Being a sister is hard. Having a sister is harder. I know this now, 25 years after wishing, begging, pleading for a sister. I always thought having a younger sister would mean having a permanent playmate-in-residence. Someone on standby for when your school friends can’t make it or for post-playdate hours entertainment.
My sister came along four years after I was born. By the time she caught up to me four years later, I was eight and still waiting for her to learn how to catch a ball, catch up and catch on. We never seemed to overlap on much of anything as young children mainly because of our age difference.
As we hit double digits, it became very clear we were not the same person. In fact, apart from our DNA similarities (which we questioned daily) we didn’t have anything in common. She coveted everything with leopard-print, I liked sea blues and greens. She loved high heels, I preferred flats. She is short with dark hair and an olive complexion. I’m tall with fair skin and green eyes. For fun, I read books and went to museums with a small group of friends. My sister spent endless hours on AIM or at friends houses — she was never without a posse. She went out, I stayed in. Book smart/street smart. And on and on.
I thought everything with her was just a phase. When I hit 20, I was still waiting for her to learn how to catch the ball. We lead entirely separate lives, but I was convinced one day all of that would change. She would come around and we would be like every other sister set I knew, always doing things together, sharing common interests and laughing at the private jokes.
When I was 24, my sister transferred from a university in Connecticut to the Fashion Institute of Technology and moved into my Upper West Side studio apartment with me. We shared 500 square feet of space for six months. I was working from home at the time and kept late hours. She went to bed at 10p and needed total silence and darkness in order to fall asleep. A dressing screen was the only thing separating our sleeping quarters. There were nights where we had screaming matches and sat on either side of the screen on the phone with our mother, who refereed the fight with one daughter calling on the house phone and the other on her cell phone. No matter we could hear each other through the screen, the problem was neither one of us wanted to listen.
Our living situation improved when I was 26 and we moved into separate one bedroom apartments on the Chelsea/West Village border. I lived on the fourth floor and my sister lived right under me on the third floor. But, this still posed a problem. She heard me walking around at night. To counter, she’d call my cell phone incessantly to yell at me. If I didn’t pick up, she’s throw her Jimmy Choo or Manolos against the ceiling hoping the boom of a platform or thud of a five inch heel would get me to stop moving around. The sounds fell on deaf ears.
It wasn’t until recently, in my 29th year, I finally started to realize my sister already caught the ball. It just wasn’t the ball I had thrown. It was a leopard-printed couture-designed ball of her very own. She picked it out of the sky by herself and had been tossing it around for a while. She had caught up to me, but I was too focused on my own questions about her to realize she had already figured things out and was waiting for me to get out on the field and join her. A tentative game of catch after years of waiting.
The funny thing is, now, I’m the one with the catching up to do. Despite that, she’s still willing to share her ball with me, tossing it gently, throwing in the occasional curve ball, but more or less letting me practice. Our catching and throwing styles are different, but we still manage to pass the ball back and forth. And even though we sometimes drop it, the ball always remains just within our reach.
Happy Birthday to my sister, who manages to catch whatever I throw.
“For there is no friend like a sister/in calm or stormy weather/to cheer one on the tedious way/to fetch one if one goes astray/to lift one if one totters down/to strengthen whilst one stands” –Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market