March 31, 2005

on being in love

When my sister Audrey was born, I was there in the delivery room.

At seven years old, having been taught the fundamentals of birds, bees and birth by my parents and PBS, I was allowed to skip school and watch her come into the world. I stood by my mother’s head, expectant and – strangely enough – not one bit afraid. And when the baby came out, wriggling, squawking, and covered stem to stern in white greasy film, I fell in love. In helpless, complete and utterly fixated love.

I walked home from school during recess the next day to be near her. I wanted to hold, touch, smell and protect her. I thought, as you do when you first encounter love, that I would never feel that way about another person as long as I lived.

I was wrong.

Fifteen months later, Joyce was born. I loved her as fiercely as I did her older sister. My parents were under a great deal of stress in those years (my father’s disease, my mother working and going to school full time) and so, even as young as I was, care-giving duties often fell to me. I changed diapers, mixed formula, taught nursery rhymes and made child-size choo-choo trains of discarded appliance boxes. I band-aided, potty trained and lullabyed. And loved. So much so that sometimes, it was as if a fist were wrapped around my insides – around my heart – and that their unhappiness, or their delight could cause the fist to squeeze.

I felt how much I loved them.

They grew up as different as two people can. One went off to Future Leaders of the World Camp at Yale; the other, to a rehabilitation facility in Dallas after she'd dragged razor blades through her own flesh. One had very little need for my protection, and with her being away at college, our conversations were limited to short bursts over the phone (she was always on her way out) and brief email exchanges about classes and boys. For the other, however, I would leave my cell phone on at night and remain in near-constant Instant Messenger contact. One night, a message I sent to her was answered by her friend, Anne who informed me that my baby sister was unconscious and bleeding. It took my instructions and Anne’s compact mirror to tell if she was even breathing.

Breath will fog glass. Waiting for glass to fog will stop time.

There are kinds of love that are freeing, and there are loves that are frightening. This, uniquely, is both. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a parent. The thought of ever feeling this heavy, unbreakable love for another person is tremendous. But every time I feel my heart get squeezed, I am grateful that it has been. I am more alive and more real as a result. And so I imagine, that should the time come when I have a wriggling, squawking absolutely mystifying creature of my own, I will gladly enter into complete and utterly fixated love all over again.

I will band-aid and potty train and make choo-choo trains. I will lullaby. And I will lock her in her room until she is twenty-three.

Posted by This Fish at March 31, 2005 11:40 PM

Good grief, that was heart-rending. I'm at work and a toughguy boy and you nearly made me cry. This is why I come here every day. Thanks

Posted by: Aaron at March 31, 2005 11:49 PM

I feel like that about my niece. Like my heart will explode if she smiles at me. Thank you.

Posted by: Anne at April 1, 2005 12:30 AM

"I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a parent."

And yet, you describe it so well. If only a few more parents knew what it must be like to be the caregiver sibling.

Posted by: brando at April 1, 2005 12:32 AM

I helped my two parents raise my two little brothers the best I knew how. I know it's a weird feeling to get when you're only twenty-years-old but I still get the odd spark of fatherly pride when I watch them growing up.

Can't wait till I have minions of my own. That would be interesting.

Posted by: Jack at April 1, 2005 01:58 AM

I met my daughter when she was eight, and I suppose that makes me a different kind of parent, but that helpless, heart-in-mouth feeling when you watch them grow up, fall down, and live is overpowering.

And I wouldn't give it up for the world...

Posted by: Mathieu at April 1, 2005 02:56 AM

wow, that was a bit intense. I really hope this wasn't a recent event, and that she is doing better now.

Posted by: elise at April 1, 2005 03:06 AM

brando said it all. you know.
and aaron was right. this is why i come here.

Posted by: kristine at April 1, 2005 04:26 AM

You'll make a helluva mom someday, should you so choose. Without having been a parent, you GET it. I go rummaging around in my head for comparisons, and all I can come up with is "The Red Badge of Courage," written by a guy who'd never been to war.

Posted by: Lex at April 1, 2005 06:52 AM

Wow! that was intense, beautiful and sad all at the same time. Someday you'll make a great parent, but for now, I think you make a fabulous sister.

Posted by: annush at April 1, 2005 07:23 AM

Love is indeed a beautiful thing. To be create a portrait of that love with words is a wonderful thing. Beautifully done Miss Fish.

Posted by: AdventureGirl at April 1, 2005 07:33 AM

Mother-love is all-consuming. You have this little person who looks to you as his/her world. Every need, every hurt, every victory is somehow felt by you, too. When your child is sick, you wonder how you can have the strength to deal with things, but you do. When she's happy you feel as if your heart will explode. When you watch her sleep, you know that there is a God because I truly believe no one who considers the wonder of a child is an atheist.

Sometimes you feel like you lose part of your identity as a mother--you become Mom and not the "you" that begot her. That can be frustrating, as somtimes the responsibility is. However, I often think that we get to influence them for such a short time.

I'm a single Mother, so I am often frustrated and stressed. I miss the me that was carefree, and I enjoy reading your site because you sometimes speak of fun times. I also come to your site for posts like this one.

What you feel for your two sisters is Mother-love, Fish.

Posted by: Rachel Apanewicz at April 1, 2005 07:45 AM


tick tock.

nice post.

Posted by: anonymous at April 1, 2005 08:20 AM

23 is a good age, but I was thinking more like 30 for my own three heart squeezers.

Posted by: Kassi at April 1, 2005 08:52 AM

You make me want to fly to NY, somehow find you, offer you a huge hug and then offer to buy you a drink...

That was absolutely amazing...

Posted by: ReviewGuru at April 1, 2005 09:29 AM

Wow! Amazing writing, as usual.

Posted by: Torrie at April 1, 2005 10:26 AM

Fish--a beautiful post, one of the closest to capturing what parenting love is about, without being a parent. If I had a sister, I'd want her to be like you!

But I must take exception to Rachel's comment that no one who has a child can possibly doubt the existence of God. On the contrary, as both an atheist and a mother, I find the commonly held religious belief that love of God is higher than love of man/people/humankind to be incomprehensible. My love for my child is higher than any love for a deity I could possibly imagine. It's very easy, in fact, to be both an atheist and an adoring, awe-struck parent.

I don't doubt, Rachel, that your religious views are sincere--and more power to you--but mine are equally sincere.

Posted by: Alison at April 1, 2005 10:40 AM

Thank you so much for writing this beautiful post. I went through the same things with my little sister, right down to the razor blades. Every time I saw those tracks, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Hard. I really really hope your sister is doing better now. Thank God my little sister is.
--Love from Chanelbaby.

Posted by: Chanelbaby at April 1, 2005 10:49 AM

What a beautiful post Fish. I was absolutely moved by it. Thank you for sharing. :)
Have a wonderful weekend beautiful!

Posted by: Joe CuttheShit at April 1, 2005 11:18 AM

Messages like this may benefit from a NSFW moniker in the subject. Needless to say, the writing is great, and the content is heart twisting, but wow, I should have waited till after my work was done to read it.

Posted by: peter at April 1, 2005 11:22 AM


Posted by: Fish at April 1, 2005 11:27 AM

I wish I could lock my twins away until they are 23 and shelter them from all the bad and terrible things in this world.

Posted by: tuesday at April 1, 2005 11:28 AM

NSFW = Not safe for work

Posted by: Tinkster at April 1, 2005 11:40 AM

BAWLING. You are amazing!

Posted by: pinky at April 1, 2005 11:42 AM


Posted by: mandy lou at April 1, 2005 12:08 PM

23? Why stop there?

Posted by: Jen at April 1, 2005 01:09 PM

Amen Alison.

Posted by: Torrie at April 1, 2005 01:47 PM

This was extraordinary, Fish. Truly. Thank you. I too send good thoughts to your sister, wherever in the world she is. And to you, as magnificent a written example of a sister as any I've heard.

Posted by: elizabeth at April 1, 2005 02:03 PM

I'm crying at my desk. Fish, you are such a talented writer that in just a few paragraphs you can take a complete stranger to moment in time where the scene being depicted is almost palpable. Thank you for sharing your life with us. The ups and the downs are what make you human and compel your reader to check in daily.

Posted by: Sarah at April 1, 2005 02:05 PM

I can only look at it from a son and brother point of view: having lost my older sister when she was just a kid, having seen my younger brother go into detox, and my sister fall deeply prone to anorexia while i went to one of the top french business schools.
For years this was arguably taboo in the family.
Today everything is different, and in hindsight my parents still did a great job bringing up their kids!

Posted by: chaton at April 1, 2005 02:42 PM


I too enjoyed helping with younger siblings from a young age. They are now entering those teen years and facing their own struggles and fears. From friend's committing suicide, to eating disorders, to questions of faith like those brought up even in these comments. And it is my great joy to continue to guide and watch them grow. Having my own son now, I look on with great expectation for the days and trials to come. I know that they will all be worth it. Every one.

- Natalie

Posted by: Natalie at April 1, 2005 03:08 PM

That was very real to me. Your words took me there for your sister. I too like Review Guru want to give you a big hug.

Posted by: mrsmogul at April 1, 2005 04:41 PM

oh my gosh, heather. that post was heart wrenching.... in a good way. wow, thank you.

Posted by: red at April 1, 2005 05:51 PM

I discovered this little piece of writing while searching for meaning after the untimely death of a very close friend... I can't credit the original author, but it was written by a women who had miscarried. Your second last paragraph reminds me of it...

The agony is so great
And yet I will stand it.
Had I not loved so very much
I would not hurt so much.
But goodness knows
I would not want to diminish that precious love
By one fraction of an ounce.
I will hurt
And I will be grateful to the hurt
For it bears witness to the depth of our meanings
And for that I will be
Eternally grateful.

Posted by: Trish at April 1, 2005 07:38 PM

Oh that was sweet and heart-rending. I stayed up all night the night my little brother was brought home. I just kept looking at him and being transfixed. I was 11, and he is still my "pratice" baby, thought at 13, he would never admit it.

Posted by: She who shall not be named at April 1, 2005 08:52 PM

ummm, meant though, not thought

Posted by: She who shall not be named at April 1, 2005 08:53 PM

I really admire your work, every time I come back I see more ways that I can improve my own writing, as well as point of view sometimes, too. Keep up the wonderful work! (and thanks for answering my question about NPR ;))

Posted by: Beth at April 1, 2005 11:03 PM


Your honest writing both vindicates and inspires me (Believe it or not, I've been in quite similar situations. I can honestly say that I know how you feel!). I too am sans children, yet have had the beautiful blessing of being both a much older sister and that special (by no merit of my own) teacher that students seem to connect with in a mother-offspring manner. Unconditional love completes us, finally makes us the person God intended for us to be. What a wonderful world this would be if we could be a little less selfish, tear down those well-built walls and love all of humanity in the same manner.

Thanks for the post. It was quite touching. You're obviously an amazingly resilient person. I'm sure your family and friends are quite grateful!

Posted by: Aeriale at April 2, 2005 12:05 AM

Wonderful post.

Posted by: 3rd Times a Charm ( 3T ) at April 2, 2005 01:27 AM

But is she okay?

Posted by: Tess at April 2, 2005 03:18 AM

okay, i'll be honest. i didn't read the whole entry. i actually haven't read your site in over a year. somehow i found my way back and noticed that you changed the name to "this fish needs a bicycle". If I were a woman that'd be my tagline. alas, i'm stuck with something different.

that's all...just pleased with the new name. kudos.

Posted by: todd at April 2, 2005 07:06 AM

That was just so incredibly real and alive Fish. It's amazing the way you are able to put down in words the way you feel exactly. And paint us such a palpably real picture.
This is only the 2nd time I've been here. That entry was so intense i know its been said already, but I just have to say it myself.
I have a younger bro who's quite a few years younger than I am and I went thru the same emotions as you've described. And it's for that very same reason, the incredible Love I feel for him, that it hurts me so much to see how far apart we've grown in the last few years. I just keep hoping that someday he sees again that I'm there for him.
Hope you're sisters-both- are well. Keep loving Fish. Have a great weekend. You've sure touched mine.

Posted by: Me at April 2, 2005 08:07 AM

Hey Heather excellent post. Timely in my case too. I remember being the big brother-protector to my younger sister most of our lives. She hurt, I hurt, etc . . . This past week I watched my mother and father cry as they watched their little girl tread ground in which they can not follow. Little sis is in complete denial over drug addiction and alcoholism. And I know I can't help her either. It's almost maddening. Except for the fact that my mom cried into my shoulder as I held her and I gripped my dad's shoulder as we talked. And I think that maybe little sis is one step closer to help each day. Maybe.
And for all the pain and tears I still feel grateful because I am given the opportunity to offer comfort instead of being comforted. I'm able to love instead of worrying about being loved.
It sounds like you have a pretty big heart by the way.And I agree, the gratitude and the pain of that fist over the heart is a good thing.

Posted by: jimmy corrigan at April 2, 2005 08:21 AM

At the risk of yelling into the wind here, I had to comment to acknowledge that I know parents who have birthed and raised children of their very own who didn't 'get it' to the point you describe in this post. It's stunning and beautiful and truer than you may really even know.

Posted by: Jennifer at April 2, 2005 05:16 PM

what you wrote hits the essence of life. loving and experiencing these feelings. nothing else mathers more than this. thank you for reminding what it is all about. who cares if the pope is dead, what is my brother up to? that is what important.

Posted by: vinnie at April 2, 2005 06:56 PM

That was exactly what I needed to read today. Thankyou.X

Posted by: Nic at April 2, 2005 08:43 PM

absolutely beautiful writing.

and i can relate. i have 2 brothers from both parents who are 9 years my junior. the one from my mother, considers me to be his parent. and we have lived near each other our whole lives. until march, when i moved halfway across the country, and coincidentally CLOSER to the other brother, who is now getting his turn with me.

i am raising 20 year old boys. and that is such a cool feeling to be loved like that.

oddly enough, they are as different as track star and speed freak. really.

Posted by: christel at April 2, 2005 08:55 PM

"There are kinds of love that are freeing, and there are loves that are frightening. This, uniquely, is both."

Great post. I agree, sometimes it really hurts to love people. You care about them more than you care about yourself. But I guess it's a trade off for the elation you feel when you get to experience joy along with them.

Posted by: Aeris at April 2, 2005 09:44 PM

Wow! I have never really wanted to have children. But that was moving. More alive because of it, huh? (Even though you weren't the mom.) Sounds interesting.

Posted by: amber lynn at April 3, 2005 12:26 AM

What an amazing journey. I am the oldest of five and can relate to the love you speak about for your sisters. I have two little ones of my own now. I wrote this kind of about them.
Sorry about the self-plug, it is not intentionally meant that way. Just want to share the other side of the fence which you already have a good idea about.

Posted by: Rachel at April 3, 2005 12:50 AM

That was really awesome.

Posted by: Alicia at April 3, 2005 09:37 AM

I am a first time auntie since not even two weeks ago!! There is an ocean seperating me and my new niece, but I can't wait to see her.

Great post!

Posted by: Island Girl at April 3, 2005 04:27 PM

Nice essay. My heart goes out to you and your family. Cutting is a beyond-scary thing. I hope your sister learns how not to abuse herself, for her sake and yours. I like how you've connected love to the body with the physical sensation of squeezing - that is what it feels like some times. And then there are the times when it feels like a waterfall overflowing - that is my favorite feeling.

Posted by: Michele at April 3, 2005 05:42 PM

"Complete and utterly fixated love." {sigh} Well said.

Posted by: Plantation at April 3, 2005 09:42 PM

great post! unconditional love....nothing like it!

Posted by: tinker at April 3, 2005 10:27 PM

Amazing, Heather, amazing.

Love... nothing better, nothing worse.

Posted by: Lisa M at April 4, 2005 01:36 PM

Kyrie Eleison.

Posted by: inxs at April 4, 2005 03:10 PM