A New York Minute

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I watched the Manhattan skyline slowly appear in view from my train window last Saturday morning, after an hour of staring out the window at houses and neighborhoods. I pretended that I was a lady traveler from a bygone area, when the locomotive and railroad were America’s crowning achievements of infrastructure. Oh, I wish I could have been alive in the early 20th century! As I sat alone in the quiet car, I couldn’t believe that just 24 hours prior, I was in the midst of a mommy nightmare, home alone with two small children and every kind of bodily fluid and mess to clean up before my dear friend Shawna would be arriving for a visit. Now, here I was, traveling by train to New York City in a shady hat and big sunglasses. You’d never know I was actually a mom of two from the suburbs of Philadelphia. 

IMG_1963 (1) Her cab dropped her off on the corner of 8th Avenue and 36th Street, not far from Penn Station. She had some flight issues and ended up getting rerouted. She ended up flying into La Guardia and meeting up with me.

We were on a time crunch. We suddenly became like real New Yorkers that moment. We ordered and ate a $20 burger on the go (the best I have ever had in my life) and basically ran to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway in order to make it to the 2:00 show for Les Miserables.

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New York is fast-paced, and people are kind of pushy and impatient, but I’ll tell you: New York City is nothing if not efficient. If you see a line out the door, just get in queue and wait a bit. You’ll be at the front before you know it. Pay attention, though. Otherwise you will get yelled at.

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And let me tell you, Les Miserables was lovely. I can’t remember the last time I cried so much. How actors can sing a certain note or hit a decibel level that forces tears out of your eyes, I’ll never understand it. The level of talent is unbelievable. Of course, Shawna, who studied French Lit, pointed out that there were some differences in the musical that were not in the book. As a former high school slacker, I failed to read it. The themes were conveyed to me, though. Jean Valjean and Javert. Mercy and Justice. It was really, really wonderful. I can’t say that enough. 

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We ended the day by walking around Central Park and Midtown, seeing all the sites, and having real heart-to-heart conversations that only confirmed that Shawna is a true bosom friend; a kindred spirit. The Diana to my Anne. Or, the Anne to my Diana, if you go off of hair color. Although, I am definitely the crazy one, and might possibly smash a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head, given the chance.

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It is just funny how life turns out. A few years ago, I lived in Utah, and we were pretty poor. I used to dream of what it would be like to just go and visit New York City. I wondered if it would ever be possible.

“Someday, we will go,” my friend Shawna would tell me. On New Year’s Eve that year, she and her husband and daughter came over for a cheese plate and fake champagne. We watched the ball drop at Times Square on a live video and ended the night at midnight Eastern time, which, for us, was 10 o’clock Mountain time. We knew our toddlers wouldn’t make it to midnight. Besides, New York City was where we really wanted to be.

It is funny how life works out. It really makes me believe that there is a God, and that his timing is perfect. He can even answer prayers for you and give you something far better than you ever could have imagined. The only catch is that you will have to accept that there will be ups and downs. You can’t always be up. And you won’t always be down, either.

By sheer happenstance, we moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now, I go to Philadelphia and New York City on a semi-regular basis. These fancy East Coast places, once myths, are now within reach. I don’t even need to live in the actual city. I am fine with being a tourist. Living where I live allows me to have my cake and eat it, too.

I came here with ambivalence, knowing full well my desire for adventure and my tendency to become homesick. Yet, I have never been homesick once since I have lived here.

I think that means I’m home.

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Rachael

In November of 1990, something amazing happened: I became a big sister.
I remember the moment Rachael was placed in my arms as a tiny infant in a swaddling blanket. She was so tiny. Her little face was so squishy. I was filled with joy and excitement as I thought of a life with a sister; all the good times we would share, and the life that we would have. I still remember her looking up at me, her big brown eyes looking into mine, and I thought to myself, wow, I love her so much!
I was just barely seven years old, which put our age difference wider than most siblings, but it didn’t matter. Since we were growing up with only each other, she was still the most important short person in my life… even if sometimes, she drove me nuts.
Rachael and I became much closer just before my parents divorced. After having a rough breakup and some big life changes, I moved back in to my parents’ house at age 23. I only lived there for the Summer, but it was the best Summer I can remember. My sister was old enough to drive, and we were inseparable. We both got a job at a local drive-thru burger place, and we often worked together. She was on drive-thru, and I was on the register. She had such a better work ethic than me. I didn’t take the job seriously, but she did, and she would get frustrated with me when I didn’t do my side work the right way, or when I cut corners out of apathy. She could have run the place. She was so independent and responsible.
That year was filled with happy memories. We went to Coachella music festival together, and on the drive home, we blasted Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, rolled down the windows, and sang it at the top of our lungs while the warm night air blew on our faces, our dark hair flying everywhere.
She was more than a sister to me. She was my best friend. Sometimes, I think she should have been the older sister. While I was the one plagued with insecurity since childhood, she was the one who cared for me, and who loved me. No matter the mistakes I made, she was always right there to believe in me.
I remember one car ride, the song The Middle by Jimmy Eat World came on the radio. “This song reminds me of you,” she said. I asked why. I think she felt embarrassed to elaborate, because when I listen to the words, I knew what she meant to say: Live right now, just be yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough for someone else. It just takes some time, little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride, everything, everything will be just fine, everything, everything will be alright, alright.
In late 2010, I became pregnant, and Josh and I were so poor that we were living in a garage and sleeping on an air mattress. We both had jobs, but we didn’t make enough for a place of our own. One Sunday evening, I got a text from my sister, for whom I was coincidentally knitting a scarf as a birthday present. I put down my knitting needles to read what it said:
“I just bought you a crib,” she said. Then, she sent me a picture of a beautiful wood crib.
“That is so cool!! Thank you so much!! Hey, we find out the sex of the baby on your birthday :)” I replied, after showing Josh my phone, my eyes misty from being so touched by the sweet sentiment.
“I can’t wait to start buying you baby stuff. There are so many cute things at Target.”
She had a dream just a few weeks before that about my unborn baby. She said that it was a girl, and that she was holding her.
The text conversation dwindled, and we didn’t really say goodbye. We just left it.
Not 24 hours later, I was face to face with my sister. That afternoon, she had an asthma attack. She was in a coma.
A few days later, a prognosis was made.
She was brain dead.
In the time that it took to get that answer, I finally finished Rachael’s scarf. Her boyfriend said she would have loved it.
November 1st rolled around, which was her birthday, and the day that my dad was called by the funeral home to go pick up her cremated remains.
I went to the doctor for a 20 week ultrasound. I was told I was having a girl. Just like Rachael’s dream.
I couldn’t call her and tell her, though. I sent her a text anyway, even though I knew I would never get a response. Do you know what it is like to wake up in the morning, and wonder if everything that happened was just a dream? There were many moments like that, where I would wake up in the middle of the night, convinced it was just a nightmare. Except, it wasn’t.
 She was really gone.
There was one other person in the universe who was literally organized from the same exact genetic material that I was, and that person was Rachael. When I looked into her face, I saw my own reflection. I saw the same dark hair; the same brown eyes with a hazel gleam. The pain of losing her was unbearable.
Never before this moment did I ponder life and death as much as I did once Rachael was taken from me. But you know what?
I can still remember the literal feeling of Jesus Christ, wrapping his arms around me, as I stood there in the emergency room and hugged my mom and dad. It was as if I could actually feel arms around us, protecting us, and holding us.
I didn’t get through the grief because I was strong. I got through the grief because Someone carried me.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28-30)

 
Six months later, I found myself in a hospital bed, hooked up to various machines and wires, and in labor. Unable to move because of my unborn baby’s distress, I sat there, drifting in and out of twilight sleep, thinking of my sister.
 She told me that she wanted to be with me from the moment I went into labor, and the entire time until the baby was born. She wanted to be the supportive sister who threw me a baby shower, and who got to be there to hold her brand new niece. As I thought about her, I looked around the dim labor and delivery room, and realized I was alone. Josh was in the corner, asleep. I stared at the clock. I closed my eyes.
I suddenly got the feeling that I wasn’t really alone after all. The feeling I got was as if my sister was right there beside me, cheering me on in jubilation at the thought of a new life entering the world, and reminding me that when our bodies die, our spirits still live on.
Rachael didn’t get to hold my baby daughter. At least, not in her physical body. She held her in her dreams, and then she told me about it before she slipped to the other side. Their souls passed one another, like ships in the night.
Suddenly, it all made sense why I was prompted to start a family at the most inconvenient time of my life. For the first time in months, I felt joy. It was then that I knew… everything was going to be fine.