She was wild. There was no other word for it. From seventh grade on, when she went, in my mother’s words, “boy crazy,” keeping Caroline under control was a constant battle. There were groundings. Phone restrictions. Cuttings off of allowance, driving privileges. Locks on the liquor cabinet. Sniff tests at the front door. These were played out, in high dramatic form, over dinners and breakfasts, in stomping of feet and raising of voices across living rooms and kitchens. But other transgressions and offenses were more secret. Private. Only I was witness to those, always at night, usually from the comfort of my own bed.
I’d be half sleeping, and my bedroom door would creak open, then close quickly. I’d hear the pat-pat of bare feet across the floor, then hear her drop her shoes on the carpet. Next, I’d feel the slight weight as she stepped up onto my bed.
“Macy,” she’d whisper, softly but firmly. “Quiet. Okay?”
She’d step over my head, then hoist herself up on the sill that ran over my bed, slowly pushing open the window.
“You’re going to get in trouble,” I’d whisper.
She’d stick her feet out the window. “Hand me my shoes,” she’d say, and when I did she’d toss them out onto the grass, where I’d hear them land with a distant, muted thunk.
She’d turn and look at me. “Shut it behind me, don’t lock it, I’ll be back in an hour. Sweet dreams, I love you.” And then she’d disappear off to the left, where I’d hear her easing herself down the oak tree, branch by branch. When I sat up to shut the window she was usually crossing the lawn, her footsteps leaving dark spots in the grass, shoes tucked under her arm. By the stop sign a block down, a car was always waiting.
It was always more than an hour, sometimes several, before she appeared on the other side of the window, pushing it back up and tumbling in on top of me. All businesslike in the leaving, my sister was usually sloppy and sentimental, smelling of beer and sweet smoke, upon her return. She was often so sleepy she didn’t even want to go back to her own room, instead just pushing her way under my blankets, shoes still on, makeup smearing my pillowcases. Sometimes she was crying, but she would never tell me why. Instead she’d just fall asleep beside me, and I’d doze in fits and spells before shaking her awake as the sun was rising and pushing her back to her own room, so she wouldn’t be discovered. Then I’d crawl back into bed, smelling her all around me, and tell myself that next time, I would lock that window. But I never did.
By the time we moved to Wildflower Ridge, Caroline was in college. She was still going out all the time, sometimes way late, but my parents had given up trying to stop her. Instead, in exchange for her living at home while she attended the local university and waited tables at the country club, they required only that she keep her GPA above a 3.0 and make her entrances and exits as quietly as possible. She didn’t need to use my window, which was a good thing, because in the new house there was not a tree nearby and the drop was a lot farther.
After my dad died, she sometimes didn’t come home at all. My mind had raced with awful possibilities, picturing her dead on the highway, but the truth was actually much more innocuous. By then, she’d already fallen hard for Wally from Raleigh, the once-divorced up-and-coming lawyer ten years her senior she’d been seeing for awhile. She’d kept him, like so much else, secret from our parents, but after the funeral things got more serious, and before long, he asked her to marry him. All of this took longer than it sounds, summing it up. But at the time it seemed fast, really fast. One day Caroline was tumbling in my window; the next I was standing at the front of a church, all too aware of my uncle Mike walking her down the aisle toward Wally.
People made their comments, of course, about Caroline just needing a father figure, and how she was too young, getting married right after graduation. But she adored Wally, anyone could see that, and the quick nature of the wedding planning made it that much more of a happy distraction for all of us that spring. Plus, and best of all, their shared conviction that this had to be the Best Wedding Ever finally gave Caroline and my mother a solid common ground, and they’d gotten along pretty well ever since.
So after all that rebellion in her teens, my sister turned out to be surprisingly efficient, bagging a college diploma and a husband all within the same month. Now, as Mrs. Wally Thurber, she lived in Atlanta, in a big house on a cul-de-sac where you could hear a highway roaring twenty-four hours a day. It was climate controlled, with a top-of-the-line thermostat system. She never had to open a window for anything.
As for me, I wasn’t much for sneaking out, first because I was a jock and always had early practice, and then because Jason and I just didn’t do stuff like that. I could only imagine how he’d react if I asked him to pick me up at midnight at the stop sign. Why? he’d say. Nothing would be open, I have yoga in the morning, God, Macy, honestly. And so on. He’d be right, of course. The sneaking out, the partying, all those long nights doing God-knows-what, were Caroline things. She’d taken them with her when she left, and there was no place for them here now. At least in my mind.
“Macy,” she’d say whenever she called and found me home on a Friday night, “what are you doing? Why aren’t you out?” When I’d tell her I was studying, or doing some work for school, she’d exhale so loudly I’d have to hold the phone away from my ear. “You’re young! Go out and live, for God sakes! There’s time for all that later!”
My sister, unlike most of her new friends in the garden club and Junior League, did not gloss over her wild past, maintaining instead that it had been crucial to her development as a person. In her view, my own development in this area was entirely too slow-going, if not completely arrested.
“I’m fine,” I’d tell her, like I always did.
“I know you are, that’s the problem. You’re a teenager, Macy,” she’d say, as if I weren’t aware of this or something. “You’re supposed to be hormonal and crazy and emotional and wild. This is the best time of your life! You should be living it!”
So I’d swear that I was going out the next night, and she’d tell me she loved me, and then I’d hang up and go back to my SAT book, or my ironing, or the paper that wasn’t due for another two weeks. Or sometimes I’d crawl out onto the roof and remember her wild days and wonder if I really was missing something. Probably not.