Vern + Vern
I cried when I woke up last Wednesday morning and I kept crying for three more hours until the car pulled away and I could no longer see its shiny red bumper.
That car held my sister and her family... and a little piece of my heart. A piece that is put back into place each time she and I are reunited, but it's painful and I cry each time my sister and that little piece of my heart drive or fly away from me.
Kyla and I are the only two children in our travel-loving family, and our parents have always supported the nomadic inclinations that have catapulted both of their daughters far and wide across the globe.
We grew up in Vermont, but I went to college in Alabama and Paris, and am fairly constantly on the move in a plane, train or automobile. After Kyla finished college in Vermont, she moved to the opposite coast of the United States, living in Los Angeles for the next six years as a singer-songwriter.
But it was a backpacking trip through New Zealand and Australia nearly four years ago that brought Kyla face-to-face with a soul mate. The one she ended up marrying (remember those photos, here?) and the one with whom she created a beautiful little boy we affectionately call, "Boobah," though his own very distinguished name is Huxton Wilde (or "Hux" or "Huxie" to us!). I met him for the first time this month, at four months old, and fell desperately in love with his charming and disarming little grin.
During the short two weeks of their annual visit, that little nephew of mine grew immensely, learning to grab things and almost roll over. He tried solid foods for the first time, took his first deeps breaths of New England country air, and began to recognize his auntie's face, and his cousin and grandparents, too.
My daughter made me so proud with what an empathetic, kind and caring little cousin she is, singing to him when he cried and holding his face, hands and tiny body with the most gentle touch at all times. She attentively and immediately mimicked anything my sister or I did to calm, comfort and soothe his little being, and he seemed to recognize that she was little like him, reacting differently to her voice and touch. I loved watching their interactions.
Every moment we shared was precious and I will miss watching them grow together with a tinge of heartbreak's pull until we are reunited. We don't know when that will be — always the hardest part — but after years of living across the world from one another, we're at least used to this. Even if we don't like it.
I never, and I mean never, thought I would live so far from my sister, and our children so far from each other. But life has a way of working these things out, so I trust that some day we will be able to walk, or at least drive a short distance, to each other's doorstep.
Until then, that little piece of my heart will be in Australia, with a delightful layover in England's Lake District with her husband's wonderful family and friends this week. At least that little piece of my heart chooses enjoyable destinations and people with whom to pass the time.
And until then, I just make do with FaceTime, texts, Snapchat filters and our memories. And really, I derive a lot of comfort in just knowing who she is, as a person, as a woman, as a mother, as a human being and as my little sister. She is so incredible that somehow, it sustains me from visit to visit. There are just so many ways I admire her.
From the moment she was born, I have loved Kyla with my whole heart, and I still do. According to my mom, I believed she was "mine," and I'm still as fiercely protective of her today as I was on day one.
Growing up, we called each other, "Sissy" or "Sister." Over time, into our teen and college years, that morphed into "Sleeuster" and then, "Sleeus" (pronounced as drawn out and annoyingly as possible, like, "Sleeeeeeeuuuuuuuus"). We called each other Sleeus for years, so much so that most of Kyla's friends still call me Sleeus. Because that's who I was. That's who she was, too. But once family members and friends adopted the name to reference their own sisters — while complimentary — we stopped using it.
For some reason, Kyla began often quoting, "Ya know whatta mean, Vern?" to me for affirmation on any issue. To which I would respond, without fail, "Yeah, Vern." And a new nickname was born that lives on to this day. Vern and Vern.
Or to my daughter, "Beeerrrn."
Vern, or Bern, is the most empathetic and understanding soul you will ever meet. In sharp contrast to my red hot and reactive emotions, her aura is a calming blue that radiates out instinctively to those who need it.
She cares for others selflessly and tirelessly, from her family and friends to the children she has nannied over the past decade, providing loving guidance and care second only to any mother's own. And now, as a new mother, Vern cares for her own son and husband around the clock with barely a whimper, tear or complaint.
And though she puts absolutely everyone else first, she somehow still brings her whole self to the table. Vern always looks beautiful. She takes care of herself both inside and out, in equal measure cultivating her inner spirit and making sure she is dressed adorably with her makeup and hair done every day. It is not outside pressure that compels her to take the time to get ready (in record time, I must add, since new motherhood), but rather because it makes her feel happy and healthy to share her best self with the special people she loves.
I manage that about one day out of ten, so I find the accomplishment both impressive and astonishing.
Vern uses her gifts of creativity and her artistic, optimistic eye to infuse brightness into the everyday moments of others' lives with thoughtfulness. Whether through her music as a singer-songwriter, a hand-collaged card, a bouquet of flowers or a homemade meal, Kyla only seeks to induce smiles and make everyone around her feel acknowledged and loved.
Vern is really, and I mean really, hilarious. We are constantly laughing, a thousand leagues out into our own world. We've been accused more than once of being twins because we operate on that wavelength of connection and unspoken understanding, which is truly an unbelievable blessing.
But as much as Vern makes me laugh (more than any other person on this planet), no one else has seen more of my tears fall. I tell Vern everything, and there is never a time that she is not by my side, if only virtually. The arrival of Hux meant a new around-the-clock schedule that has only served to make her more available to me as she nurse-and-scrolls throughout the night. Poor thing. But I'm grateful.
She does not judge people or their actions. She observes and listens for an extraordinarily long time before anything even close to a reaction or opinion is revealed, and she only offers empathetic thoughts once asked. Vern also prompts thoughtful questions that give others the space to see ourselves through her eyes of non-judgment, allowing for self-reflection and growth.
I've needed her a lot in the past few years, and somehow, despite being clear across the world for most of it, Vern has been there for me whenever I need her.
In January, when the going got very rough, my daughter and I flew to Australia to visit her and her husband for a month. It was a mutually beneficial and a once-in-a-lifetime window of time where she could support me emotionally and I could support her physically. But despite entering her eighth month of pregnancy, Vern gave, and gave, and gave to me during that month, hoping to help me heal.
She bought me a month-long unlimited yoga pass and spent "bonding time" with my daughter each day while I attended a class (or classes) of my choosing. I was never once made to feel like she was "babysitting" or being put out in any way. That month changed everything for me. The time on my mat allowed me to finally hear myself, for the first time in a long time, while the unconditional love she and her husband offered day-in and day-out reminded me what that felt like. I knew after that trip that I could no longer accept part of a person or a compromise that was sacrificing my mental and physical health. I had to become wholeheartedly myself again.
It was a lucky draw that I only had to wait until July to see her again. But as it always does, the time flew by.
Now, one week after that little piece of my heart drove away with my sister and her family, it aches in the space where that piece of my heart usually resides. I miss her already. But I always miss her and have learned to live with it after so many years. Like a rationed food item, I savor the few moments we get alone each year and dream of the day when time spent together is unlimited, like an all-you-can-hang-Vern buffet.
I hope I am a fraction of the sister and support that she is to me.
Until the next time, à la prochaïne, hasta la próxima, my Vernie Wernie McVernicle.