When I was eight, my sister Jade locked me in an outdoor rabbit cage, acres away from our tiny house. Tufts of old pungent fur and feces clung to the wire and wood frame and it was impossible not to think about all of the rabbits that had died there. After hours of trying to kick and bellow my way out, I waited. And waited. And waited some more. The sun was setting and just as I was starting to get miffed that my parents hadn’t even realized that I was gone, my sister came and let me out.
That same summer my sister and I were going to leave our home for the very first time and venture off to a camp in the woods for a week. Our parents’ idea of a vacation had always been a “family drive” to nowhere so the fact that we were getting to travel outside of our small Montana town, without our parents, was novel and exhilarating.
A rickety yellow school bus picked us up in a church parking lot and we scurried on board, keyed up with all of the promises of a new-fangled adventure. My sister and I had a tumultuous relationship to say the least and I was apprehensive to have her there, sitting on the bus next to me. She was a loose cannon with a very gregarious, intense and spirited personality. She made and unfortunately lost friends quickly.
The fortuitous thing about summer camp for me was being able to separate from my feral sibling, whom I always felt forcefully tied and bound to. We are exactly one year and eight days apart, which meant that we usually had to share our birthdays and given that my sister was held back in the second grade, we also had to share a classroom, a teacher and friends. Many times throughout my childhood my parents would only allow me to go off and spend time with my friends if I brought my sister along. This bugged me to no end. I didn’t want my socially and emotionally inept sister to tag along and often my friends, who were afraid of her, didn’t want Jade there either. I understand now how painful that must have been for my parents to see one child making and keeping friends and to see the other agonizingly struggling to fit in. They were holding me back to push her forward.
At camp, Jade went off and did her own thing, gravitating toward the more extreme activities of river rafting, rope swinging and jumping off the high-dive board. I spent my time making new friends, hiking and reveling in the smell and exquisiteness of the Montana Lodgepole Pines and Evergreen trees. We were both happy in a way that we hadn’t been before, learning and budding and simply having youthful fun. We had each other there, which was a comfort, and I think that it provided a safety net for us to go off as individuals and explore our own interests.
My sister and I grew closer bumping along on that lingering and snaky road back home. Our different stories and shared experiences provided enriching conversation for the two of us on that old bus. We talked about how weird it was to have to walk a distance in the chilly and foggy morning just to use the bathroom and brush our teeth. I shared how embarrassed I was to have packed a bunch of shorts and only one pair of jeans, that I had to wear every day, because I didn’t know that our camp didn’t allow shorts. We both felt sad and deflated that we had to sit through dinner, night after night, watching all of the kids get letters and packages from home when we never received a single one.
In some ways, I think I appreciated how fearless and intrepid Jade had been, always trying the most dangerous itinerary. She bulldozed her way through her world, attempting to suck down the highs and lows of life, unafraid of the resulting sorrow and failure that often came along with it. She was a beast of girl, seemingly strong and tenacious, and I loved and loathed that about her. Still do.
Wendy Altschuler is a Montana-born freelance writer who now lives in Chicago. She has written for the Chicago Sun-Times and can followed on Twitter at @RueDeLaBucherie.