The Sister I Never Had

By Beth Pugh

The nursing room felt larger than most, probably because we had the entire room to ourselves. Mom was sleeping soundly in the other bed. I was still wide awake, trying to play catch up on class work that should have been finished weeks ago. The first semester of college is hard for anyone, but it had been especially trying for me. I hadn’t been able to attend classes for an entire month while my mother faced open-heart surgery three hours away from my school. Ultimately, her condition was complicated and made the surgery too risky. It would have been a death sentence.

We came back home, her to a nursing facility and me to my classes. Exams and homework took up most of my time. Books and binders were scattered on the bed I was fortunate to call my own. Mom was without a roommate which meant I could sleep comfortably in the unassigned bed meant for a second resident. It was a vast improvement over cots and the fold-out beds I had used during her hospital stay.

The room was illuminated only by the small lamp above my bed so not to disturb her rest. My nose was buried in my textbook as I frantically worked to memorize muscle names and locations for my upcoming lab final. My dad had gone home for the night, leaving me to my work. On this particular night, though, he did not leave me without help.

Across from me, colored pencils were hard at work replacing the original shade of white inside the lines with vibrant colors as they ran across the page. Kristi had come to visit and to my rescue. Her current art project was, for all intents and purposes, busy work for my anatomy class, so much so the professor suggested for us to pawn it off on our younger siblings if we could. I took him up on his offer, even though I’m not even nine months her elder. Even though I’m an only child. Even though, she’s not technically my sister, at least not by blood.

We’ve been BFFs since before either of us could spell it. I was three and she was two when we met at church. Before services started on Sunday morning you could find the two of us in the parking lot practicing the new cheer our pee-wee squad had just learned or hitting the deacons up for hard candy they always kept in their shirt pockets. After the congregational singing ended, the back pew became our hide out. Countless hours of playing Barbie dolls and games of Tick-Tack-Toe were lived out in the back of that old church building. I can’t count the number of “you better be quiet” looks we got when our preschool voices rose to disruption level or how many times Mom took me to the bathroom to remind me we were in church.

The older we got, the closer we grew. We went to the same school from kindergarten to senior year, and it came as no surprise to anyone that we were inseparable. We became each other’s partner in crime and confident, passing notes and whispering about our newest love interests. For me there were a lot, and Kristi knew every one of them. More often than not, she knew before I ever told her, she could read me so well. When the time came for us to try for our license, she even helped teach me to drive.

She and I were cut from the same cloth. We ran in the same circle of friends, laughed at the same inside jokes and cried at the same sappy movies. We were two peas in a pod, especially when it came to music. We grew up during the mixed CDs era, and she always played the absolute best music in the car. Not just in the CD player, mind you. In her floorboard she carried the biggest CD case you could imagine. I’ve yet to see one bigger to this day. On days we thought we’d never make it through, we went driving. She’d open her case, pick a winner from her lyrical jackpot, slide the CD in and turn up the volume. Our voices filled every inch of her Chevy Caviler until we forgot all about the bad day we were having.

“I sure am glad you like to color,” my voice broke the silence. She laughed, nodded in agreement and kept on coloring. I don’t know how much of my book she actually did for me that night, but it was a lot. I was able to hand it in before finals, completely finished from cover to cover. With a smile on my face while I did, I might add.

Kristi did more that night than just my homework. She kept me from being alone. She kept me from facing my mother’s illness, and eventually her death, like the only child I was. She had lost her mother to cancer while we were still in high school so she knew the territory all too well. She had walked a mile in my shoes before I ever put them on. She was there to guide me through the darkest valley of my life. Whether it was midnight or sunrise, I knew I could call her, and she would answer every time. She made me laugh when I wanted to cry and let me borrow her shoulder when I couldn’t stop the tears. Had it not been for her, I don’t know if I would have survived the grief.

I’ve heard it said friends are the family we chose. If that’s the case, I would choose her over and over again. Not just as the best friend I always wanted, but as the sister I always needed. The sister I never had, but could always count on.

About this writer

  • Beth PughBeth Pugh is a wife, mother and daughter striving to live a life of contentment, like baby bear soup. She hopes her stories help others to do the same.

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One Response to “The Sister I Never Had”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Beth, your story brought back happy memories. My friend who was terminally ill with cancer bought coloring books and she and i sat at her table and colored, too.

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