Recently I was at a Guinness World Record museum, astounded that there could be so much record-breaking boring stuff. Take the world record for a split hair. There is actually, framed in glass, a single strand of human hair that is sporting, literally, the world’s worst split end. I would mistake it for the world’s tiniest tassel if not for the fact that such a thing probably already exists in one of the other bazillion Guinness World Record museums. In fact, this museum chain probably breaks the world record for the most world-record museums, and any one of them would tie with total hell for the world-record-breaking place I’d most hate to spend the day.
Sixteen times, by the way. The record for splitting a single hair is sixteen times. It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but at the time, with the lighting and the framing, they certainly made it seem like one.
I would not have been in the museum at all but for the fact that my daughter and I were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, meeting my sister’s family halfway on their way to visit us in Atlanta. They love Gatlinburg, with all its steak buffets and knife-centric novelty stores and vendor booths selling black-bear chainsaw sculptures. I hate the place for the same reasons. We spent the evening at a magic show in nearby Pigeon Forge, for example, where the magician performed feats that would easily astound anyone who has been blind since birth, all the while lecturing us on Christian mores. The only thing that made it bearable for me was the look of joy on my sister’s face. At least I fared better than my other sister, Cheryl, would have. If she were there, I’m pretty sure she would have taken hostages.
Today my sister Cheryl owns a bar in Nicaragua and my sister Kim practices law outside Dayton and I write books in Atlanta. That’s a lot of distance between us. Especially considering our childhoods, when the three of us were tight as twine, what with our constant moving from state to state due to our mother’s penchant for building bombs. Our family wasn’t running to escape the government, but rather to meet the demands of it, and with every new weapons contract my mother acquired there came a new location and a new school. The bond with my sisters simply tightened with the litany of unfamiliarity.
I wish I could tell you where we split, but I can’t remember exactly, except I remember when my sister Cheryl was sixteen, she started dating the fry cook at the coffee shop where she waited tables, and I rarely saw her after that. I started college and she didn’t and that was that. Then my younger sister met a South African man of Swiss heritage, married him in her early twenties, got religion and I didn’t, and that was that. I got a job with the airlines, spent most of my time flying to Europe rather than visiting my sisters, and that was that. At the time none of it seemed like a big deal, but framed in history I see it really didn’t take much to split us up. Before we knew it we were miles and miles and miles apart.
But we come from the same strand, and it didn’t take much to get us back together, either. In a lot of cases it was simply a matter of meeting each other halfway. For example, I now say grace with my younger sister, but then I’ll complain about saying grace with my younger sister to my older sister. I consider that my part in the connective tissue keeping us all together. My younger sister harangues me to use my flight benefits to fly my older sister out to stay with her, then they’ll both complain to me about the impositions of the other during the visit. And the two of them together probably complain about me, although I’m no longer partial to Bacardi and acrobatic sex with professional soccer players, so I can’t say what fault they’d target these days.
All I can say is that all this concern and complaining does not split us apart. On the contrary, it keeps us together—to the point where I’ll find myself in a place I never thought I’d ever be, with my sister staring at a split hair framed in glass, suddenly aware that splitting hairs has destroyed plenty of families in the past, and suddenly very happy that for whatever reason it didn’t destroy ours. It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but at the time, with the lighting and framing, it certainly seemed like one to me.