A decade or so ago, she flipped her blonde hair back with a wave, adjusted her sunglasses, and leaned forward for the customary hug goodbye. I thought, as I often did, how very stunning my sister was, how elegant, and how unlike me, from her long, thin legs to her alabaster skin. Dianne was beautiful from birth on, as if she had won some feminine lottery that gave her Venus-like features, and assured she would never have to stoop to changing her own tires or emptying her trash.
She evoked her charms early, and employed them well, even with me. Why did I so often do her chores? I don’t know, it’s a mystery. I also borrowed her perfectly clean and pressed clothes on occasion – never without being unmercifully caught – and put up with a hundred humiliations that only an older and far more savvy sister could dole out. And I loved her, deeply, with a wide-eyed awe, a steadfast loyalty, and just a twinge of pain.
I was the Mars to her Venus. A skinny Amazon tomgirl with chapped lips, skinned knees, and untied shoes. An outdoor warrior who conquered rivers on oversized truck inner-tubes, and who hammered and nailed neighborhood trash into girls-only forts, which I defended with a mean right arm and a pile of rocks. When I was stuck indoors, I read books – tons and tons of books – none of which ever sated my need for definitive answers but which, instead, were always something of a tease.
While I was flexing my wiry little muscles outdoors or losing myself in some fictional adventure, Dianne was honing the feminine arts. She could dance, she could sew, she could knit. She knew how to apply makeup and what colors and fabrics matched. She grew mysteries, flowers, and curvy hips. She knew which fork to use, and how to properly address a letter to the President. Her room was a fortress of all things femme and wonderful, and on those rare occasions I was invited in, I reveled in her warmth and artistry.
I protected Dianne many times, with all the fierceness of a sister and all the strength of an Amazon-minor. In return, she taught me gentleness and social graces, and how to properly apply mascara to my barely-there lashes – a lesson I quickly forgot.
Anyway, on a warm summer day during the late nineties, she leaned her perfumed neck down and I felt her breath in my ear. I was sure that what was coming next was the typical “I will miss you,” “take care of yourself.” Instead, my sister – someone I have unfortunately known only from a distance since we were teens – whispered in her elegant voice,
“Remember to control your passion”.
I was stunned. I couldn’t even come up with an appropriate response. The comebacks came later, hours later, as I rolled along the desolate Nevada highway in my Ford F-150, blasting Joni Mitchell, lighting cigarette after cigarette (after weeks of smokelessness), and yes – feeling kind of passionate.
Eventually, I let those words go, although for months afterwards I found myself checking my level of excitability, wondering if perhaps my enthusiasm for certain subjects would be viewed as something wild and unrestrained.
Like other minor crises of confidence, this one passed over time. I went on with my rustic existence some 2000 miles away, and shook off the decades-long, on-and-off feeling of being somewhat undone by my Venus sister who, in the glowing light of her perfect femininity, could still make me feel as rough and unpolished as the rocks I used to sling through the fields – or who could just as effortlessly stoke the fire of sisterly love and make me feel eminently cherished.
Enter Dorothea. No, that’s not her real name, but that’s not the point. The point is Venus Redux. Not a love interest, just someone I love. A sister of some differential soul I hold in esteem. Another feminine beauty, with dramatic eyes and sculpted bones whom, if I was a painter, I would never stop painting. I would stand there, in the shadows of my sun-drenched studio, and capture every fleck of light and wisp of mood, with a glass of deep red Cabernet in one hand and the finest sable brush in the other.
If I was a carpenter, I would build her the most beautiful house in the world. I would haul up the most perfect river stone, and make her an exquisite room with high ceilings and large cathedral windows topped in stained glass. Red, blue, and yellow prisms of light would play along ancient stones and dance on dark wood floors. There would be a fireplace fit for a castle, and live, luscious plants growing everywhere. A plush rug, handwoven by the wisest and most artistic of crones, who would tell a woman’s story in shades of red – royal red, blood red, carmine and rose red, the flame red of Mars, and the brilliant red of passion.
And if I were a writer. Well.
I would tell the story of Venus’s great natural power. The way the women of Venus shine and stun, and burn and inspire, and lift-up and set-down whole other spirits, without ever really knowing, let alone analyzing, the effect they have on others. I would speak of their innate love of luxury and beauty, and their propensity to have and know only the finest things in life, from clothes to art to friends. I would speak of their womanly gifts, their flair and artistry, and their ability to set others at ease or on edge with their sharp wit and eloquent tongues.
I would speak of the comfort they provide, and the tantalizing meals they create from Nature’s great bounty — beautiful plates laden with nourishing food, deep bowls of hot, hearty soup – the warm and gracious invitations they extend to others to be nurtured at their table.
And, of course, I would speak of their power to heal.
Dorothea, my friend and sister of the differential soul, invited me over to her new 100 year old abode to paint a few weeks ago. When I arrived, I learned it was not just a room that needed work, but an entire house, with old window frames that had to be sanded, and ceilings that needed to be scraped, and walls that needed to be patched. Somehow, the thought of all that work made me ecstatic. I would get to help build a castle after all, even if it was in the blemished heart of the Uptown district. More importantly, I would get to spend all that time basking in the radiance of all things Venus. There would be a lot of laughter, an abundance of good food, and of course, a few minor but humorous arguments, because the Venus soul is very particular about what goes where and how it goes, and passionate Amazons aren’t exactly short of their own ideas.
It was a blast. On the last night, while the last of the paint dried, we sat out on the balcony, which I was pleased to note would need to be re-stained in the summer. It was a somewhat chilly night, and a blanket she made covered my shoulders. We were sipping warm wine from crystal glasses just sprung from their packing crate, and talking about nothing in particular, when she turned to me with her big green eyes and tilted her beautiful head.
“I was just thinking.”
“Seriously, you can’t change your mind on the bathroom again.” I had painted that bathroom four times, once in primer, then in some shade of orange, and then twice in light blue. Bathrooms and kitchens are a bear to paint.
She didn’t laugh, and I was already figuring out how much primer I’d need in my head.
“Someone is needed to slay the dragons,” she finally said, “and you’re my favorite dragon slayer. I just love the passion you bring to everything you do.”
It was, far and away, the best compliment I have ever received. I remembered then what my sister said to me so many years ago, and when I told Dorothea the story she laughed. “Control your passion. As if. I can’t even fathom that possibility in you.”
Did I say Venus Redux? I meant Redone. Rebirthed. Healed. I took home a quart of Lentil soup, a hand-knit blanket, and an abundance of refreshed Amazon pride — even if my shoes were untied and my clothes were covered in paint.