One early evening, in July 1999, I listened to messages on my answering machine. My sister, Brenda, left me a message in a nearly sobbing voice. She was upset, saying, “They can’t find the plane. He’s dead, I know it. Bonita, they can’t find the plane!” And then there was a dial tone. I called her straight away. The pressing thought that went through my mind was that a relative was flying somewhere and the plane just vanished into thin air.
When she answered the telephone, Brenda obviously knew it was me; perhaps because of caller I.D. She greeted me with, “Bonita, he’s dead, I know it!” And she was genuinely upset.
I said, “Who?” with panic in my voice.
“John-John,” she said. “They can’t find his plane on Martha’s Vineyard!” She then proceeded to tell me that John Kennedy Jr, his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law, Lauren, had flown from New York to Martha’s Vineyard to attend a family wedding. John–and Brenda often referred to JFK, Jr. as John-John–was flying the plane. She couldn’t believe I knew nothing about it; that I hadn’t heard the news. And when it was eventually confirmed, Brenda experienced–and grieved–his death as though “John-John” was a dear, dear friend. Just as she’d done with Princess Diana in July two years before.
No one I know well personalized life in the way my sister did. She took to heart nearly everything she experienced. The rhythm of her life was at times heavy and somber. Today, should she have lived through the aftereffects of cancer treatments, she would be 60! Beautiful, funny, a fashionista, crazy as heck, too loud sometimes, angry about a lot of things; a friend, a sister and a mother. Looking back now, Brenda was a marvel. A few days ago I was browsing through Papyrus for a few holiday cards. I came upon birthday cards and paused to read a few. My eyes watering, my smile solemn, I held the one I’d have chosen for her should the Universe have allowed it to work in her favor and let her reach 60 years old. A day does not go by when I don’t think of my big sister. Something we laughed so hard about it made us cry; the so-so silly stuff we did growing up; ridiculous and petty arguments we’d had; the often trivial things she complained about–so many things have crossed my mind. But it was on her birthday that, as I reflected on my sister, I remembered how upset she was when she learned of the news about JFK, Jr. Brenda had incredibly sensitive skin, and her emotions could go as deep as bone marrow. Strikingly, as well as paradoxically, the one thing that often annoyed me about her is the thing I find fascinating about her today. She lived a lot deeper than most I know. In that way she lived a life richer and fuller than I at first believed, or assumed because she used all of her senses–a lot!
I can see her in my mind’s eye rolling her eyes at the idea of my saying all of this, and followed by her notorious, anyway . . .