Love, Loss, and Sisterhood
~By Melissa Wiley
Technically speaking, I’m half of a sibling pair that didn’t experience a massive, call-in-the-troops rivalry when we were kids. A rival by definition implies someone with whom you’re on equal footing, and as the older sibling my feet were larger until she had her son, George, about two years ago. Sure, my little sis was (and still is) sweeter, cuter, and an all-round more winning a creature. But I have a whopping two and a half years on her, and for at least a few of our formative years, that made all the difference.
Monopoly was when our competitive streak emerged. On long rainy days, I would briskly challenge her to a game on the living room floor and then stomp off, feeling the urgent need to make chocolate chip cookies, once she had passed Go and collected $200 dollars once too often. Similarly, when she sailed in record time through the Olympian obstacle course I had painstakingly designed for her outside, I upped the ante. Oh yes, I was that evil big sister who forced my kin to run barefoot through the cow paddies on our farm, hurdle barbed wire fences, and scale the sides of grain bins with wobbly ladders. I think she had fun. Maybe.
When my parents punished me for playing my upper big-sister hand too often, I packed a box of vanilla wafers, my beloved stuffed panda, and my dog-eared copy of Matilda into my red wagon and marched down the driveway. With the tears welling up like tiny reflecting pools in my eyes, I turned around to see my bereaved little sister running down the road, begging me not to leave her.
Instead of melting into her outstretched arms and walking back to our shared room, though, I punished her all the more. I told her that she had brought my premature departure from the family on herself with her inability to scale fences without bleeding all over her shorts and inciting questions from my parents. I told her they would be sorry when they found me lifeless and picked apart by wild dogs in a ditch in a few days’ time. Oh, I was a cold, heartless torturer, and I relished every minute of my reign of power.
Now she is my only family. Both our parents died of cancer seven years ago, and the depth of our grief, so unfathomably bottomless, has assumed an evolving life of its own that we alone silently share. Yet when we’re together, roughly four to five times a year, we’re inevitably too breathless with laughter to begin to probe this vast emotional landscape. It’s as if we’ve both independently decided that, however heartbroken we are privately, there’s too much fun to be had, too many good reasons to laugh, not least at each other, to bother with all that pain.
The last time I saw her, a few weeks ago at her home in southern Indiana, I successfully convinced her to jump into a putrid green pond riddled with snakes with her clothes on while I stayed ashore, holding her baby. Don’t even ask me, snake charmer that I assuredly am not, how I cajoled her into doing such a crazy thing. I would sooner myself have attempted to skip over a barbed wire fence.
But my sister had been aching for a cool, refreshing dip, and under my influence she dove impulsively in. Immediately launching into a jaunty backstroke, her chestnut hair slicked back like a baby sea otter’s, I rejoiced in my sister, the carefree beauty. She was again in fine form under my tutelage, and grown up as I am, it feels so good to know I’ll never outgrow one of the best roles on earth – that of proud big sister.
The quote comes from YourDictionary.