My Sister

There had been a baby the year before.  But this one was my baby.

I did not know about the other one.  Not until years later did I know that there had been a brother who had died.  This one, though.  This baby was going to be born and she told me this baby would be mine.  The possessive nature of 3-year-olds is such that I believed her.  The baby would have parents, but it would still be mine.

And she was.

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I loved her with all the selfishness of youth— selfish in that it was unquestionable that this child was mine.  Taking for granted that she was part of me, that I would never be without her, and that she would love me too.

We grew up though, and as the years passed came the other demons of having siblings: jealousy, self-consciousness, blame, and fighting.  It was inevitable, and yet the true lesson of love is that its ability to reach through our humanity and drag us back into Grace is also inevitable.  Never once in all those years did I question the love I had for my beautiful sister.  I questioned her sanity, I tricked her and teased her, she teased me and we would fight about turns, who had what plate, who stole so-n-so’s favorite cup etc.  She chipped my front tooth and I gave her a scar on her chin.

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We pretended together.  We created worlds of fantasy for each other to inhabit.  We stitched together wonder and interest until the time to smash sand-castles came and we would begin afresh in some new substance.  Childhood is the uncanny sense of being always free to do that next thing.  In adulthood you rarely know such freedom because of the responsibilities you choose for your life: children, home, bills, car, body, health, talents and pursuits.  As we grew our parents impressed on us both that as you gained privilege so you also gained responsibility.  People looked in from outside and called us spoiled.  They didn’t see the chores, the hours of practice, or hear the lectures.  One keeps those things for family time and our family felt small though it was larger than our circle of four.

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You can’t tell, but Jackie and I are wearing outfits Mom made us out of the same fabric. I had a dress and Jackie had a pants suit. I was jealous of the pants because I thought they looked like the Genie’s pants in Aladdin.

Jackie and I were a pair blessed in many ways.  I suppose if one calls that spoiled, then I would agree.  I used to worry that I would raise children in privilege and that they would never understand what others suffer or go through being without even daily necessities.  Then I look back on my childhood and realize that if my parents could raise Jackie and I in such a fashion, and still keep us aware of the needs of others, then I have nothing to fear raising my boys to be conscious of human suffering; they will grow to be compassionate men if I teach them.

My sister was my baby.

We grew together in this space created by my grandparents to house two little souls.  We played outside of school together.  We pestered each other: she with her presence and I with my silence.  For we are also very different people within.  She was my baby, but she was so unique.  I was quiet and turned inward, savoring silence and reading while she loved to be near others, to be talking and talked to.  Jackie grew up with lightening in her soul.  Our mother used to say that she was a daredevil: afraid of nothing.  I felt envious hearing these words because I felt myself to be often fearful.  Yet when I sued for and was given my own room at 9, it was my daredevil 6-year-old sister with the spirit of fire who would crawl into bed with me in the middle of the night because she was scared.  She would leave the light in her bedroom and brave the absolute darkness of mine (because she slept with a nightlight for much of our childhood whereas I had trouble falling asleep without it pitch black) just to be near me.

We spent our time being joined together in this mysterious world I knew as being siblings: a world that meant I would always have a friend if I needed one.  I would also always have someone who was ready to fight with me.  I would always have to share because we were close enough in age that she could play anything I could from the time she was 5.

I taught her to ride her bike without training wheels.  I taught her to skip rope.  I taught her how to add and subtract as soon as I’d learned it because I thought it was fun.  She taught me how to lose at games and keep my jealousy to myself.  She taught me how to love someone more than myself.  If, as sometimes happened in a family where one child does something wrong and the other is blameless because she wasn’t involved in the situation, I would have gotten a sounding out from our parents and was hurting over it, she would come into my room and make me laugh— because she cared about the fact that I was hurting.

And because you’re a child, you take that kind of selfless love for granted.

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You take the games of youth for granted and the time you got to waste with one another.  You take those things for granted because no one ever says to you, “It will not always be this way.”  As we grew together we started pretending “house” (’twas inevitable too I imagine) and we used to pretend that we would simply live next door to one another, and Mi casa would be Su casa.

But that didn’t happen.

We are the best of friends, but we live half a world apart.  My home will always be hers and I know that if ever I need a place to lay my head in the US, her door will always be open to me.  But we grew up and our lives led us to different places.  My baby has babies of her own, and her daughter, born a year ago, looks so much like Jackie at 1 that it aches to look into her gorgeous blue eyes.

In my heart Jackie will always be my baby: the little girl that was given to me so that I could learn to be a big sister.  In my heart there will always be the memory of that girl— the little girl who was always smiling (she was an extrovert at birth), the sunny child with compassion for the entire world, the person who when angry said it exactly as she felt it, and when joyous invited everyone over to share the dance.  But I have learned that I can no longer take her friendship, her smiles or her compassion for granted— they are the Grace given to my life through my amazing sister.  She will always be younger than I, but I know now (as all who grow up must learn) that I will not have her every minute of every day, to make me laugh or wipe away my tears.  I will always have her love and friendship, but the times when we could take every second of every day in each other’s carefree company for granted ended in childhood.  The progression of our lives has walked us down very disparate paths, but whenever I talk with her I am renewed in my heart and overwhelmed again with gratitude that I have her as a sister.

Thank you, Jackie, for being in my life, and I love you very much.

Gopher

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on September 24, 2015.

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