Saturday, June 13, 2009

She missed a lot

My older sister, I mean. A little more than a year apart in age, just a year ahead of me in school, we spent our girlhoods as far apart as we could and still live in the same house. From my POV, it was because she hated me. She used to hit, kick, and pinch me when we were alone -- either trying to hurt me or make me yell, thereby getting a scolding from our icky grandmother for being "so damn loud all the time." (This continued until I moved out.) My things were "ours," while her things were "hers," and since she was both bigger and more coordinated than I was, it was easy for her to enforce this. She encouraged her classmates and the neighborhood kids to choose between her and me. Fortunately, the kids on the block chose me, which is why this morning it strikes me that she must have had a rather sad childhood.

As I was going about my cat-related chores (scooping the litterbox, freshening the water bowl and dispensing the kibble), I had first The Green Hornet and then Batman on. I was either 7 or 8 when these shows initially aired, and it amuses me now to remember how seriously my friends and I took them. We didn't think they were campy or funny, we were frustrated that no one understood what a great man The Green Hornet really was, and frightened that we may find the Dynamic Duo had been harmed when we tuned back in tomorrow -- "same Bat time, same Bat channel."

My sister never watched those shows. Or That Girl, The Man from UNCLE, The Monkees ... she had no interest in our backyard swingset, where my oldest friend and I swung for hours at a time, singing Beatles songs and comparing/contrasting the charms of The Cute One vs. The Quiet One ... she had a bike, but she never rode with us as we pretended we were racing around the block on thoroughbred horses ... she somehow managed to fight our genetic predisposition for the Cubs, so she never walked around with a transistor radio, listening to Vince and Lou on WGN radio like my baseball-obsessed friends and I did (though I do recall some of my friends actually preferred -- gasp! -- Johnny Bench and The Big Red Machine to my the Cubs). All the things I enjoyed were tainted in my older sister's mind, polluted by my very presence.

What did she enjoy? I know she and my icky grandmother used to polish her silver together a lot, and it meant a lot to my older sister to get it when Grandma kicked. She took sewing lessons. She got straight A's. We did watch Bewitched together, and agreed we preferred it to I Dream of Jeannie. We both played with our Barbies, but seldom together. (Mine was always dressing for a date with Paul McCartney.) I remember she liked doing jigsaw puzzles. Occasionally she joined us (or did her friends let me join them?) for tag. She was a far better athlete than I was and justifiably proud of her jump rope prowess. Blessed with dark hair and eyes, she tanned while I only burned, and lay in the yard slathered in baby oil, hoping to look like the California Girl she eventually became.

But I remember no music coming from her room. Not much laughter, either. She was not into Nancy Drew and didn't participate in the reading competition in our front yard. She didn't race to the drugstore to see who had the biggest photo on this month's Tiger Beat (Bobby, David or Donny).

With the compassion and perspective that comes with time and years (and years!) of therapy, I understand that she really didn't hate me. She was jealous of me. A high-maintenance, high-strung, colicky baby, she never got the undivided attention from my mom that she needed because I was born. Not my fault, not her fault, not my mother's fault. It's just the way it was. It's unfortunate that my parents didn't have the insight to handle it as we grew up and the competition grew more physical and virulent, but back in those days, such things weren't discussed.

Now that she and I are both middle-aged broads, and I know that she can't physically hurt me (though I wouldn't stand in front of her car and trust her to brake), I feel sorry for her. I was a funny, imaginative kid and my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Too bad she couldn't/wouldn't let herself do the same.


  1. Insightful post. I knew siblings of my friends that sound like your sister. Their version of fun was nothing like ours.

  2. What a moving post. It is too bad that your folks lacked the insight. My brother and I weren't much alike either. Although we both enjoyed ourselves. Just not together...

  3. Anonymous4:30 PM

    I never really had much of a relationship with either one of my sisters. It's sad, but they're both a lot younger than me, so there just wasn't a whole hell of a lot that we shared. We didn't have friends in common, interest in boys, etc. I think the one thing my one sister and I shared was our love of Gilmore Girls.

    However, in our ways, we do have our moments when we're close or at least want to share bits of our lives with each other. One time I came home to visit and my sister arranged for me to join her and her new boyfriend for lunch (that he paid for). My other sister, who once had no time for me, seeks me out whenever I'm home for a visit.

  4. Great post. My sister and I are like night and day. Growing up, she was the pesky little sister. We are close now, however, as adults. Something about caring for aging parents that wipes all the other crap away.


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