Looking for Ryan by Colette Rosenberg
 “Let’s make a list of everything we want to do. So we’ll go for long walks in the morning, sit by the fire, maybe even start watching some Christmas movies?” Talking to my older sister Ryan on the phone makes me feel like I am putting my ear up to a seashell or my face near a fireplace. It emits a sense of life that I don’t find in anyone else. Even though Thanksgiving break was a week away, and she would only be home for five nights, she was already planning the best way to spend them. Ryan is a planner. Not in the annoying way where everything has to be perfect; she just likes life too much to waste it. She keeps a ragged notebook. It’s yellow on the outside with papers bursting out of it. In high school Ryan was always in the school library, brown hair cascading down her shoulders, jean jacket on and wide-rimmed tortoise shell glasses framing her eyes, writing in that little notebook, jotting down the things that most people choose to overlook. It’s the type of notebook that you see and immediately want to open because you know it holds enticing secrets-- like Pandora’s box. Last year, when she was starting her first year in college, she called me frantically. “Co, you know my notebook? The yellow one I always write in? Please tell me it’s on your bookshelf.” I guess it wasn’t that secretive since I was asked to check up on it, but still I felt like a trespasser opening it. I flipped through the pages and saw poems that she’d written at Poetry Club when she was in high school. It was the same club that I went to. We both sat on the same quad, in the same semicircle, with the same people, writing many times about the same family and house, yet her words were silky and complex. Mine were stiff and expected. Our realities shared the same context, but we didn’t share the same perspective. Amongst the poetry, sketches, notes and to-do lists that line its pages is a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, which she wrote down: “no one suspects the days to be gods.” I first heard this quote around my dinner table. She said that she couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was always surprised by how taken aback Ryan was by Emerson’s words. I understood the power in their message, but the irony was that although those words were new to Ryan, the meaning behind them was not. For as long as I can remember she has lived by them. I guess that just now, having them down on paper, it all finally made sense to her. We talked about it when getting washed up before bed. I began to realize that I, too, was thinking about Emerson’s words. Or his words and Ryan, as I tried to compile clues to support my theory that Emerson’s quote has always fueled Ryan’s actions. Ryan’s flossing was my first clue. Ryan always flosses, but that night the act seemed even more prominent. Even when her two front teeth were gapped, ever since Ryan was a little girl, the notion that simply flossing could increase one’s life expectancy and prevent heart issues won her over and convinced her that the allotted thirty seconds were worth making a habit of. It made sense. I knew that by doing so she could feel her body thanking her and picture her life extending. I felt like she was looking down on me, not able to understand why even after being told countless times by the nurse at the dentist that “I’m too old not to floss, if anything this is the time to do it for future health benefits” I brush my teeth until the toothpaste bubbles over and trails down my lips, wash my face and call it a night. “No one suspects the days to be gods. Do you think it’s gods with an apostrophe or gods plural?” she asked, looking at me in the bathroom mirror. I thought gods plural, but mostly because she thought gods plural. The truth was that I didn’t know. None of us knew because none of us are of the same making as she. My brother Tony jokes that Ryan is “like a little fairy.” I’ve heard my mom jokingly ask, “Where did she come from?” when she sees Ryan and my younger sister Georgia both lying on the ground laughing with one another. My mom can’t believe that they are six years apart. When Ryan ruins my descent into a full sleep as she climbs into my bed and declares, “tell me a story,” I can’t believe it either. When she calls me on the phone and complains that “she doesn’t get to sing enough in college” or when I find her and my mom after dinner dancing around the kitchen’s island to Barry White, I am reminded of Ryan’s youthful nature. Even as a nineteen-year-old in college, Ryan exhibits an innocence that reminds us all that there is value in the fact that we are simply living. To Ryan, there is something magical about life. When Georgia was little, Ryan used to tell her that she came from fairies. She’d point at a tree, finger aiming straight for the middle of its bark, place her arm around Georgia’s shoulders, framing her bowed headband and shiny bobbed hair, and whisper amidst laughter, “You see that tree, George? That’s where you came from. A little fairy family.” She’d then hold Georgia’s face to hers, melting their cheeks into one. When she was a senior in high school Ryan drove us all to school every morning. She’d sit behind the wheel as the golden light created a halo out of her rich brown hair. The rest of us sat slouched in our passenger seats, Tony half asleep and Georgia emptily staring into the window’s glass. Quoting the television show Girls she’d exclaim, “It’s Tuesday, baby, and I’m alive” or ask us what the day held for us. “A math test, history and English,” I blankly responded. Tony replied with a grunt and Georgia, the only one bold enough to shatter Ryan’s euphoria, threw the question back at her. “What’s the best part of your day??” she mockingly asked. Georgia’s point was well taken, yet Ryan wasn’t backing down. “Well, I have English and then I have frees and then Poetry Club and math,” she happily replied. There was something nice about Ryan asking. Ryan always said that it made her sad seeing a family all on their phones or a couple out for dinner not speaking. She was determined to make sure that we’d never be like that. As the oldest, having us all contained in the car, she felt a sense of responsibility to be motherly and make sure that we were taking advantage of the time we had with one another. When we weren’t all talking, Ryan settled for playing music. I scrolled station to station until I could hear her singing along under her breath. There was one song that she always had us play. It’s called “Cut Here” by the Cure. By the end of the year, we all knew the lyrics to it. It probably was pretty funny how we all sang along in a chorus, but I knew it made Ryan happy, like she had left her mark. The ultimate moment was when Tony said that he downloaded the song on his iPod-- that’s when I knew Ryan felt fulfilled. That song sometimes plays on shuffle when my mom is driving us. As soon as it starts, you can feel everyone hesitate. We usually switch songs, making an undeclared agreement that we can’t listen to it without Ryan. “Cut Here” became the theme song not only for those car rides but for that period in my life, when Ryan was a senior and I was a sophomore. It felt wrong playing it any other time. This year it accidentally came on when I was driving everyone to school. I felt like someone was manipulating me, taking two distinct time periods and braiding them together. It made me feel sick and nostalgic. But mostly sick. I made myself fully grasp how I am the one now sitting behind the wheel. Tony sits in the passenger seat, and Georgia in the back. I usually bring up the weather or how tired I am. Sometimes I talk to Tony about how the Bulls did in the game last night, but besides that I don’t push it. It’s usually pretty silent. I tell myself that silence is good. “We’re all always so busy talking and working, maybe it’s nice to have thirty-five minutes of nothing,” I think. But I know that I am only justifying it this way to make myself feel better because I know that if Ryan were to look into one of our morning car rides, it would make her sad, just like seeing that married couple not speaking at dinner. When Ryan came home for Thanksgiving with her roommate Becca, she brought the same spirit that defines her. Thanksgiving morning she sprang out of bed at 7 am for breakfast and a walk with my mom. They often go on hour-long walks, taking long swinging strides and extending their limbs just like Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of a man. She always says, “I feel like I’m walking on air. When you’re walking and you can’t get into it there’s nothing worse, but when you get a rhythm there’s nothing better.” I sometimes go with them too, but it’s really always been their thing. The summer before Ryan left for college there was a lot of crying. We cried together, because she didn’t want to go and I didn’t want her to go. I cried alone, because I knew that I would miss her. I dreaded the moment at sleepovers when the lights were off and you never knew if the other person really wanted to talk or just wanted to go to bed, but with Ryan that moment was my favorite. I knew it would be the time I’d miss most with her, when we’d lie in bed and talk. When I was little and too scared to sleep in my own room, I slept in hers. When I was older and no longer scared, I still slept in hers. Permanently settling in my room for the night, without having Ryan across the hall is something I still am not used to. And when she calls or texts me each day, checking up on me and everyone else, I know that her distance from home may never be comfortable for her. I knew that when Ryan left, I wouldn’t be able to fill her void. “I can’t give Mom what you give her,” I told Ryan one day. I feared life without her. I know that when my mom yells upstairs to me to look out my window “the moon is amazing tonight” or when she asks me to go for a walk with her and I tell her “I can’t. I have too much work,” she’s looking for Ryan. The other night I walked past Ryan’s room. It’s the same as when she left it, fully decorated with blue and white tree wallpaper lining her walls. “Isn’t it very Matisse?” she always says. The bed is fully made and pictures still line her desk, but there is something sad about it. The curtains are pulled down, emitting a gray-yellow tint throughout the room. Walking by it made me feel like I was in a movie where the teenager dies and the parents keep his or her room the same. Though dramatic, there may be some truth to that analogy. Maybe the room looked like it was in mourning because it missed Ryan’s spirit. Ever since she left, it’s felt like a light or an energy has died, and I think we all miss it. I realize that when I do homework in her room or look through her closet, I too am looking for Ryan.