Imaginary Sister by Maire Vieth
Without my brain tumour, I would probably still be reporting the news of my Auckland suburb. Instead, I am writing a memoir about my past, wandering the lands of fact and fiction.
I arrived here from Germany via the US where I studied post-graduate history, fell in love and had three sons. New Zealand has taught me about origin myths, and I have set off to write mine. I also read, swim and paint walls.
As an only child, siblings are something I don’t know. Not even a generation back. My father is an only child. My mother, once one of four, now only has a sister left who she avoids.
My three sons relate in boyish ways, with bikes and music.
For me, siblings mostly exist in my imagination, in the what if of fiction.
What if I was one of two or more and had grown up in a house echoing young voices like my own rather than my grandparents’ stoic silence or my parents frequent and loud arguments.
What if I had shared a room with a sister and we breathed the same air while sleeping. Would we be in each other’s dreams? Would seeing her after opening my eyes from a nightmare be reassuring enough to keep me in bed?
What if there was someone who looked like a different version of me, just a little bit younger or older, a me to look at from the outside? Would her eyes be the same colour, or shape same shape? Would her hair be like mine or would I have been the first to go grey?
Would we smell alike?
I am sure we would have fought as kids. But how? Physically? Verbally? Open fisted or with daggers? Would we have told each other, in the worst moments of our fights, that the other was just like our mother?
How would we have made up? With hug? Holding hands? A Nod? Not?
Would a sister have kept me from talking to myself? Or would I just talk to myself about her?
How would we love each other? Would we ride horses together, read the same books, wear each other’s clothes.
Would there have been less in my life? Fewer family vacations? Tents instead of hotel rooms? No money for horse riding lessons for either of us. Would my mother have stopped working for more than one daughter? Would she have been around more? Would that have been nice?
Today, would we agree that our parents’ divorce was the best thing that ever happened? Would we see the same signs of aging in my father’s body and mind? Would we both tell him to stop drinking? Would she visit me in New Zealand? Would she be alive?
As an only child, she will not be a chapter in my memoir. She is only a character resonating in the short story of my life.
Voice Lesson by Maire Vieth
Maire Vieth is the mother of three grown boys. She arrived in Auckland from Bavaria via New Jersey. After chasing local news as a reporter for years, she now writes daily memories.
I returned to university in my mid-twenties. I had tried out chemistry and German literature right after school but left after a semester of each. Then, after three years of earning money as a sound technician at Munich’s public radio station, I had assembled the self-confidence to give uni another go.
But I arrived with my old ideas about the shape of knowledge. I thought it was a kind of ocean, or a lake, at least an Olympic size pool of facts. My father seemed to know them all. I thought I was ready to swallow them, sip by sip, and store them in the filing cabinet of my brain.
Each morning, I walked to my lectures past the buildings on Ludwigstrasse, imagining the day I knew all their architectural styles, the historical events that occurred in and around them, all the dates.
When a professor in American Studies visiting from Chicago asked us to interpret an historical event in an assignment, I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about.
Today, I would probably google it, but then I only remembered, from seven years of school Latin, that “inter” means “between.” I smiled, nodded, and prayed no one noticed that I was only pretending to understand.
I took the subway home with Christa, a fellow student, younger and smarter than me, happy, light and fun. Perhaps a little naïve, I had thought to myself earlier in the day.
As the train came out of the tunnel and headed into the suburbs, she and I stood in the middle of the aisle, both of us holding onto the same pole, slightly swaying, legs slightly splaying.
I asked her about the assignment and told her I was lost.
We talked. I don’t remember what she said but all of a sudden it hit me like lightning. This professor was asking me what I thought. About the American Revolution!
I remember exactly how the light shone. The late afternoon sun came from the West, through the scratched window behind Christa, touched me, and disappeared out the other side of the car.
And I knew. That knowledge was not absorbed or swallowed or stored or regurgitated, but made and created, added one spoonful of spice or pinch of salt at a time to a pot constantly on the boil. And I knew I was ready to stir.
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