It makes no sense that Susan Mary Eilers Poynter and I should have a wonderful relationship. Sue, whom I affectionately call “Swis,” has every right to hold against me the punk of a little brother that I was.
I am writing today what is long overdue. Over the months, I have told you about a few people who have been important to me, especially since I revealed my gender dysphoria. My Swis has been on my mind to write about, but I have failed to find that hook on which I love to hang an essay. Dumb me, the hook has been there all along.
The hook is that I am hooked on her, and she on me.
It wasn’t always that way.
In the house of our youth, the five of us kids were divided into the older two and the younger three. Sue was second of the older two. I was the oldest of the three, called “the little boys.”
Swis, three years my senior, encountered the big changes brought by high school life when I was in middle school and very much the little boy. I did not identify with her. I had a “meh” attitude toward her. Both of my older siblings were foreigners to me in many ways, but I did get into the cool music they played.
I did a number of pesky little brother things to Swis. The worst was when she had a friend over on a nice summer evening. I suppose she was seventeen, making me fourteen. The two girls were running around our house. I was near the street with a friend. We had been throwing a Frisbee. I turned the Frisbee into a scoop. Gathering some of the sandy dirt next to the street, I walked to the corner of the house and lay in wait.
You guessed what came next. When Sue turned the corner I threw the dirt at her. “I just washed my hair, you little creep!” I can still hear her. Boy, was she angry. Boy, was she right to be angry.
Boy, did I feel like the creep that I was.
When Swis took home economics, things began to turn around. The day she made the donuts that Mrs. Mason had taught the class, O the joy! Sue also got into making Christmas cookies and candies. She became the “fudge gal” from her mastery of the chewy treat.
Her peanut butter fudge cannot be beat.
When she got married, I was eighteen. I served as an usher. She and I were turning the corner. We were becoming friends.
The Poynters made their new home just north of Montague. Their place became a fave spot for playing cards. Soon and wonderfully, Cara was welcomed as the first grandchild to our parents, then too soon Swis was divorced.
She moved into town. After I and my budding family moved into our remodeled house on the south side of Montague, Sue and Cara moved into an apartment one block away.
We enjoyed the proximity, but things quickly went south for Sue’s health. We learned of Sue’s condition, which is so horrible that I liken it to my gender dysphoria in that a person would never wish it on her worst enemy. Sue’s is Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ. The problem arises with how the jawbone and muscles work together, or, rather, do not. As with many things, it begins slowly, but when it reaches a certain stage, it becomes debilitating.
There is no effective treatment or surgery. Indeed, surgery often exacerbates it (ask Sue). Pain becomes so severe, so constant, simply making it through the day is a full time job and every night is overtime. Holding a paying job becomes an impossibility.
When my beloved sister was not yet forty years old, she became home bound.
Try to imagine becoming a shut-in when you are in your 30s. Go ahead, try it. If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, try it. You, in your 70s, you try it, too.
You can’t do it. Oh, you can daydream about it. You can try to picture yourself building a routine, but the routine becomes a rut, then a ditch, then a canyon, and you yearn to bust out of it. Being an always-in-pain shut-in when a young adult is like trying to fathom eternity in hell: It has to end some time, right? Nope. It’s eternity, you idiot.
Sue’s life became one of pain management. Most of you know a bit about what pain meds do. That flighty feeling? Dizziness? Nausea? Ups and downs and turnarounds? How shall they affect thee? Let me count the daze.
I will not paint her a hero with no weaknesses. She a regular person, after all. There was a time she wanted it all to end (I hear you, Swis). She came back from that with gusto. I am pleased to tell you that she has shown me a strength of character which has helped me in my own struggle. She carved a life, a life worth living.
A life worth our having her with us.
Some years ago, Cara moved back in with Sue. As Cara works at both a job and her master’s degree, Sue takes care of the apartment and as much as she can with cooking. And for me—well, here’s the reason I have longed to write this tribute.
Sue became my friend in a way that too few people ever enjoy a friend.
Fast forward to April 1, 2014. I sat in my sister’s living room and told her everything she never knew about the little brother whom she thought she knew so well.
She would not stop crying. She felt my pain so deeply, experiencing it in a way that only she could feel—the only person on earth who is my close relative who shares a similar enough experience of long-term struggle.
I told Sue that I was writing a book. “Email it to me.” I sent her a chapter or two a day. Everyone else who got started reading it got tired after a few chapters, never requesting more. Not my Swis. She ate it up. She became a student of transgender issues.
Every morning, she and I type-chat via Skype. Simply having her there is so wonderful. Most days, we do nothing more than act like two siblings who love being silly. We burn up their menu of emojis. We keep up on family news. We share our joys and woes.
But, some days, she saves me from myself. Too many of our chats have had me in total meltdown, bawling to the point of not knowing how I am going to make it to the next hour, with Julie at work so I am all alone in the house. Every time—Every. Single. Time.—my beloved Swis has talked me through it. She patiently lets me get it out. She asks me pertinent questions so that I can examine the situation. She offers insightful suggestions. And, best of all, she simply loves me through the moment.
If you pay attention to her on Facebook, you notice how upbeat she is. This is my Swis! She views life from the optimistic side. She laughs at the silly side. She fries her eggs on the sunny side.
She finds the good where too many only throw up their hands and walk away, and this despite a health situation which never improves, which often has her head in a vise.
She was able to find the good in her brat of a little brother.
Even accepting me as her new-found sister.
Can you imagine that? I sure could not, but I am living it. She accepts me as Gina—her Gigi—and doesn’t even freak out that we look a lot alike.
Now that’s love. That’s my sister. My Swis.
I love you, Swis. Where would I be without you?