Being an only child, I never had the privilege – and frustration – of having a sister with whom I grew up. I used to think this was an advantage: nobody in close enough proximity to wear my clothes, take my stuff, flirt with my boyfriend, or publicly embarrass me.
As I witnessed the sabotage that my friends suffered at the hands of their own siblings, watched the fist fights, and helped clean up the broken, torn spoils of war, I always wondered how sisters could turn on each other one day and act like nothing happened the next.
My mother and her sister, both of whom have left this life, were no different. When I was young, I would hear them tell war stories about the fights they had growing up. They would each tell their piece, along with a little friendly cajoling. Elizabeth (Betty Jo at the time) was the younger sister, the rebel, breaking all the rules and sometimes getting away with it. Suzie, the older sister, tried to do the right thing and never got away with rebelling. (I’ve been told this is normal because the parents start giving up being so strict as the headcount grows, so the youngest benefit from the relative apathy and loss of energy. But I digress.)
So are they really laughing about it all later? What seems so perplexing is once the children have grown and the siblings can give themselves space from each other, the relationship continues as close and conflicted as always. They continue to fight for many of the same reasons, past issues rearing on cue, maintaining some sort of continuum through time and space. I always wondered why, when time came to fly the nest, they didn’t just go in opposite ways and enjoy some well-deserved relief.
What I missed in all my observations, was that in between the drama, sisters are built-in best friends who will often outlast most other relationships in life. Despite the conflicts, they will take their secrets to the grave; and have mercy on an outsider who threatens either one of them, because the ferocity with which sisters will protect each other feels close to lethal. Trust me on this.
Elizabeth’s drawing, which I call Easter Eggs, was created just for my Aunt Sue. Despite their very different personalities, they saw the beauty in each other – evidenced in this remarkably delicate piece that mom drew for her sister. When Elizabeth died, Aunt Sue gave it to me out of love. And now that Sue is gone I reflect on what they meant to each other and the profound loss she must have suffered in having to part ways with her sister, her lifelong best friend. It makes perfect sense now.
So now, when I watch sisters, I look for the love, even when they are bickering. They hold a precious piece of each other and one will miss the other deeply at some point. Easter Eggs enlightens me to the complex continuity of sisterhood.
I still don’t want anyone else messing with my stuff though.