This morning, though, I am confident that my sister is sleeping, a deep sleep. Her tightly wound high-octane energy has meant that when she is on the road, she sometimes needs a sleep aid. But who can blame her? She's now a superstar, a legend, one of the universe's most famous women, and in just eleven and a half hours seventy-five thousand fans will be screaming for her, throwing themselves at her feet, worshipping her. The pressure to perform, to entertain, to sustain, and to simply remain Madonna is immeasurable, and even I—who am now the closest person on earth to the Queen of the World—can't truly fathom how it feels to walk in her size-seven shoes, stalked by so much expectation, so much adoration, so many who love her, so many who hate her, so many who long for her to fall flat on her famous face.
Nine and time to wake my sister. I unlock the door between our suites. Too late. Loud snorting—not a pretty sound—is coming from her opulent marble bathroom. She's in the midst of her morning routine: swallowing a great gulp of warm salt water, gargling, snorting it up here nose, and then spitting it out. Abrasive in the extreme. But essential, she believes, for maintaining her voice.
I flick through CNN for five minutes. Then I open the adjoining door to Madonna's suite again. My sister, dressed in a white sweatshirt and black Adidas sweatpants, is sprawled on her powered-blue satin-covered bed, drinking black coffee with sugar, nibbling sourdough toast.
I grab a bite and then give her a brief kiss. "You okay, Madonna?"
She nods. "But I still didn't sleep much."
Like our father, a man of few words, neither of us have any use for small talk, as we know each other's glances and gestures by heart and can decode them with unerring accuracy. So that when my sister places her hands on her hips, fishwife style, I know there's trouble. When she starts picking on her nail varnish, usually red, I know she's nervous. And when she tucks her thumb in to the palm of her hand and wraps her fingers around it—a childhood habit of mine, but which she may have appropriated because she believes her fingers are too stubby and always tries to hide them—I know she needs reassurance. And for the past ten years, day and night, I've been happy to give it to her.
My job description may not be conventional—although I might sometimes be termed Jeeves to Madonna's Bertie Wooster—my ability to reassure my sister in times of trouble or self-doubt is one of the primary reasons that—unlike a myriad of less unfortunate others to whom she has granted admittance to Madonnaland, then summarily exiled—I have survived. I have endured both as her "humble servant"—as I sometimes sign my letters to her when I want to give her a hard time—and as the one person in our family ever to work for her long-term as her assistant/dresser/shoulder-to-cry-on, and as the only family member with whom she still maintains a close relationship at this point.