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I never had a sister. Until now.
I have one perfectly serviceable brother and two half- brothers, and for a long time I was really pretty happy with that arrangement.
I always had girlfriends. I had a best childhood friend, a handful of high school friends, a college roommate I adored, and many “mommy friends” but there was always a part of me that I held back.
I didn’t want anyone rooting around in the deepest, darkest parts of my psyche— if I was wholly myself I might be rejected. I “kept” female friends by being easy and agreeable, by being whatever they needed and wanted me to be.
When one of them tried to “reform” me because I wore dark colors and “didn’t seem to have any fun,” I let her. When another needed months of constant support because her (predictably) terrible boyfriend had (predictably) left her, I gave up every free minute and some that weren’t so free to listen to the same story over and over again. Exhausted and frustrated I would offer solutions, and she would tell me why they wouldn’t work, because nothing would work, because life was terrible and (true story) if I had ever had a real boyfriend I would understand.
Truth: I liked all of my female friends, I liked them a lot, but the relationships were exhausting. Often I was relieved when they faded away. I kept creating that false front, a malleable, supportive, non-confrontational Friendbot. She asked for nothing she really needed, received things she neither needed nor wanted, and then felt guilty because she didn’t appreciate what she got.
Fortunately, I had my mother. We were incredibly different, my energetic, confident mother and I, but she saw me whole and loved me anyway. She remembered that I had once been too shy to order pizza, and celebrated when I grew into a woman who could address a crowd. She knew that I’d wanted to be a writer since childhood, and encouraged me to overcome my paralyzing fear of failure.
She knew everything, all the bad and all the good, and loved me still.
At the time my mother died, I had this friend. I’d never met her in person, but she was clearly a kindred spirit. We connected on a writing site, and we’d progressed from leaving glowing comments on each other’s posts to having the occasional phone conversation. We were both writers, we both had a beloved only child, and we both had a strong spirituality that was unconventional but essential as air.
For a long time, I played my old game with her. I agreed with things she said even when I didn’t, I would never initiate a phone call (because she might be busy), and in that vortex of darkness after my mother died I tried not to be too needy, too pathetic, too that might seem weird or give me away as a fraud.
Then this strange thing happened. I kept trying to build my usual wall, and she just kept dismantling it. She said things like “no, Annie, what do you think?” and I could tell her. I could tell her important things, like that I never had a date in high school or college, and unimportant things like the fact that I like science fiction even though I know she doesn’t. Nothing bad happened.
I could be tangential, monopolize the conversation, tell long-assed stories about people she didn’t know, say I didn’t feel like talking because I was sick or sad, make fun of her lack of technology smarts, and be snarky one day and all Buddhist saintly the next. I could call any time I wanted, and she would answer and be genuinely glad to hear from me. When I told her stories in which someone had been unkind to me, she took my side without playing devil’s advocate or otherwise poking logical sticks into my tender emotional wounds.
I found that layers and layers of protective covering began to melt. Early on, I hurt her feelings by falling into my old patterns. She let me know I’d hurt her feelings, I agonized, feared the worst, knew she was right, dithered, and finally apologized. She forgave me and it was just…over. Like it never happened. Like I was still good, valuable, and loved.
Like the best kind of family.
I could do the things I had always been incredibly snarky about, like talking her through a cooking project over the phone, or watching home shopping at the same time and making fun of hideous sequined sweatshirts from the Quacker Factory. We remembered each other’s “stuff” and respected. We both understood the need for a freeform venting session vs. an actual request for analysis and problem solving.
We talked about mascara. A lot.
I wished I could go back in time and make her mother be kinder to the little girl who just wanted someone to love her. I wished she’d had a mother like mine. We talked endlessly about how we were shaped by our mothers, our marriages and our children.
At some point, it occurred to me that I had never had such a person in my life. She comforts me and understands me like my mother, but there’s none of the baggage that burdens even the most loving parent-child relationship. She’s a friend, but I know I don’t have to do anything to “keep” her because she really, amazingly, (bizarrely?) just likes my actual and deeply flawed self.
She is, maybe, my sister. (She’s never had one either, so neither one of us knows any better).
She knows all, tells nothing, has my back, forgives everything, and genuinely delights in my happiness. I cook, she doesn’t. I’m letting my hair turn white, she isn’t. She is a slender, elegant creature who can wear anything and I am…not.
When we are old ladies we will live together in a house on the ocean.
(But I’ll do all the cooking)
My sister and I.