It must have rained the night before. I remember the scent of wet grass combined with the warmth of early June sunshine. I paced up and down the red brick sidewalk in front of my grandmother’s house on Collett Street, in deep meditation, before I even knew the meaning of meditation. It was early June, when we children would find our wings. When the whole summer was laid out in front of us, free from the shackles of classrooms and homework. I’m tempted to say I was excited at the prospect of my mother bringing a baby sister home from the hospital. Perhaps bewildered would be a better adjective.
I vaguely remember my mother’s pregnancy. The guarded whispers about her being too old to be carrying a child. Since I had been the youngest of six, it occurs to me now that Chris is the only one of my siblings I have known from the day she was brought home from the hospital. When I think of my relationship with my baby sister, I am always drawn back to that red brick sidewalk in front of 610 Collett Street, as though it were specifically laid as the foundation for everything I am about to tell.
I was only 8 years old when Chris was born. But when I look at the photo of me holding her by her tiny little hands as her feet struggled to find balance, I can remember, all these decades later, the incredible feeling of responsibility that comes with teaching a child to walk. I knew intuitively, that once she mastered the art of walking, I would have to protect her from walking into the street. It was a combination of maternal and paternal instincts manifested in an 8 year old boy. Those first steps taken on the red brick sidewalk, with the help of her big brother, laid the foundation for a very close and honest relationship.
The day I took possession of my first car, a light green 1965 Volkswagen Bug, I immediately drove to my mother’s house to pick up Christy Jo. With Chris in the passenger seat and my dog Cinnamon in the back seat, we began to explore the back roads of Vermilion County. She was always very mature for her age. When we recounted our adventures in later years, I was always shocked when she pointed out that she had been only 13 or 14 years old at the time. I had remembered us more as equals.
Chris was the first family member to know I was Gay. I can still see that silly grin on her face when I told her. She thought I was the neatest brother in the whole wide world. Entrusting her with that knowledge sealed our closeness forever. She was young enough that she had not been infected by the prejudices society taught in those times. I am grateful to have had someone so close to accept me unconditionally.
Chris was the one who came up with the idea that there are only two types of people in the world. Those who “know” and those who “don’t know.” In the beginning it referred to the fact that she knew I was Gay. But she later turned it into an expression to describe consciousness and awareness. She went on to study astrology and became a very good judge of character. later we began to refer to people as dancers, when we noticed particular traits in a person’s body language that revealed something hidden deeper inside. It was like noticing the rotation of a dancer’s leg from the hip socket, that causes turnout. There was so much packed into that simple expression of “he’s a dancer!” It was like a code, a language all our own.
Chris came to live with me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1975, when she turned 18. Gary Peterson and I moved from our small apartment to a larger house so Chris could move in with us. It didn’t last too long, but it gave us all a sense of family while it lasted. It was almost like we were playing house, like we did as children on the back porch of my grandmother’s house on rainy days.
When Chris came to stay with Rob and I in Washington, DC, in 1981, she developed a deep bond with Robby. They were born one year apart, sharing many growing up experiences in common. She was an avid reader. She and Rob would quote passages from favorite books they shared. On the first day of meeting Rob, Chris pulled me aside. “He knows!” she said. “And he knows that I know that he knows!” She gave me a big grin and walked away. What she really meant was that she knew that he was the right one for me.
In all the decades Chris and I were apart, we were never apart. She always remained the one person I could tell my deepest thoughts and secrets. Throughout the writing of this story, I’ve had the urge to pick up the telephone to read what I’ve already written, to see what she thinks. Sometime after she was diagnosed with cancer, she asked me a question that breaks my heart as I hear it spoken now in my head. “Do you know that you are my hero?” she said to me.
After witnessing her long courageous struggle with cancer, I have a question I long to ask my baby sister. “Do you know that you are my hero?”
CHRIS STARKEY WILLIAMSON
JUNE 6, 1957 - DECEMBER 4, 2013