Chocolate Chips

The Cast: Erin (my oldest sister).

I miss my sister.

I miss her, so very much.

Growing up with one older brother and two sisters was pretty nice. Especially when one of them is pretty close to perfect. That was Erin. This is not meant to be a disparaging comment on her personality. This is a compliment. She didn’t strive for it. She just did everything in a calculating and exacting manner. She wasn’t pressured to act that way, she just was precise. It came to her naturally.

Here’s an example of her natural inclination for perfection. Once, Erin entered the local county fair with a hand-sewn quilt. Every part of it was hand-stitched. The individual smaller pieces were all hand-sewn. Those parts were hand-sewn together. Those sections were sewn together by hand. And, the whole thing was connected with carefully measured hand-stitches. She did not tie it or anything like that, it was all hand-sewn. I know this because her room was right next to mine—at the time—and I witnessed the slow evolution of the entire endeavor. It was—to say the least—very impressive.

Anyway, my sister was disqualified because she (as the judges claimed) had used a sewing machine. Despite the fact that the entire family could verify that it was hand sewn—from start to finish—the judges did not believe that any person could sew that consistently even by hand. They did not believe it to be humanly possible. It is (I saw it). Erin was that precise. Her hand stitching was perfect. Perfect. She could make an idealised perfectionist look like a lazy, no-good slob—but without all the self-induced mental stresses that come with trying to be perfect. Again, it came to her, naturally.

One of my family’s favorite things that Erin would often do, was make cookies. My mother was/is a good cook. I loved the way my mother made pot roast. But, somewhere along life’s way my sister took over the making of the cookies. She just did it better than mom did. Mom said so (and she was right).

Peanut butter cookies are divine. But, not just anybody’s peanut butter cookies. Sorry, you all do it wrong. I know, I know. Everyone thinks their own cookies are the best. They’re wrong, you’re wrong. My sister did something that just made them, well, perfect. They were never burnt. Heck, they weren’t ever slightly overcooked. They were never undercooked either. They were sized just big enough to require a few bites, but you could also just put the whole thing in your mouth (if it was big enough, your mouth that is—mine was). They were cooked to perfection. Always.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention about the construction of those yummy peanut butter cookies. I don’t know if it is a common thing to apply a criss-cross/tic-tac-toe style pattern on their tops using a fork, or not. If not, you’re missing out. It’s like that is the signature look for peanut butter cookies (at least as far as I have ever seen, but I am open to the option that others do it wrong). The marks were always centered, perfectly. This is one area where she actually did make efforts to make anything she did perfect. I once caught her ‘erasing’ the marks she had just made, and remaking the new marks, because they weren’t centered enough. It was funny. When she had flattened the cookie the dough-ball rolled. That’s why she fixed it.

So, yeah, lot’s of background. I guess I really wanted you to be aware of how awesome my sister was. I was thinking about her the other day because my wife was making chocolate chip cookies with our youngest and it reminded me of my sister. In all the wonderfully perfect things that my sister did, her chocolate chip cookies were the epitome of her perfection. Walking into the kitchen and finding her (at any stage) in the process of baking chocolate chip cookies made any day the best. day. EVER!

Erin would mix the dough, and then roll the perfectly measured bits of dough into a cube (I know what I wrote). Next, she would add the six chocolate chips onto one of each of the six sides of the cube and then reroll them into a ball in her hands. Her logic—which was proven true—was that six chocolate chips were the perfect amount for every cookie (given the size). With six chocolate chips, when cooked, the chips always evenly distributed themselves so that each bite always had a chocolate chip. And, she was correct.

These cookies were also perfectly baked. Subtly golden-brown on the bottom. Lovely color across the top. No weird cracks or wrinkles. Chocolate chips evenly distributed. They were also almost-perfect circles (without her trying). They were the greatest thing the world had to offer. And, my sister was responsible for that. Yes, they would take hours to make, but she felt they were worth it—and the rest of us were okay with her decision. They were worth it.

I know that it may sound selfish (I don’t mean it to), but sometimes I wished all she would do was make cookies. Her peanut butters were better than anyone else’s I have ever tasted—and I have tried a lot because everyone always says, “Oh, well, you haven’t tried mine.” (they’re never as good. never!) And, her chocolate chip cookies were like a million times better than those!

Erin, as a baby, had a bad reaction to her polio vaccine—it damaged her brain. From then on, she had seizures. If you know anyone that has seizures or similar challenges, then you can understand how frustrating life can be for them. No driving (for one thing), unpredictable well… everything. I once had to hold my sister’s arm (with every ounce of strength I had) to keep her from stabbing herself while she seized. Exhausting. Yeah, unpredictable challenges.

Years passed, and Erin adapted. Perfectly.

After each seizure, she would take a moment to ‘fix’ herself. She would brush through her hair. Wipe any drool from her lips and chin. Straighten her clothes. Tidy up her surrounding area. All while still in the ‘fog’ of the after-seizure. Then, we would just wait for her to fully come around. We knew she was ‘back’ because it was always the same thing: A quick inhale of breath and several rapid eye blinkings. Those rapid eye blinkings told us she was for sure back with us.

Eventually, our family found some doctors that thought they could ‘cure’ the seizure issue. Erin, being tired of years of medications and life-frustrations, agreed. It did look promising.

They cut open her skull, froze her brain, cut out the chunk they thought was the damaged portion, put the brain back, closed up the skull, and viola! Fixed.

Nope.

There are things about the human brain that doctors still don’t understand, yet we mess with it all the time. My point is this: We (people and/or doctors) may not know much about the human brain, but I now know where emotions are kept. When the doctors cut out that chunk of my sister’s brain, that’s what they took: Her emotions. Erin still has seizures, but she has no emotion anymore.

Compared to my sister Mr. Spock (Star Trek) looks like an uncontrollable fountain of emotional upheavals. Or something like that. It’s bad. A toaster gives off more warmth than my sister.

Yeah, I know that sounds harsh, maybe even brutal. But it doesn’t change the truth.

On a positive note, she has been married for some time to a really grand guy, and together they have raised a beautifully wonderful daughter. However, Erin has steadily become more and more sterile in her ability to emote. Perfect.

I miss my sister. I miss the warm, energetic, seizing-life-by-the-throat sister. She was a marvelous gymnast, a powerful ballerina, a talented cheerleader, an amazing seamstress, and so much more. I miss the sister whose love for people and life emanated from her very eyes and smile. Now, after all the medications and the brain surgery, her eyes are cold, void of energy, and almost all personality. And that smile… Well, it’s just a line on her face now. It’s sad. She’s still a good person, but everything is so black and white with her. Stuff is or it isn’t, life is now just absolutes. That is not easy to work with. And again, the seizures never went away. The doctors missed…

It may sound strange and selfish (it’s not meant to be), but now, whenever I see chocolate chips, I think of chocolate chip cookies. Then I think of my sister. All the love and care she put into something as simple as a cookie, just to make others happy and feel special. I miss those cookies.

I miss my sister.

I miss her, so very much.

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