• February 28, 2020 |

    about coming home

    letters for syd

    article by , illustrated by

    Dear Syd,

    I don’t know if you remember this. When we traveled as kids, Dad let us each pick out one treat to take on the airplane. I’d get Sour Skittles and you’d get Regular Skittles, but you’d eat all of yours before the flight attendant even showed us where the exits were. And then you’d do this devious thing—this terrible thing—where you’d tell me that if I put a Sour Skittle in your mouth, you’d guess the color, and it would be tons of fun for us both. Red and purple were the best, and you always got them right. We’d play until you ate my entire bag of candy, guessing colors and licking your lips and never saying thank you once, because, wow, was I lucky to get to play this game with you. 

     

    Dear Syd,

    You’ve always walked so much faster than the rest of us. Told us that if we weren’t in a rush, we must not be going somewhere that mattered. So, one day, on a trip through some city—I don’t really remember where—Mom and I ducked into a CVS while you were walking ahead. When you turned around, we weren’t there, so you called and we said we’d taken the subway back to the hotel because you had walked ahead again. So you hung up and figured things out, and never stopped walking fast because you already knew how to ride the subway by yourself. 

     

    Dear Syd,

    Today, someone at work asked what I plan to do with my degree when I’m out of here and I said I’ll probably hang it above my desk. It takes too long to explain: Well, I like math, but I’m not sure if I want to teach in the long run and, if I’m being honest, I’d like to live with my sister in California someday because we once visited San Francisco and she can go to business school there and maybe I’ll work in tech and we can go hiking on Mount Tamalpais on the weekends. I think, the next time someone asks, I’ll just say that I want to be a farmer. Roots return to roots return to roots. 

     

    Dear Syd

    I killed a mosquito today and when I picked its legs off the wall, I remembered getting sick in Peru. So many mosquitoes at Machu Picchu, but not enough repellant at Machu Picchu. Alérgico. How do you say antibiotic again? I remember being dazed in Cusco, Mom on the phone at 2 a.m. with an emergency doctor: “But they’re having trouble walking…sure, I’ll hold.” We lay in our beds holding glass soda bottles from the hotel kitchen against our legs to bring down the swelling. Sprite and Coca-Cola, just like the doctor ordered. 

     

    Dear Syd

    We both loved The Parent Trap because I was Hallie and you were Annie and then we could be twins instead of being 16 months apart. There’s a scene in the movie where the twins learn this elaborate handshake, so you and I made one up. Do you remember how it goes? You start with your hands crossed on your chest, fingers to shoulders, then uncross and tap your knees. There’s a double-fist-bump somewhere in there, but I’m starting to forget. I haven’t seen The Parent Trap in a while. 

     

    Dear Syd,

    You’ve co-opted some of my memories and I’m not sure if that matters. We had this babysitter, a 19-year-old with a tongue ring who let us watch movies half an hour later than Mom said we could. I told Mom that, when I turned 19, I’d get a tongue ring too, and that if I couldn’t get a tongue ring, I’d take a motorcycle instead. And now we sit at dinners with family friends and they laugh when you tell them how you wanted to pierce your tongue and that if you couldn’t pierce your tongue, you’d have a motorcycle instead. I used to fight back. It was me! Me! But now I laugh too, deciding that it probably was you, anyway. 

     

    Dear Syd, 

    I was thinking about Croatia today—orange and burnt sienna and aquamarine. Do you remember how we refused to eat the octopus salad? They’re too clever to eat, you said. Lots of olive oil, too, but we had no praise for olives. I think of your slice of New York as colors as well—maybe gray and dark purplish-red and champagne. Like steel and bruises and diamonds. Light orange, too, but just for the sandwiches at Katz’s Deli across the street.

     

    Dear Syd, 

    I never realized how badly my seizures scared you. All I knew was that Dad was crying and Mom was crying but that I got to buy a new skateboard. “Benign Childhood Epilepsy” was doctor-speak for “she doesn’t have brain cancer,” and everyone let out a breath they didn’t realize they were holding. We don’t talk about it too much because feeling it wasn’t so scary for me, but you were the one who had to sit there and hold me. The doctor was right when she said I’d grow out of it by 14, but by then we didn’t share a bed anyway. 

     

    Dear Syd,

    My favorite place of ours is the fairy tree at the old house on Fay Lane. A willow with a crook at six-year-old-shoulder level. We’d leave acorn tops full of honey and red autumn leaves and daisy chains tucked into the bark: gifts for the fairies that lived inside. Overnight, they’d make an exchange, leaving candy and trinkets and notes in Mom’s handwriting. The next morning, we’d sneak into the neighbor’s garden and sit on the bench next to their koi pond. There, we’d comb through our treasures in secret, gold sparkles on our hands.

     

    Dear Syd, 

    Feeling homesick. Call me?

    Yours, 

    J.