My sister and I have not always been close. These days, we are happiest when we’re making dinner together or trying on go-go boots at the local T.J.Maxx. We have been disruptive members of our co-ed volleyball team for the past few years, snickering and dancing when we’re down by ten points, and we both have a shameless addiction to coffee and sushi, which we usually entertain in tandem. She’s like the yang to my yin, the soy sauce to my unagi.
Of the many experiences that took us from physically maiming one another to real friendship was a summer we spent working together during our college years. We both interviewed at a public interest group that was responsible for canvassing neighborhoods on behalf of organizations like the Sierra Club, plus a few other national and local non-profits. Because these employers set up shop in May and shut down in September, have 10-12 hour workdays, and involve miles of walking every day, they don’t turn anyone away. They just wait for you to quit.
We were in. We spent the summer months, clipboards in hand, walking the streets of our towns and cities, getting screen doors slammed in our faces and obscenities screamed at us as we scrambled down the driveway. In reality, it wasn’t all like that. I met a man who had a squirrel for a pet, and a woman who showed me what were the most beautiful herb gardens I have every seen, even to this day. That was when I tasted chocolate mint for the first time, and was also given fresh lavender cuttings that I tucked into my pocket, only to pull them out when I needed an emotional pick-me-up, which was often. Dogs became an important part of life that summer as well. I can still remember one yellow single-story cape guarded by three bloodthirsty Rottweiler’s, clearly hungry for the taste of a 19 year-old brunette. I skipped that house. But I also had the chance to get slimed by a happy pair of St. Bernard’s, and met a Great Dane who could look me in the eye.
I made plenty of mistakes that summer, too. There were plenty of days when I didn’t meet quota, got completely sunburned, or wore the wrong shoes. I also made some generally unwise choices. Remember, we had thrown the whole “don’t talk to strangers” policy to the wind, so when someone says, “Come see the bar I just built in my basement”, it doesn't sound so bad. I took opened drinks and glasses of lemonade from far too many people, but thankfully none were spiked.
Rule #3: Unicorns don't talk to strangers. Well, this unicorn does.
Spending entire days outside also presented a urinary dilemma. My strategy was to hunt out the coolest house on the block and canvass it, with the sole intention of asking to use their restroom. But this wasn’t always successful. It can be hard to find any real forest in suburbia, and when the Hoover Dam is cracking, a rhododendron bush starts looking like a pretty good potty stop. In one memorable case, it was almost pick-up (9pm), and things were reaching critical mass, so I ran off into the woods opposite the entry to a cul-de-sac. The woods weren’t very dense, but all critical thought had halted 90 seconds earlier, and I wasn't concerned. So there I am, squatting in a sparse forest, about 100 feet from the mouth of a road, and it’s not dark yet. All of a sudden two headlights appear, and I realize that a car is exiting the cul-de-sac, has its low beams centered on me, and my pants are around my ankles. I was scared stiff, hoping they would mistake me for a misshapen tree or a wild beast, and not a vagrant or thief hiding in the woods. I was starting to hear a police siren and could almost feel the cuffs go on, when the car turned and drove off. It felt like an eternity.
After a summer bonding over experiences like these, and an amazing trip to the Delaware Water Gap for Independence Day (think campfires and social justice sing-a-longs), my sister and I became closer than ever. And though our experiences now are not quite as concentrated or bizarre, we still try to keep it real. Like, by having a Peep diorama contest on Easter, for example.
Here's to keeping it real.