27 May 2015

For a long time during my childhood, my big sister was the world to me. We were not friends, we fought daily, about everything, we scratched and bit each other, we pulled hair, we drew blood.
To this day, our relationship is based on a deep current of resentment. At times it's the only thing that keeps us going. On my way to work today, I tried to list what it was and still is that we begrudge each other and, well, it basically covers everything.
And yet, at the time this picture was taken she was my rock, my guardian angel. There was a time when we used to joke that she was my little mother. But that was years ago, we don't find this funny anymore.
We were never close, we never helped each other. We bargained all the time. We never got each others back. When I was found smoking behind the youth club and got expelled for a fortnight, she ratted on me. So in turn I told my parents about her driving this guy's car around the block before she got her licence. And so on.
She paid me real money to do her Latin homework. I used the money to buy her silence when I lied about where I was going at night. And so on.
But I know that I owe her, that thanks to her I have this precious small bundle of happy warm childhood memories (incl. the fights we had), thanks to her massive strength, her protective spirit and her fierce instincts. 
My sister picked up all the pieces, kept the show on the road, pushed us along and told us what to do. Before she could read, she knew how to call the doctor, the ambulance, the police. She knew which neighbours she could turn to, how much she could safely tell them and, most importantly, she knew what not to tell. Never to tell. She figured this out so early and so well, you could think she has forgotten about it, about the things that happened, the threats, the dark locked rooms, the screams and the tears and the overdosing and the blood. I close my eyes and I see her wrapping a sheet around my mother's arm, round and round. She is maybe six years old, biting on her lower lip with the effort. 
It has taken me a very long time to understand the enormity of what she did for me, all these years, that it was more than anyone should ask a big sister to do. I understand that this is why we could never be friends.


  1. This touched me deeply and explains a lot about a relationship I have with my brother. I was the elder. Go from there.
    We are getting closer now though, ever since our mother has died.
    This is an amazingly beautiful post.

  2. As a mother who can only stand at watch daughters negotiate this difficult relationship - I feel for yours (though it's oddly comforting to know I'm not the only one who has had to stand aside and let you sort if out for yourselves!

  3. This is such a beautiful post. I keep trying to write something here that conveys how moving this is, but I keep failing.

  4. You give me much to think and feel about when you write about the nature of your family and share your insights. I am the oldest of three sisters -- born in 1949, 1951, and 1954. We are not close, but my sisters are closer to each other than they are to me and always have been. So many undercurrents. When our mother was alive, my focus was on how difficult our relationship was. After she died, I became aware of how difficult the relationship with our father was. Before he died, it occurred to me that after he died the focus might shift to my sisters. It has. This shift has been the most painful. I was never like a mother to my sisters because that was what my mother wanted me to be in her many absences, and I rebelled. My youngest sister resents me to this day for not being the sister our mother told her I should be. I felt protective of my sisters but lived in fear of being hit by our mother. Only once did I stand up to my mother as she was hitting my youngest sister. In anger, I went into the bathroom where my sister was crouching on the floor, being pounded on by our mother, and said in a cold angry voice, "Don't you ever hit my sister again," and she stopped hitting her. That was when I was 18 years old, and my sister was 13 years old. I was home from my first quarter of college. It was Christmastime. Being away from my family had given me courage that I hadn't had before. My middle sister says that our mother only hit her once, and that "she deserved it." None of us deserved to be hit, ever. Sisters.

  5. This is such a powerful piece of writing. I ache for the lost closeness with your sister. I wonder how she'd respond if you shred with her the things you've written here. Maybe she doesn't realize how much you see her and are grateful to her.

  6. Thank you for your insightful comments.
    We have had "that talk", my sister and I, we tried for a while to be friends, even imagined living together in old age should we both be widowed and alone. But no, it will never work.
    Without that family bond, we would not make an effort to get to know each other should we meet as strangers. We admit that much.