While cleaning out the south garden at my house, I discovered this really interesting type of rock. They were cylindrical, ash white and brittle. I was prepping the soil to plant a variety of draught-resistant perennials and I wanted to make sure the soil was clear of any rocks and debris. For about 30 minutes, I kept finding these little dried out stones and was wondering what kind of rock they were. It wasn’t until I crushed one in my bare hand did I realize these were no average rocks.
They were cat turds.
After the prerequisite amount of dry heaving, I got back to work with gloves on. Some feral cat had been using my garden as a litter box and I paid the price for not setting my dogs to attack mode. It’s funny how some random disgusting moment can bring back one of my fondest memories. I had just finished my first year at the University of Nevada Reno and was set to go home back to Las Vegas for the summer. Instead of heading south immediately, I was going to take a ten day road trip with my sister, Tee, back to her school in Eugene Oregon. I bought a bus ticket to Davis California, where we were going to drive up to the University of Oregon and spend some time together before she finished her first year.
By all accounts, it sounded like a good idea until you get on the bus with nothing more than a backpack filled with junk food and a Tom Robbin’s novel. Cell phones were non-existent for the criminally poor in 1993 and we only had a general idea of where we were going to meet. By shear lunacy and luck, I ran into her outside one of the dormitories on UC Davis’ campus. Not having any money for a room, we drove around looking for a place to camp out eventually deciding on a grove of shrubs hidden behind a maintenance shed. Trying to get comfortable, Tee said the place smelt funny. I told her it should—this is where cats go to screw. Laughing ourselves to sleep, we spent the next week catching up on the first year we had spent apart from each other.
Tee was born Elizabeth Raskin thirteen months after me. She got her nickname, Tee, from me because when I was three, my front four teeth were pulled out because they were rotting out of my head. Too much grape juice and not enough Colgate. Not having teeth to train my tongue to pronounce soft syllables, saying Elizabeth came out at best as “Eh-wiss-ee-beat.” Mercifully, I eventually just called her “the” baby and “the” became Tee. It became her moniker until she entered medical school.
It took time for us to become friends. Tee was so draw-dropping smart as kid that she skipped the second grade and joined me in the third. Very quickly I learned what it was like to be the slow Raskin. When she was learning how to speak Spanish, I was learning not to eat paste. Eager, smart and driven at an early age benefitted Tee in so many ways. There was nothing she couldn’t do. Athletically gifted and smart, she ran circles around everybody. I was a lisping, stuttering fat kid who pretended to be a combination of Indiana Jones and Tony Gwynn while Tee was trying to cure cancer. Not the easiest way to get out of the gate as a kid.
It was stressful having this girl savant in the house. It became bad enough for me that after the 6th grade, we went to separate junior high schools. At Garside, I grew a little more confident with myself while Tee continued her excellence at Hyde Park. I think the three years away from each other bonded us together. Not burdened with competing with her, I was able to put down the jar of paste and get to work. We started talking with each other, supporting one another and becoming friends.
Having a sister like Tee did the opposite of discouraging me – it drove me. Without Tee in my life, I would never have considered going to college. Having a little sister that excelled at anything she attempted forced me to take harder classes in high school. She was a pace car for me to follow. I knew I wasn’t going to beat her but I worked hard not to get lapped by her. And somewhere in this dynamic a friendship developed. We were taking a lot of the same classes, hanging out with the same people and spending a lot of time together. I can remember sitting at the kitchen table in high school, our books spread out and trying to finish our homework and spending the entire night making fun of our classmates. These were the best times.
Along the way, we started getting into trouble with each other. We “borrowed” my mother’s car to go to Pasadena to help decorate for the Tournament of Roses. Taking a small detour home, we drove to Tempe AZ to watch Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers play. We’d sneak out of the house and cruise the Vegas Strip, go to friends’ houses and run rampant at the local golf courses at midnight. We started listen to music together, trading books and talking all of the time. She became my co-conspirator, confidant and best friend.
I think that is what made graduation so challenging. I was off to Reno and she to Eugene. For the first time in years, we weren’t going to be side-by-side and I was just as nervous about this as attempting school. We said our good-byes and promised to keep in touch. I can’t put too fine of a point on this one fact: cell phones were not as readily available and affordable as they are now. We would burn through pre-paid phone cards and rack up incredible phone bills talking as if we lived across the street. My mother paid the brunt of these bills and to her, I am both indebted and thankful.
So, when I had the chance to hook up with Tee after my first year, I jumped at it. Getting dropped off at a Greyhound Bus Station in Davis with only a miniscule drop of hope that we were going to find each other was enough incentive to take the trip. In the end, it turned out to be a great trip and a needed reprieve from college.
Time moved on and so did our relationship. I found my voice at Nevada and Tee was on the fast track to medical school. After graduation, we both ended up back in Las Vegas. Of all places, she was accepted to UNR’s School of Medicine and she asked me for a last hurrah to help her move up to my old town. I rented a U-Haul van and trailer hitch for her beat-up Honda Civic. We were leaving in the middle of August and I was nervous about the truck overheating hauling her car. Driving as slow as we could through the Nevada heat, I spent the entire drive with an eye on the thermometer. I probably should have kept a better eye on the fuel gauge. About 45 miles outside of Goldfield Nevada, we were on the side of the road, taking her Honda off the hitch and sending Tee off to fetch gas with less than an 1/8th fuel in the lifeboat.
I stayed with the truck in the Nevada desert to protect it from thieving cars. For a couple of hours, I waited in the dark for Tee to return. Remember no cell phones? Well, that definitely comes into play when all you see are rattlesnakes and the cast from The Hills Have Eyes. She eventually returned, we put a couple of gallons into the U-Haul and coasted into Goldfield on fumes. One of the worst road trips I have ever been on is now one of my favorite memories.
Tee went on to med school and I went to Salt Lake. Once again, we were on our own but we still had long phone calls and occasional family vacations. We stayed in touch as best as we could but life has a way of getting in the way. Tee went her way and I went mine but I have never forgotten those great and wild times we had together. We went on adventures that we shouldn’t have and came back barely scathed. We did it not because it is right but because at that moment even in frightening youth you know that life is fleeting. There are only so many chances to do something with limited danger that seems so incredibly stupid in retrospect. Seizing a moment to do something barbarically idiotic is amazing and when it is done with your little sister, it is incredible. Tee and I have had hundreds of great adventures ranging from absconding my grandmothers car in San Diego to go to Sherman Oaks to see Guns ‘n Roses play in a bowling alley to logging countless nights at the kitchen table talking about anything and everyone.
We used to joke that the only guys she could date were professional athletes, U.S. Senators or astronauts. In the end, she did better than that. She met her husband, Ryan. Ryan is equally dynamic as my sister is. He is a school teacher, amateur astronomer, brewer of bio-diesel and a winner of an episode of Fear Factor. You couldn’t have scripted a better couple. They married a couple of years ago and on Thursday, June 30 2011, they welcomed their son Henry Davis Rettke into the world. Both mother and son are doing great. Incredible! Tee is a mother.
I never thought she would have kids. I never thought that she had the time and I never thought throughout all of those late nights talking about nothing in particular that she would have a son. It is definitely an “a-ha” moment when you think how far we’ve come since that kitchen table in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Obviously, her life is changed forever and in a small way, so is mine. The same person who I chauffeured throughout high school now has to look forward to all of the wonderment of parenthood.
Not that she hasn’t had any practice. And Henry Makes Three is not an accurate depiction of Tee’s family. Ryan has a son from a previous marriage named Jacob. It doesn’t get said nearly enough but one of the nicest things about Tee marrying Ryan is that I immediately got a new nephew. Jake is a great kid and I know he will make a great older brother to Henry.
The best part of Tee’s pregnancy has been the last three weeks. Somehow, we were able to go back in time to those great phone calls and catch up. And like all great friends, we picked up exactly where we left off. Time has only improved our relationship and I think time speaking with her has given more insight to the depth of our friendship.
So, raise a glass to Tee and Ryan and their new son, Henry. My kid sister has a baby boy and I couldn’t be happier or prouder of her. I have had a privileged perspective on her life. From my angle, I have watched a special girl grow up into an amazing woman. Every challenge has been conquered and this new phase in her life will be no exception.