There was a howling, an anguished unearthly wailing, coming from across the hall that sent me scurrying toward her door. The closet was slightly ajar, leaving strips of light across the otherwise darkened room. I absentmindedly patted the head of the worried dog as I made my way to the bed. She was curled in a tight ball around her pillow, her thin back shaking with the effort to control the shrieks that escaped between clenched teeth.
I sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the hair back from her face. “What’s wrong, honey...what’s going on?”
“I...can’t...c-c-c-can’t do it!” Her wailing got louder and she writhed in place as if in physical pain.
After a few minutes of petting and coaxing, I managed to figure out the source of the problem – that damn boy. Their relationship had been rocky for several months and he’d broken up with her a week before this meltdown. She seemed fine for awhile; she even turned him down when he came crawling back a day later. He wasn’t what she needed in her life, she said, his path was filled with trouble. And I wholeheartedly agreed.
As I watched my little sister’s heart break over a two year relationship I thanked God, or whoever was listening, that no man had ever broken me down that way. Not that I would even let them, I silently added. I held her, rocked her, told her everything was going to be ok, and finally left her when she was quiet and calm.
She had a few more episodes just like that over the following weeks. I became less patient, less kind, and more irritated with each one. During the last, I informed her that if she woke me with that noise again, I would punch her in the ovaries. I have a startlingly low threshold for handing out sympathy, though I often demand plenty of it from others.
We are polar opposites, my sister and I. Dark versus fair, common sense versus book smarts, earnest versus lackadaisical, right versus wrong,(though the lines on that last one are blurring more as she gets older) fire versus ice – she’s blazing a path, and I’m perpetually frozen.
I admit, she’s everything I wanted to be in high school – pretty, popular, thin, captain of the cheerleading squad (though that was a brief wish, and only in the darkest of hours), driven. She’s never once let me forget, be it intentional or not, that I was then, and am now, everything she aspires not to be. First – a nerdy, unpopular kid that started smoking and drinking to be cool. Now - a single parent, living at home, with no degree.
On my worst days I am bitter for all the opportunity she has laid out in front of her, all the positive attention she receives from our family, and all the scars I bear that she doesn’t. But on my good days, which I’m glad to say are more frequent, I’m proud of her, encouraging of her success, and thankful she wasn’t raised by the same parents. Besides, what aspiring writer isn’t tortured by their own bad choices, the choices of others, or in my case – both? My parents made this prolific bed, but I turned down the covers, fluffed the pillows, and crawled right in. (That smells like a book dedication...)
I also admit she’s everything I despise, and have always attempted to set myself apart from. Shallow, emotional, too accommodating...perfect. As much as I wanted what she had, I didn’t. I suppose the truth of the matter is that we both think we’re better than the other. I make fun of her reading; she makes fun of my clothes. I make fun of her enormous nostrils; she makes fun of my frizzy hair. I make fun of her spelling ability; she makes fun of my blogging.
She was a quiet, sensitive child and against all odds, a daddy’s girl. Why he decided to handle her with kid gloves, I’ll never really know. My mother had the same sensitive personality and he treated her terribly. Whatever the reason, she was spoiled and petted and nurtured into the smart, entitled young woman she is today.
I love my sister, but sometimes I feel as if we’re next door neighbors – waving to each other across the fence and wondering if one or the other is responsible for our missing Sunday papers, never exchanging more than is absolutely necessary. We’re only seven years apart, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime. Our relationship has improved in some ways, gotten worse in others. I keep waiting for that day when we’re old enough to be best friends – I want it (when I’m not imagining punching her), but I don’t think she does. Maybe it’s just her age, maybe one day she’ll want it too.
Each milestone she reaches is a bit of a shock for me, though that may be because they all started happening at once. The first time she got in trouble at school, had sex, did something incredibly stupid and dangerous and laughed about it, got drunk, had her heart broken, applied to colleges – all of that and more crammed into less than two years time. And I think I’ve struggled with it more than she has, more than our own mother.
She just turned 18 last week and she graduates in less than a year. I wonder if, when she leaves, I’ll be the one curled up in the bed wailing with a broken heart. I wonder if I’ll regret not walking across that hall to comfort her more often – for letting bitterness and jealousy shape a large portion of our relationship.
I wonder if she’ll call me – just to talk. Or if she’ll be like me at that age – walking out the door and never looking back until it was absolutely necessary. What bothers me and makes me happy all at once, is that I know, for her, it’ll likely never be necessary.
Suddenly I’m the sensitive one.
Sunny Side of the Street
3 days ago