From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Loving Kelly

“I really like her,” my brother told me over the phone.

“Well, tell me all about her,” I said. Then I asked all those nosy questions only a sister can get away with asking. What’s she like? Where did you meet? Is she “the one”?

I could hear the smile in his voice as he told me about her, and in my mind, I could see that familiar glint in his eyes. For the next twenty minutes, Steve told me all about his new girlfriend. As I continued to listen, I began to know something was not quite right. Then I realized he had not yet told me her name.

“What’s her name?” I finally asked, trying to sound lighthearted.

Seconds of silence stretched into an eternity before he quietly, hesitantly, said, “Kelly.”

Suddenly, the phone seemed to grow hot in my trembling hand, and I could not speak. Finally, with some effort, I said, “Oh.” Then, “I gotta go. I’ll call you soon.” I sat there for a long time, staring at the phone, remembering another Kelly.

I still remember the first time I saw her. I was seven. I came crashing into the house after school only to be met by the shushing sound escaping around my mother’s index finger held firmly against her pursed lips. “Quiet. The baby’s sleeping,” she whispered.

“Can I see her?” I whispered back, stepping up onto my tiptoes.

“When she wakes up,” Mom said firmly.

I looked at Dad. I knew he would help me.

He winked and motioned me over. Ignoring Mom’s warning, we sneaked into my bedroom where Kelly, wearing a tiny cornflower-blue gown, lay sleeping. I pressed my face against the rails of her crib. I reached between the bars and touched her cheek. Dad knelt beside me and gently woke her. Kelly opened her blue eyes and looked right into mine.

“My sister, my baby sister,” I said in a proud sigh. I loved her from that moment on.

As we grew older and more aware of life, we giggled about boys, and clothes and hairstyles. I answered her questions about periods and love and falling stars. We crossed our hearts and hoped to die should we ever not be best friends.

At night, as we lay in bed with our backs pressed against each other, we shared all our secrets and all our dreams and carefully planned our old age. We would live together and travel the world. We would be “fun old ladies” like the Baldwin Sisters from Walton’s Mountain.

When the day came for me to leave for college, Kelly and I clung to each other, and we sobbed into each other’s necks for a long time. With Kelly still weeping softly, Mom finally pulled her away and assured me she would be okay. I wasn’t sure I would be, though.

When I was twenty-five and Kelly was eighteen, my doctor diagnosed me with a serious illness that left me unable to bear children. Kelly came to me and offered herself as a surrogate to carry a baby for me and my husband, Jeff.

I thought about her offer for a long time. I was more touched than words can say, but not at all surprised. In the end, I decided against it. I loved Kelly so much. I could not, would not, ask her to carry a baby in my stead then give it up to me, even though I knew she would. If only I could have known then what lay ahead just a year later.

Funny, isn’t it, how you know when the phone rings it’s bad news. It was January 26, 1986, Sunday afternoon, Super Bowl Sunday. We had hamburgers for lunch.

“Yes. When? I see,” Jeff said into the phone.

There was no hiding it. I saw the shadow in his eyes. “It’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked as Jeff slowly replaced the receiver in its cradle.

He held me tightly and gently broke the news. “It’s Kelly. She’s dead. It seems that carbon monoxide seeped through a crack in an old heater in the hotel room where she was staying last night. She died in her sleep.”

My sister, my baby sister. Gone! I couldn’t believe it. We had so many plans. It just couldn’t be true. It just couldn’t.

Three years after Kelly’s death, I still found it difficult to talk about her. I could not even speak her name without tears filling my eyes. The thought of Steve dating and possibly marrying someone named Kelly was almost unbearable.

Steve did marry “his Kelly,” and I found myriad ways to speak of her without actually saying her name. To Steve—How’s your wife? How’s she doing? To Mom and Dad—Have you heard from Steve and his wife—from them—from her?

With Steve and Kelly living in Washington, D.C., Jeff and I by then in Alaska, and the lack of travel funds, I did not meet Steve’s Kelly until six years after she married him. I did talk with her occasionally on the phone.

She seemed nice, and my brother was certainly happy. I began to look forward to her phone calls but still found myself holding back.

Then one Christmas everything changed. Steve and Kelly and Jeff and I met at my parents’ home in Texas. Kelly and I spent a lot of time talking and really getting to know each other. In spite of my reticence, I found myself liking her more and more. We laughed and giggled and shared secrets, almost like sisters.

“I’ve always wondered something,” Kelly said as we walked through my parents’ neighborhood one afternoon.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I wonder if your Kelly would have liked me.”

Surprising myself, I answered immediately without hesitating. “Oh, I know she would. She would have scrutinized you closely, but she definitely would have liked you,” I said knowingly. “You are beautiful, sweet, adventurous and fun. You like cats. And, most of all, you make her brother happy. And she would have loved your name.”

On Christmas Eve, with tears dancing in her eyes, Kelly handed me a small beige and dark green box tied with twine. I pulled the free end of the string and lifted the lid. I gently removed the top layer of cotton. Underneath was a small magnet. Pink and purple pansies surrounded carefully chosen words: “Sisters By Marriage, Friends By Heart.”

Tears escaped my control and wetted my cheeks. “Thank you, Kelly,” I whispered. Then, I hugged her. “I love you.”

Several Christmases have come and gone since that one. Kelly has become one of my very best friends, and another sister whom I love very much. The magnet she gave me still hangs on my refrigerator so that I will see it every day and be reminded of the love we share, that I almost never knew.

Pamela Haskin

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