Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It's under control: Happy Birthday, Denise

In the summer of 1970,  I met my sister in the Amsterdam airport.  As soon as she stepped off the plane from Philadelphia she needed to stop in the bathroom.

I waited outside the stall, when I noticed her feet had disappeared. Hey, where did you go?   The door swung open.  She was squatting above the toilet, both bare feet on the seat.

 This is the most natural way for women to pee,  she told me. 

I admired her devotion to a more natural lifestyle but also had to suppress a giggle. For me, it was all too much work, the way she slipped out of her sandals, rolled up her bell bottoms so they wouldn’t dip into the bowl,

then balance herself with both hands flat against the walls.     

Ok let's get your luggage, I said. She would be staying for a month.

My sister held up a backpack and a small overnight case with a handle.

This is all I brought, she said.                                                                                                                                        

Inside the case, small shelves and drawers filled with vitamins and packets of herbs to be placed under the tongue for desired spiritual states.

She brought no clothes except some extra halter tops.  

It was clear she had become what we used to call a real freak--a bound and determined hippie.

I merely wore army surplus jackets and hairbands. My behavior didn’t stray far from conventional. I was too anxious or maybe just too lazy to explore radically different lifestyles. But my sister? She was the real thing. 

Tall and thin, her body was perfect for hip huggers and bra-less halter tops. She refused to shave any hair on her body, rejected makeup, was drawn to everything third world and eventually became an anthropologist. When she was 20, she had a boyfriend who was a jazz musician and heroine addict. Next came a health food specialist. Eventually she married a social activist from Columbia, then a teacher from Morocco.

Once in winter, she walked through the snow barefoot because that’s how Native Americans once did it. 

When we sat in my apartment in Munich, she played the first of several tape recordings her boyfriend made for her trip, mostly pep talks about staying on a macrobiotic diet, using herbs liberally, holding on to positive thoughts.

Her commitment to those youthful ideals has endured until the present time. Last summer she taught school in an African village. The summer before, she worked on a Peruvian dairy farm. Our mother thought my sister too self-controlled. Our mother, a woman with an exuberant and moody personality, considered self-control a flaw. But my sister knows that’s how you change yourself and the world, and how you don’t give mothers the satisfaction of seeing how they hurt you.