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your inner child today is nothing like the kid you were...
--my little sis, after several glasses of wine and three days of family hell

For years, I've been plagued by a contradiction in my life I can't resolve, by puzzle pieces that no longer fit together, by a model of life and love and connections that has no traction, and by a simple truth that I fight with so many breaths: I am a bad sister.

I didn't set out to be.  In fact, of all the relationships in my life, "sister" may be the one that most starkly defines my own sense of self. It's the identity that rests most comfortably with me, but it is an identity from my childhood, or my adolescent years. It has no resonance with my adult self and the five or six different lives I've led since becoming an adult.

So I'm fighting tonight for my childhood; attempting to keep it from being erased, from being eliminated by the various adults that my younger sisters and I have grown up to become. Lives that don't really have a place for sisters in them, except for very cliched roles, and very psychologically stale relationships that we hold over from our adolescent years.  

I've been meaning, for a long time, to write a novel about this. Just toss it off when I have a little time and be done with it (/taking self too seriously). That's how much emotional energy this costs me, I have myself writing imaginary novels in my head about it.

I think I play with that notion so much because I know that the way it plays itself out in my life and my family is not the way it has to be.  I know many people who have full and rich relationships with their adult siblings, in particular with their sisters. I am the daughter of a woman whose life was made whole in so many ways by her relationship with her sisters, four of them. I was raised under the power of that simple word: "sister".  It's a kind of magic word in my imagination and even in broader female circles, in literature, in history, in the local lore and legend of the small-town Southern working class towns and families that I hail from.  I have boxes upon boxes of old photographs that show all sorts of sister groupings that are testimony to this monstrous ideology I can't (and don't really want) to escape.

Except with my own sisters. There's no magic there.  I must have misplaced it all, somewhere along the way. And I know it has to be my fault because I'm the oldest sister, and keeping track of things and putting stuff in it's place, that's my job.  Sorry, Mom and Dad, I lost the sister magic, traded it in on a used El Camino that C. needed to drive off to college that time.

When my sister died and her life displayed before all the mourners across at least three different formats and a couple of different media, there was not a single image of us, her sisters.  No siblings, no playmates, no memories of the girl she had been, with us, together.  Our shared childhood had been erased and she was to all there, simply the adult she had become, the woman who had married into another family, her life beginning with that connection.

This is what marriage means in the evangelical church and community that has shaped her life since she fell in love at 19 and married.  That, I fear, is a topic for another diary, or another imaginary novel.

Suffice it to say, my thoughts and feelings regarding the institution of marriage are ambivalent at best, given what I know of how both wretched and fulfilling it can be in different hands.

I remember when an Aunt of mind died, some 15 or so years ago, how I heard another of my Aunts explaining to a mourner from outside the family about her siblings:  

"We were eight", she said, "once.  But now we are only five."
That stayed with me, because here was a woman in her sixties, married and out of her childhood home for nearly fifty years who still thought of herself as one of eight.  Thought that an important enough piece of information to include it in her small talk with a stranger.  The piece of missing context, it was.

That's the way it is supposed to work, so I'm told, so I've read, so I've been shown by the lives around me.  

Only that's not how it played itself out in this generation.  The sisters I had, and the sister they had in me, just aren't there anymore. I can't grasp the connection between the girls we were and the adults we are, and without that forging a connection among us is all the harder.  And when others attempt to visably erase you from a life you know you are connected to, one you hold documentation that proves you were a part of, well that's a very strange and taxing experience all it's own.

It leads one to ponder certain existential questions and to become sentimental. And possibly even to partake in adult beverages.


Originally posted to Ungewiss Vor on Wed Sep 04, 2013 at 08:41 PM PDT.

Also republished by Personal Storytellers, Pink Clubhouse, and Kitchen Table Kibitzing.


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