November 28, 2012

Open Letter to My Biological Sister

Polaroid self-portrait circa 1990

I have a hard time calling you "Dear." I have a hard time calling you "sister."

It's been over seven years since we've seen each other. It's been at least three years, maybe four since we've spoken on the phone. I don't know, I've lost track.

It's been six months since I messaged you on your birthday. It's been two months since you didn't message me on my birthday.

At some point, you decided to break free from me. I don't know when. I didn't notice.

I'm glad you don't need me anymore.

We grew up 15 months apart, nearly the same size, wearing the same furry winter coats - so much so that we were always mistaken as twins. As much as you always wanted to be the older sister, you were always sensitive, naive, intimidated by and shrinking away from everything. You waited in vain for our parents to bestow privileges on you, but they were too busy manipulating us and pitting us against each other. They considered every permission a favor, every gift a loan. We owed them for our miserable lives, lives we never wanted despite Twinkies for breakfast and Barbie Doll Dreamhouses.

You always thought if you were a better daughter, our family wouldn't be falling apart.

You always thought if I could just be quiet, our mother wouldn't scream and cry all the time, threatening to drown herself in a warm bath.

I could not just be quiet.

I seized life, demanded freedom and lipstick and pantyhose and chorus and drama club, despite the emotionally bankrupting line of credit that I racked up with them.

Throughout our lives sequestered in that house together, I would wonder from day to day if I would be your best friend or your worst enemy. When I cried myself to sleep nearly every night, you told me to shut up because I was keeping you up. When you stayed at home the nights of your proms, I acted out the entire Grease soundtrack in our basement to entertain you.

When you went away to college, not necessarily upgrading roommates from me to a suicidal, evil-note-writing nutjob, I sent you cassette recordings of all of our stuffed animals, singing songs and performing skits to cheer you up and keep you company.

When I followed you the next year to the same college, you didn't want to introduce me to any of your friends because you were afraid they'd like me more. Some of them did like me more.

So there.

I needed you most when we were really young, when I was getting bare-bottom spanked with an unfinished wooden board in the basement, when I was exiled to the hot attic in the middle of summer as punishment for something I didn't do. You couldn't help me then. You could never help me.

And so as I grew up, I learned to not need you.

I haven't needed you for a long time.

I thought I'd expelled you from my life altogether six years ago when I refused to spend Christmas Day with our parents, to avoid seeing you. I'd decided my life was better without you. They were aghast and appalled but agreed to meet me for lunch the next day. That was the last time I saw them, and a month before the last time I spoke with them.

I had a nice break from you after that, letting the toxicity of our family seep out of my pores, learning to absorb the love bestowed upon me by another family who didn't seem to require blood ties in order to love me.

And then two years later you came crawling back to me. It wasn't the first time you'd begged for forgiveness. It wasn't the first time you protested too much. And I knew that eventually you'd crawl back to our parents, to those who've done nothing since we were born but poison the well, rendering us paranoid, discredited, phobic, suspicious, and worst yet, alone in this world.

They tried to convince us that the world was out to get us, when in truth, the world was waiting for us to be brave enough to enter it. They always protected us from everything except the one thing that was harming us most: them.

You always needed our family more than I did.

Then again, I eventually found family somewhere else. Someone's family always took me in: Nicki's, Chrissy's, Jon's, Michelle's, and through it all, Maria's. You never had that. You never found it.

Maybe you've found it now, and that's why you no longer need me. Good for you. You don't have to explain. You're doing what you have to do.

It's not your fault. You're damaged goods, too.

Have a life. Live well. Take comfort in your cats. I hope you're happier without me. Neither one of us needs a reminder of our dysfunctional past.

But don't think you can come in and out of my life as you please. I'm getting off the rollercoaster and focusing on the family whose love I need not question.

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  1. Beautiful. A lovely and heartbreaking glimpse into the pain blood and the beauty of the choice of love. Bravo Sandi.

  2. Poignant, and I understand.

  3. Poignant, I understand.