Dec. 2002

An Older Sister

Katrina was multi-handicapped, but she was there before I was born. She was always a part of my life. Her blue eyes seemed her most prominent feature, but she never looked directly at me. Her reverse tunnel vision caused this. There was also her wheelchair and her diapers. I never found any of it odd and never questioned it.
Her hands were thin and long, skeleton hands that groped about or were just set in an awkward pile. She had no fine motor skills and her hands moved in jerks and starts. Her greatest skill with those hands was eating Cheetos Cheese Puff. She would look at them with the sides of her eyes and jerk her arm until her clumsy fingers were over one of the bright orange curls. Those fingers would grip the Cheeto gracelessly and bring it, in quick jolts, towards her mouth. Sometimes she was off and had to do more hit and misses. The orange Puff would almost always reach her mouth. If not, she would patiently try again. Whenever it didn't get all the way into her mouth, Katrina would forgo the use of her fingers and shove it in with the back of her wrist.
My older sister could not speak, but she could express. One of my favorite expressions was her crooked smile. They were always genuine, those smiles. They always rose up higher on the right side then the left. Her laugh was like bubbles in a spring. Her smile would grow and shine in her eyes. Then, her laughter would rise in short bursts that ended in a sigh; only to rise again. She would roll her eyes sometimes or throw back her head for a louder, longer laugh. I do miss her smile.
I remember her frustration too, a burning fury at her inabilities but more important her willingness to try again. Once she grabbed my hair, close to the scalp. I yelled more in surprise then in pain and Mom, who was always around, grabbed Trina's bony wrist. Mom spoke calmly and sternly.
"Katrina, let go of Sheena's Hair." I didn't move, but just watched. I saw her past my arms, holding my hair to my head with one of Mom's hands, and Mom's other hand holding Katrina's arm still. I felt her arm jerk, then saw her other hand open, clench, then the fingers spread. My Mom repeated the instructions and then it dawned on me how little control my sister had over her own body.
"Katrina. Let go of Sheena." Katrina's head went back against the head pad of her chair. She yelled her frustration, kicked out her leg, and suddenly let go. Mom moved me a few steps away as I babbled that it happened so unexpectedly, and that I wasn't hurt. Mom fixed the pigtail and watched as I went back over to that big blue wheelchair.
"I'm alright Trina. I know you didn't mean to." I told her. I gave her a hug and smiled. She looked at me with the sides of her eyes, and grinned back.
There is a picture that Mom drew in college when Trina was 14. I saw it last week while we were moving into our new house. A path leads up from the bottom right-hand corner and across to the left until it disappears deeper in the forest. My sister, thin and bony, is walking carefully up that path. Her short, curly brown hair pulled up in her customary ponytail. At the start of the path rested her blue wheelchair, her old red backpack's straps looped over the handlebars.
She died at the hospital eight years ago, at the age of 16. Life has changed a lot since her passing, but as Mom says, "Katrina made me who I am."


Sheena, my now oldest granddaughter, had been asked to give an essay on a person who had made a great influence on her life. Katrina died in 1995, just one week short of her 16th birthday. Sheena was 10 at the time. Since then she has grown up to be a very sensitive, nurturing young woman. She is now 19 and attending college majoring in Manual Communications (Sign Language).

July 2004