. My daughter does not understand, my nephew does not understand, no one has ever understood! Annie and I need each other, like air or water. Where I end, Annie begins, and where Annie ends, I begin. It is the circle of our life.
This morning to my surprise and delight, my daughter brought me
a cup of coffee and lingered. She opened the curtains and then flitted about the room, picking up first one thing and then another. I noticed she held a picture of Annie and me in her hands. I was sure that my daughter was about to tell me that she had set up a trip to see Annie. Inside, my heart leaped with joy, but I remained calm on the outside. I did not want to steal her thunder. I knew she was genuinely busy and that it was not easy for her to step away from her life for even a weekend, so I waited.
She sat on the side of my bed and said, "This is my favorite picture of you and Aunt Annie." I smiled as I remembered when we had taken that picture, it was our first selfie. We laughed and laughed as we tried different poses and angles, moved around to find the best light, and debated whose arm was the longest. It was a good day. Our faces radiated happiness in that picture. My daughter interrupted my thoughts. She said, "Momma, I wanted to talk to
you about Aunt Annie."
Too quickly, I said, "I know, when are we going to visit? I can hardly wait". "No, momma, that’s not it. Aunt Annie has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease”. My mind buzzed like a cheap, fluorescent bulb as a dull throb started in my temples. I heard my daughter from far away, asking me a question. I snapped back to the present. "Do you understand what Alzheimer's disease is?" my daughter asked. My mind was still reeling. Yes, I understood the question, and I knew the answer. Alzheimer's disease is a tortuous, lonely death sentence. "Please, momma, say something”. I held my daughter's gaze as rivulets of tears coursed down my face. Then, in a hoarse whisper, I croaked, "This is my worst nightmare!”