I have a friend whose father once told her, ‘You need to have someone in your life who you can call, in the middle of the night, and ask for ten thousand dollars, no questions asked.’
Someone, in other words, who would do anything for you, and hold that secret for you –without judgement – forever. And presumably, you should be that person for someone else, too.
Are you someone’s lifeline? Who is yours? Who is your person?
Many of us tell our partners, our best friends, our siblings, that we would do anything for them: take a bullet, bury a body, break them out of prison, keep their darkest secret – you name it, we’d do it, in our fantasies of to-the-death loyalty.
Shakespeare says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” There’s a reason that this bon mot from Hamlet is one of The Bard’s most famous. We know, not only from Shakespearean family tragedies, but from our own lives, that sometimes debt has a scorpion’s tail that can snap back and sting you.
We will do anything for each other today, but what about tomorrow?
What happens a month after your person bails you out? Are they still thinking about it? Maybe they are proud of themselves, maybe they are still thinking that they would do it again, in a second. Maybe they are still basking in the sun of your gratitude. Maybe they are just a little bit smug. Maybe, also, they sense the shift, that feeling that in spite of the stress and the guilt, they now have something they would never voice aloud: the upper hand.
We all think we would do anything for our person. What I am interested in, and what drove my writing, was seeking the answer to: What happens After?
What do you think would happen to your relationship, if it had been pushed to the limit, when you tried to return to normal? What would happen the first time you didn’t have time for your person? Or couldn’t help them out for some small favour?
What happens when the itchiness, the incessant presence of what you asked of them, gets under their collar? Keeps them up at night? Makes them wonder, in their darkest heart, ‘would they have done the same for me?’
The answer, we hope, is of course. Of course we would.
But what if they actually needed to ask?
In Sister of Mine, there are two main characters, and they are sisters: Penny and Hattie. There is a fire, and Penny’s terrible husband, Buddy, is killed. Now typically, this would be a big spoiler. This is a thriller, a suspense! Don’t tell us what happens!
But here, the death happens on the first page. This is not, in fact, a ‘Who Dunnit’, but a ‘What’s Next?’ What will this secret do to the sisters? What will they ask of each other?
Penny and Hattie are each other’s people, their Ride or Die Bitches, held together with a bond of love and sisterhood that nothing can break. Or at least, that nothing can break all at once. But perhaps the strain of everyday, the weight of unsolvable problems or long-held debts, make hairline cracks that threaten the strength of even our deepest and closest relationships.
Could you stand it? Could you do it, knowing that your life, and your relationship, would always be different? Maybe it would make it all the stronger. Maybe Shakespeare was wrong.
What would be your limit? Where would you draw the line, or would the line, perhaps, just keep moving? Because maybe the ultimate favour or lifeline is not the thing done or learned under cover of darkness, but reconciling a life completely altered, and a relationship forever changed.
Secrets and crimes done by best friends, gang-members, and siblings has a long, and arguably masculine tradition: it is where we find stories like The Godfather, with all of its familial obligation and debt. What we don’t see a lot of is female characters taking and pushing one another to their limits in the name of friendship or family, and nor do we see much of the other side of the action, of what happens a day, a month, and a year afterwards. A phone call, a getaway car, gun shots: we recognize these as symptoms of lifeline stories. What about the woman who has to take her child to daycare with the weight of a terrible secret on her mind? These are the characters I what to know about; these are the characters I know.