I’m not a good sister. (I’m also not a particularly good daughter, granddaughter, cousin, or niece, and haven’t had to make a case for being a good wife, mother, or aunt yet, but the sister thing does worry me because it’s what I’ve tried the least to fix.)
To be fair, I am a half sister, approximately 1400 miles away from them, but being a half sister a thousand plus miles away doesn’t mean that I can, or should, be satisfied with being only half good at being a sister. Not that I’m even half good at it. I’m probably one-seventeeth good at it, at best.
Big-sisterhood was thrust upon me when at 18 years old, I “found” my dad online, wrote to him, and found that even with my absence, his life had in fact managed to go on, to the tune of marrying and having more children. I had always wanted the fanfare of being a big sister: growing up with a sibling, tease-torturing him/her/them, noogies, wet willies, swirly whirlies, fart jokes, poop references, passing on prized and reviled possessions alike to them, taking them shopping, forcing them to live up to my considerable genius which unfortunately never actually materialized, getting to brandish my elder-stateswoman status whenever possible in terms of dress, curfew, bedtime, etc., so on and so forth. But by the time I met my half sisters, on a trip down to Florida with my mom and then-boyfriend, they were 7, 9, and 11, and I was almost 20. With brand-new-big-sisterly coolness, I bought them fun, age-appropriate craft kits and relished the loving, handwritten, and illustrated thank-you letters they gave me, but I missed the previous 11, 9, and 7 years worth of buying them gifts and getting sweet thank-yous.
The next time I saw them, it was for my Oma’s memorial service. It was several years and another boyfriend later. They had grown up and so had I (theoretically).
When I saw them next, they had driven up to Michigan with my dad and stepmom to photograph a boating show (Dad, not the girls), and they made a slight detour through Detroit to visit me. Dad dropped the girls off at the house I shared with the now-ex while he and my stepmom popped down to Windsor for duty-free liquor. I took them out for half-price frappuccinos at the Barnes & Noble where I worked and still work, and brought them back to my woefully un-air-conditioned house for Guitar Hero.
The next time I saw them, it was for my Opa’s memorial service.
I have seen them grow up as if in shoddily-made, incompetent stop-motion animation. They are 7, 9, 11 – they are 12, 14, 16 – they are 13, 15, 17 – they are now (astonishingly) 17, 19, 21. There are huge gaps in years, like a well-intentioned but poorly-executed photo-a-day project.
I know the most rudimentary facts about them: the general time-of-year of their birthdays, their middle names, their schools, their faces, that they are related to me, that I love them like sisters because they are. I don’t know their exact birthdays, or their interests, or their boyfriends, or their favorite foods, or their favorite colors, or anything like that. I know they know I have a dog and a horse and a job at a bookstore; beyond that, my life may well be a mystery to them. For all I know, they know more about me and my life than I know about theirs, and they may well know more about me and my life than I know about mine, and they may have known about me before I knew of them.
What they have, as sisters ascending by two years, is a dynamic that I can’t break into or even hope to do so. They grew up in a pod of Floridian sisterhood, all fairly close in age to each other, all blonde and thin and tan, while I, having defected from Florida to Michigan years before I knew about them, had grown up stocky, brunette, and pale. They grew up as friends and probably sometimes enemies together, and I grew up by myself. The disparity in our relationships was most evident on my last trip down there, when my eldest sister drove us all back to Dad’s house for some wind-down time after the memorial service. They all sang to the songs on the radio and chatted about their lives and I looked out the window and watched the scenery fly by. That’s not to say that I felt unwelcome or unwanted in any way at any time, but without the buffer of my dad and stepmom, I was a part of their sister bubble in name only. I actually, strangely, felt younger than them, and not least because I was being chauffeured around by a 21 year old.
I am unabashedly bad at the phone, the internet, the email, the whatever. The keeping-in-touch-with-people, I guess you’d say. I had a shot at getting closer to them when I first met them, but being entrenched in my own surely dramatic 19-year-old daily affairs, I didn’t, and in the ensuing years, our interaction has been all but limited to the occasional Facebook wall post. I don’t know what their early lives entailed, or the grit and bulk of their lives now. I don’t know what pain and joy they’ve taken from life so far, other than, of course, the pain of our grandparents’ passing, which is one thing we share, but in vastly different ways (which is subject for an entirely different post).
My inadequacy at big-sisterliness hurts me, but I don’t know if it hurts them that I’m so horrible at it, and I won’t say that I hope it does, because that would make me an even worse sister. I’m not sure how to reach out to them NOW, given that they are almost all grown-ups (!). I see some of their more minor dramas play out on Facebook, but I have no idea how to play my sister hand, 10 years and 1400 miles apart. I have no words of wisdom to give them as they approach adulthood, given that I’m an adult in terms of age only, and not in mentality or responsibility. I can only give them words of warning: don’t make bad choices like I did, don’t give up at school once or numerous times, don’t focus your life on a boy or finding one, don’t give up things you love for someone else, don’t settle, don’t ever second-guess yourself, don’t ever believe someone who tells you you’re nothing special, don’t forget to pay your bills on time, don’t, don’t, don’t.
I can’t, and won’t, begin to think about how (not if) our lives would have been different had we met sooner, or had I stayed in touch better, because that’s the kind of thing that I can’t do anything about, and it would only serve to make me worry more. You know how I do.
I guess… I guess this is me reaching out, hoping that they see this, read it, and take it to heart. Girls, I love, admire, and respect you. I am always here for you, and I want to be a better big sister, if you tell me how I can best do this. You are always in my thoughts. I love you, 100%, not 50%.