This is a picture of my sister Lisa. She was 6 years older than I .. she and my other sister Debi were 2 years apart. They were, obviously, closer to each other than to me, but I was a real live baby doll for them to play with. As I grew older, I grew into more of a pest, getting into their stuff and generally being annoying. I remember knocking on the locked door as they shared teenage secrets with each other. After Debi went off to college, we moved to Brussels, Belgium, which is where my most vivid memories of Lisa lie.
Every morning, as she got ready for school, she played music on her record player. Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" ... Elton John's "Madman Across the Water" and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. These are the songs that, every time I hear them, remind me of my sister. She was a cheerleader, and quite popular with boys and girls alike. She had the uncanny knack of being self assured and friendly with everyone, and everyone was drawn to her sparkly personality. She was short ... and had curly hair when curly hair wasn't cool. She used to roll her hair on giant orange juice cans and wrap it around her head to sleep, to straighten it. All the cool girls rode mopeds to school, and my mom and dad bought her one. Off she would go with her helmet on, but as soon as she was out of sight of the house, off came the helmet. It messed up her hair! The high school trips were to Switzerland and Germany. A trip to Spain with friends. What a life!
She had a beautiful singing voice. She was in the school play, Carousel, playing Carrie. She and her friends would gather in our living room and they would sing, while some of the boys played 12 string guitars. Occasionally my dad would set up microphones to capture the moments on tape. She was looking at colleges that had good music programs, East Carolina, North Texas.
About six months after we moved back to Louisiana, in 1972, during her senior year, Lisa and her boyfriend, David, went out to dinner. It was the night of her 18th birthday. We're not sure of the real story, but rumor has it they drove from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to visit a bar that had refused to serve her because she wasn't yet 18. On the way home, David driving the car, he made a u-turn, and they were broadsided by a pick-up truck loaded with several men heading to an early morning job. It was 3:18 in the morning. She died instantly.
To say that our family was devastated is an understatement. I have found peace with her death, although her absence is a constant ache in my heart. When I got married ... when my children were born ... she wasn't there. What would she have said? She would have gotten a laugh out of that. If only ...
Why do these things happen? There are those who say that this kind of thing is punishment for a sin. I belive that God grieves right along with us. He created a world with certain physical laws that are unbreakable. Accidents happen, people die. Young people with promise and talent die. But punishment? I can't believe that. And I'm not so sure that these things happen for a "reason". That God makes them happen for some higher purpose. That's just not the God that I know and love. I think things happen as a result of loss, but I think that chicken definitely comes after the egg.
What has it done for me? It has made me more empathetic towards others. Every time I hear of a teenager dying, it makes me grieve for the dark path that the family will be on for several years. For me, it was about five years before I felt less pain. Our family never again was "normal" but we went on. We survived.
The last time I was at my parents' house in Baton Rouge, I found several reel-to-reel tapes of those jam sessions at our house in Brussels. I was able to have them converted to digital CD's by a company here in Charlotte. As I drove home from picking up the CD's, I put one into the CD player in my car, and once again, my sister Lisa's voice was real, alive. She sang songs from Carousel, from "Spoon River Anthology". All the years melted away ... she was back. My reaction was not sadness ... it was just a familiar "hello again" from my sister from so long ago.
And I honor her every time I speak my daughter's name.