Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fight or Flight

"should i give up/or should I just keep chasin pavements/even if it leads nowhere?"--Adele

When my little sister Raegan (the light of my life) was a baby, we lived in a lakefront community. When I wasn't dragging her with me to the mall or Dairy Queen to meet my friends, Rae and I would walk down to the lake and feed the ducks, one of her favorite things to do. Well, in the South, if you spend enough time outside, you'll see some things--living things--you probably don't want to see. On one particular occasion, we came across a humongous black garden snake, just um, snaking, his or her way through the bushes by the lake. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have a phobia of reptiles...a tremendous phobia that at one point caused me to not even be able to say the word "s-n-a-k-e" or see a commercial or magazine ad containing one without going into convulsions. While I'm still scared to death, I've come a long way. But back in 1999, I was still terrified beyond words. So of course, when I encountered said reptile, I lost it and broke into a continuous series of bloodcurdling screams, planted to the ground and unable to move. My two year-old sister, however, dropped my hand, turned around on her little toddler heel, and raced back though the maze of bushes and across a bridge to the street without saying one word. My family still laughs about it today--how baby Rae had never seen or even really heard of a snake, but knew that she'd rather ask any questions she had later.

Knowing this is one of my favorite stories, today my father called me to tell me that my baby struck again. Raegan, who is now a beautiful 13 year-old girl, was in the movie theater in the Bronx yesterday afternoon when she saw a rat. Although she was with a group, without saying a word my sister turned on her teenage heel and booked it outside into 20 inches of snow without one word. Nevermind the folks she was with and nevermind that she's visiting NYC and shouldn't be darting off alone. She had never seen a rat up close before, but knew she was over it as soon as she did. So she ran.

All of this running got me to thinking. My sister has always been the kind of person who avoided hurt and danger. As a little kid, when you told her not to touch the stove or oven because it was hot, she would leave the kitchen. As a kid myself, I often ended up in big trouble (not to mention the ER several times) because I had to see how hot the stove was (burns), why I wasn't supposed to hang off the deck (dislocated shoulder) or ride my dad's riding mower (allergy-induced asthma attack and a broken fence). I never trusted when someone told me not to do something; I had to try it myself. When Rae and I encountered ole Blackie-O back home at the lake, I stayed (and screamed) while she got as far as she could. And even in the situation with the rodent today, I find it unlikely that I would have just taken off the way she did. Most would say my sister is far less outgoing than me--she's naturally more reserved, cautious and mindful of other's opinions to my wild disregard for rules and regulations. However, when it comes to something that doesn't jive with her gut, she gets the hell out of dodge regardless of what anyone thinks. I tend to stay.

So as I often do, I started thinking of what kind of woman she will be. I look at her with her new little bob haircut, her brand new contacts replacing the glasses we're all used to, braces removed, her long legs and the skinny jeans she puts them in every day, that noticeable hip curvage and [insert gasp] breasts and I start thinking about what kind of romantic relationships she'll enter and how I can help her avoid my mistakes. But my sister has one thing on me: she's blessedly incurious.

Curiosity can be a wonderful thing, but then again, it also killed the cat. I've been in several relationships that I should have left, but in effect, stayed and screamed. I look at my sister and think, thank God, she will know when to say when, when to turn around and run: before things get ugly and well before they have a chance to sour or spin out of control.

I don't want her to miss out on the important lessons I learned, but obviously I pray she can find her path to the answers more easily. I don't want her to turn and run from everything, but I think it's wonderful that she hasn't inherited that morbid curiosity that made me push love's envelope so many times in the past, had me hanging on just to see how the story could or would end. What I ended up seeing instead was just how awfully we could treat each other, how disrespectful and finally, how devastating things could get. I don't want that for my sister, ever. I want her to walk away from volatile situations and to like nice guys. I want her to get her kicks from good conversation and sweetness, not from constant drama and an endless cycle of breakups-to-makeups.

I think I'm in luck. Over Thanksgiving, we talked about her little boyfriend (I say little but the kid is 14 and 6'1"), to whom I was introduced by phone and had three weeks later when I got home for the holiday been thrown to the bricks. "He's mean," my sister told me. "And he's a Republican and doesn't like Obama. That's annoying." And, at least for now, that's my girl.

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