I have one sister. Only one sister.
She was born when I was six years old, and, unlike my friends now, who encourage their first-born children to hold their newborn siblings within hours or days of her birth, my first memory of my sister was that I was not allowed to touch her, let alone hold her. I’m guessing it was the norm for the time, maybe a recommendation of the renowned Dr. Spock (Benjamin, not the vulcan) whose book played a role in my upbringing.
My sister and I suffered a chaotic childhood together – moving homes frequently, parents fighting, changing schools. Later in my adulthood, I realized that, were it not for the stability of our mother’s parents – our grandma and grandpa – we probably would not have come through the experience as intact and successful as we both have managed to do.
We were so far apart in ages and interests that we never really could connect as kids. I do remember some wonderful times with her when we were small, but there were many more times when we simply weren’t on the same page. We also tended to separate from each other through our affiliation with separate parents – I was my daddy’s girl, and she was her mother’s support and confidante. It wasn’t that our parents didn’t love us both individually, but there was a tendency to divide in the way in our family.
When I reached adolescence, my strategy to survive the chaos and uncertainty that was the definition of our family was to leave. I essentially moved to my best friend’s home from the time I was about 12. At 16, I left for a visit to London, UK, and stayed for 5 months before coming back to the US, taking the GED to escape high school where I was miserable, and went away to college (and I went as far away from my family as I could manage).
My sister stayed.
She stayed with our mother through thick and thin.
I felt guilty for leaving her. But, she was 11 or so, and I certainly couldn’t take her with me. I think I imagined that I would rescue her someday, but, although I tried to help in times of crisis, to her credit, she ultimately was her own rescuer.
The years passed, and we both grew to adulthood, finished school, married, and started families. I was so proud of her, and always felt that she had overcome more than I did because she had to fight her way out of a very confining relationship with our mother. My departure was easier. And, by this time, we seemed to have reached a point where we could now be friends.
Until one fateful day.
I travelled across the country to help out with yet another of mom’s crisis moments. My sister had begged me to come, as she was struggling with juggling the caregiving role that she continues to assume for our mother (on her terms, now), while also tending to the raising of two beautiful and talented boys. Not to mention, caring for her husband and their relationship. I stayed for a week with my sister’s family while visiting our mom daily, and trying to help sort out her situation. Over the week, I had felt the tension between my sister and me rising, and it finally reached a peak on the morning of my departure.
We fought, and all the old wounds, resentments and pain we had suffered, either from the world, from our parents, through the loss of our father (I was 19 and she was 12 when he died an accidental death), and from each to the other, came pouring out, yelled at full voice at each other on the sidewalk in front of her house.
And, I left.
And, in the ensuing month or two, some very angry emails were exchanged. They were the kind of emails that we probably each should have written, read through, and then hit the delete button without actually hitting “Send”. Sadly, the emails were sent.
And a year passed.
We didn’t talk of it.
And, then, my family came out to stay with her family for Thanksgiving. And, we had started tentatively discussing the possibility of trying to find a way forward from the hurt and pain we had placed on each other and on our selves.
And, that Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we met with a therapist (who is a genius!) and talked through our pain.
And, now, it’s gone. I’ve left out all the details, and if I thought hard enough, I could remember them, but I prefer not to. They’re not relevant anymore. I think I may even have the timeline wrong (as I think about it, the horrible emails may have preceded the dreadful fight by a couple of years, in fact, I think they must have).
I wouldn’t have thought we could ever have become friends after the hurtful things that were said, but, I’m so happy to say that we are. I love my sister, and I hope she loves me. And I hope we never hurt each other like that again, because there’s one thing about having a sister – she is the ONLY one who knows what I’ve been through and can really understand it on a gut level. And that level of understanding is not replaceable.
Hugs and kisses to my beautiful, talented, and extraordinary sister.
This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra’s debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.