When I was growing up, I dreamt of having an older sister; someone to braid my hair, create art with me, show me how to sell lemonade, stand up for me at school…set me up on dates…I imagined looking up to her, wanting to be like her. I imagined her taking me under her wing and showing me the ways of girlhood and adolescence. I could see it so clearly.
Alas, my wish for a big sister never came true. But, I believe I received something even better: the gift of being a big sister.
I was only two years old when my brother was born, so I can’t recall the experience or excitement of becoming an older sister for the first time. However, the day my little sister was born is etched in my brain. I was desperate for a sister. I mean, I loved my brother and the fun we had making up storylines with He-Man, Skeletor, G.I. Joe and Smurfs figurines. Throw in a few Barbies, Transrformers, a Glow Worm, and an amazing public park across the street form our house- and you’ve got hours of entertainment.
My brother and I had a blast together. But, the fact of the matter was that he was still a boy. And I wanted another girl in the family.
The morning my sister was born, my grandmother joyfully shared the news with my brother and I. Two very different reactions ensued: Jumping, screaming, cheering, laughing from me. Big ol’ dramatic, tragic tears from him (until he decided having another sister would be alright as long as we could name her “Sugar”).
My life completely changed the day “Sugar” came into our lives.
I literally and figuratively held her hand throughout our childhood and adolescence. I took immense pride in being her big sis: From changing her diapers…to dressing her up like a Cabbage Patch doll…to teaching her math in our makeshift “school”…to planning her Halloween-themed birthday parties…to crimping her hair…to doing her makeup for Homecoming dances…to visiting her at college and in L.A. when she stepped into adulthood…I loved it all. We were always close. Inseparable at times. I swore that I would always make her proud.
Our years of adulthood have still been woven together by our close connection. But a darkness infiltrated our friendship. My alcoholism has been an ugly, shadow-casting third-party. While drinking, my behavior- and change in demeanor- negatively impacted my sister in more ways than I’ll likely ever know. I always had a shadow side (as I believe we all do), but this was a different kind of darkness. When I was drunk, I picked fights with her and said unkind things. To protect my drinking, I asked her to cover for me…make excuses for me…make sacrifices on my behalf…I put her in situations that were simply unfair and, frankly, unacceptable.
And that’s ugly. I don’t ever want to be that person again.
I had transformed from a Mary Poppins-esque sister into a Nightmare-on-Elm-Street kind of sibling. And no one deserves that. Now, I’m working on re-gaining her respect. I don’t want to give her any more reasons to be embarrassed by- or ashamed of- me. I can’t imagine how hard, and often lonely, it must be to have older siblings who are addicts. My heart hurts for her, just thinking about it. And she doesn’t deserve to hurt. She is one of the kindest, smartest, most open-hearted, loyal people I know. And she deserves to have a big sister who is fully present, supportive, loving and available to her.
Today, as I work on re-gaining my sister’s faith in me, Katherine Mansfield’s quote feels apropos:
“Bless you, my darling, and remember you are always in the heart- oh tucked so close there is no chance of escape- of your sister.”
She will always be cozily tucked away in my heart. And I hope, in spite of my ugliness, I will live in hers. I can’t imagine life any other way.
(Love you so much, “Sugar”!)