sometimes i think being sisters is one of the most complex relationships there is. your first friends. your greatest allies. your competitors, vying for attention and affections and the last piece of cinnamon toast. the one who has your back and the one who can tell your deepest secrets. the one who understands you better than anyone else and the one who fights to let you grow and become someone new. a tangle of trust and conflict, learning and unwavering loyalty.
i ask my mother about her sisters, women i remember from my own childhood, women who ran marathons and had beautiful white hair worn always in a chic french twist and who called my mom “sherry”, some kind of a reminder of her life before me.
“i guess i would have to say that one of the best things about having sisters is having them” she says. “i miss mine.”
all these women, with stories to tell, their voices coming through ours, even after they are gone. and how, when my aunt died not so many months ago, my mother says to us, me and my sisters, “life is short. love each other.”
it is here, with my sisters, those i was born pressed into the middle of with older and younger on either side, and those who came to be mine many years later, and those who i chose, not needing blood to bind us as belonging to one another, that i learn to love and be loved, in all the days given.
- they tell you the truth. which pair of jeans really looks the best on you. that you have had enough to drink. that you will be a good mother. that you can do this. that you don’t have to do this, if you don’t want to.
- they know when to not say anything.
- they are your mirrors. your teachers. sometimes your shadow, and sometimes the one who comes and picks you up off the sidewalk, so your shadow will leave you alone.
- they show up. they come. come when the baby is born. when the life cracks and everything changes. when it’s time to go buy a prom dress. when the word cancer gets written on your medical chart. when you are depressed freshman year. when it’s time to redecorate your apartment and find some solid ground. when it’s your graduation and the thing is, lots of people know it’s a big deal, but she is the only one who knows, all the way, what it really means, that it is the ending of a life. so she comes, while you watch as the one you loved walks off with another and you stand there with your diploma. and she comes, when it wasn’t supposed to be this way but there you are, standing out in the snow that night, and if this was only one memory you got to keep of her, maybe it would be this. the dark that night, and the way the snow came down thick white and quiet and you stood there in a kind of wonder, and it was her name, in code, which was inscribed on the first page of your book, dedicated to her.
- bossy sisters. baby sisters. sisters as second mothers. sisters as best friends.
- sisters you gain because your brother had the good sense to marry her, by far the best decision he ever made.
- sister as memory keeper and gatekeeper.
- sister as the place where you learn the intricacies of conflict and confrontation and kindness. the fight. the hard feelings. the love, even if in this moment you can’t stand each other. and they are still your sister. which is permission and promise.
- they will sit out on the deck with you, after everyone has gone to sleep, and drink wine coolers and share gossip about people you both used to know, in another life.
- they will remind you when you forget and need some kind of navigation because you’ve gotten lost and the woods are dark and deep. they will forget, with you, when it’s time to move on.
- they will wear the bridesmaid dress you pick out, even if it means padding the bra because you chose of all things, a halter top style, or wearing shapewear underneath because you picked a fabric that has about as much support as tissue paper.
- they are there, when the others have left.
- they feed you. food, and roots, and wordless protection, a blanket to wrap over everything, so just for those minutes or hours you don’t have to hold it all, and can sleep easy.
- they meet you for coffee every week, years after the babies have been born, and now they are almost ten, and still you are there, and it is she who has seen you through the changes no one saw coming.
- they will understand jokes no one else will ever get. and will crawl into bed and watch an entire season of dexter with you and let you ruin the ending. and will put plastic gloves on and drench your hair in dye, while ammonia burns their eyes.
- they will do things that make you so angry you could pull their hair out. if you are young enough, you actually try to do this.
- they will sing duets with you of “white christmas” while folding laundry. they will help you clean out your closet and go through all your clothes. they will assure you, and really mean it, that cutting all your hair off with an electric razor was the best thing you’ve done in a long, long while.
- they know that love doesn’t look like just one thing. so they will say the unspeakable and they will be silent in the quiet. they will hold your hand when its time to stand firm, and they will help you pack your bags when you decide to run away.
- they tell you who your parents were, and in doing so, they tell you who you are.
- they teach you to shave your legs, and they write you letters when go to overnight camp, and they take you to go get your belly button pierced in a shack on the beach, and they let you know when you sound just like your mother.
- the sisters you grow up with. the sisters you grow old with.
- they will hold your many selves, your lifetimes, if you let them. hold them tightly and lightly, spacious and intimate.
- they don’t tell you that you are being overly dramatic or over reacting, or all those things said to silence feelings and make others comfortable. instead, they nod their head in empathetic knowing, and the shoulders relax and you can finally let it all come out.
- they help you belong to yourself, above all else. even if it means you do something that will make no sense to anyone, to them. understanding is not required. love is. and that is what they do.
- they are where you learn to hear your own voice.
- they are the gift you never asked for, the present that has taken years to understand, the one who saved your life, even while you both believed it was you who was saving her. and then one day, you both saved yourselves, and anything was possible then.
- they circle you.
- they are a covering, and anchor and arrow.
- they are yours. no explanation needed. no reasons required. they are yours. so you love them.