Inverness Airport, Scotland, July 20th, 2016 at 8am. The silence between us is unbearably loud. It feels like everything in both our lives has led to this moment. To speak or not to speak? Is there enough time for truth or do I just give another placating remark so as not to ruffle feathers?
It’s a grey and cold day. A thick fog drapes the landscape and the rain pours steadily.
It’s early enough that the airport isn’t busy at all. Some of the steel shutters of the airport stores are still shut. I wish for the distractions of a busy airport. The passengers hurriedly rushing about, the numerous repetitive last call for flights announcements, the brightly lit stores, the runways with flights in queue and the hum of voices from passengers and airport staff.
Thirty years of life have come down to this moment. My sister sits across from me. She has on a red knitted hat, a matching sweater and black pants and a well worn pair of black running shoes. We are sitting in those half back airport seats in the departure area. You know, the ones that allow you to lean back just enough, but not enough to get really comfortable.
There are only a handful of seats and no one else in them. I wish I could reach over and hug her but I don’t. I can’t.I’m afraid to.
Having checked in online, I wait for my boarding call. My flight to Amsterdam is boarding in 15 minutes.
‘You can’t live like this any longer,’I say. There, it’s out. There’s no turning back.
‘You have to let go of the past. No one is perfect and sometimes we dwell on what others have done to us and we forget we messed up too.’
‘I have my plans and eventually they will work out,’ she says dismissively.
I don’t back down. ‘No one is fighting with you. We are all supporting you. We have done all we know to do. You have to reach out too. We need each other.’ That’s as close to emotional as I can get.
She has a deadpan expression. She seems her usual defiant self, but also seems defeated. I ache for her. I wish things could be as they were. We laughed, played, fought, read and dreamt of conquering the world together. Our lives revolved around each other. We held each other up and like all siblings, pushed each other down too.
Life evolved and the idyllic childhood of beach holidays and afternoon ice cream treats, hide and seek and late night stories gave way to an uncertain place. Growing up. Different schools, different friends, different personalities, different paths.
As we grew into young adults, the pace of our back and forth quickened.The push and pull grew stronger. Each time, we were able to come back to common ground found in our sisterhood.
But as life unfolded, wrong turns and mis-steps chipped away at our innocence and belief in each other. Our world spun faster and faster until a break happened. A chasm appeared.
It didn’t happen overnight or intentionally. Slowly, we drifted from each other. We spoke less and less, wrote fewer and fewer emails. Until there was silence. None of us knew how to bridge this divide.
Ten years later, she lived in Inverness. I travelled from Canada to see her. It was a step towards salvaging what we could and rekindling our friendship and spirit of sisterhood. It was summer and beautiful Inverness did not disappoint. The breathtaking green of the hills, River Ness and the beautiful paths that go along, stories of Nessie and the quaint stores were a perfect backdrop to our reunion.
We circled around each other at first. Unsure of what to say or do. Then the ice thawed, brought on by the familiarity of each other's voices, gestures that we had known over a lifetime and laughter at the same things.
We talked tentatively at first and then freely. We watched an animated movie, always one of our favorite things to do and ate at lots of restaurants. We toured museums, galleries and libraries. We loved books. We devoured books. We posed giddily for photos and did some shopping. We were making up for lost time.
We also had a few awkward moments. Moments when the accusations from the past and the questions of the future reared their head. In those moments, things escalated quickly and I had to remind myself that being right wasn’t important anymore. Being kind was the important thing. Even when I had to back down over and over again. Time would come for hard conversations, I said to myself.
Five minutes to boarding. I shuffle my passport and ticket. I’m not sure what to say.
I realise that here in this moment my headstrong, smart, outspoken, beautiful younger sister is struggling too. I always viewed myself as being in her shadow and sometimes resented it. It no longer matters.
We get up and awkwardly head to the line forming at the boarding counter. There are only one or two passengers ahead.
‘Don’t be a stranger,’I say. It’s the only thing that comes to mind. A plea and an admission that I need her in my life. She doesn’t respond. Her imperceptible stare from those eyes I’ve looked into over a lifetime meet mine. Is she angry, disappointed or are we on a path to something good? Something new?
I give her an awkward hug. I don’t look back. I can’t. The tears will start to fall. Tears of sadness, regret and longing. I have done all I can do and said all I can say.
Three years later as I stand by her graveside, as the tears of sadness, regret and longing fall, our airport moment comes to mind. Could I have said or done more? I don’t know. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know. All I have are questions that lead to a literal dead end. But, here in the midst of all the grief and pain, I know I loved her then as best as I knew how and I always will.