Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day Gift for My Sister

circa 1975
 My sister and I have always had a strained relationship. You can call it sibling rivalry but as a kids (and into my teens) I thought she hated me. She did the normal older sister stuff...hiding under my bed to scare me at night, telling me I was adopted (I wasn't) and tricking me into saying cuss words ('Hey sis, sing Yankee Doodle but use "F" as the first letter of each word') and then telling on me. And yes, my mom believed in punishing foul language with a bar of soap in the mouth.

But I was (and still am) very sensitive so I thought she was intentionally cruel when she wouldn't let me sit next to her on the school bus and the bus driver refused to go until everyone was seated (and I was the only one standing) or when she kicked me out of the car miles from home and left me there.

One thing we did share was our disdain for the first day of school.
Even in adulthood we struggled to be friendly to each other. We could be civil but it took work and left me drained (I'm sure she was equally put out). We were polar opposites in every.single.way.

She's blonde. I'm brunette.
She's and extrovert. I'm an introvert.
She's funny. I'm reflective.
She's tall. I'm short.
She's driven. I'm laid back.
She's loud. I'm quiet.
She's beautiful and I am Mousy Brown.
She's smart. I'm smarter. (just seeing who's paying attention)

But both of us felt the need to compete with each other and our relationship always felt on the verge of collapse. With all of their faults (and who doesn't like to blame their parents for everything bad) I'm not sure what we put our parents through was "fair" in the name of sibling rivalry. My sister had on-going issues that led to her no longer being welcome in our house and I had which led to being hospitalized for 4 months. But both of us put enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves to excel at academics and sports (mainly competitive horseback riding).

There's a lot of truth in this's not a means to place blame but to move forward and break the pattern.
It was the kind of pressure perfectionists place on themselves that make parents worry and drive away potential friendships. I was, in particular, very much a loner....excelling at solo ventures (be it gymnastics or debates) but had no social skills because friendships were superfluous. I couldn't relate to people my own age because I had aged myself through academic and physical discipline (and later with food restriction) not realizing that one could be social and successful. My sister took a slightly different route. Although she was(is) quite the overachiever she was also just as self-destructive with questionable relationships and "shock value" escapades.

So I think we surprised each other when somewhere in our late 20's and early 30's we found that not only were we both still alive, but we were thriving. She was forging a very successful career in the Army and I was moving up through the highly competitive, all male dominated, automotive industry. But that disconnect was still there and on the rare occasion we found ourselves together (there had only been a handful of times) it felt like we were teenagers again...bickering, competing, and feeling less than.

Our family (Japan 1972).
Our dad died in 2009 after a horrific car accident. My sister and I had a huge falling out in the week before he died and remained in a coma. At the outset, this tragedy tore at the already fragile seams of our relationship, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was right when it came to her (I judged her initial blowup as an unwarranted attack at an inappropriate time...somehow growing a spine during this intense moment in time). I had spent the entire 39 years of my life feeling inferior to my sister. She was everything I wished I could be...but I couldn't tell her that. Instead I had to pick apart her faults, rehash the past and basically make myself miserable by trying to 'out do' her.

My parent's car after being hit head on by a reckless drive.
During a second round of heated battles (tragedy brings out the best, and worst in people) my sister told me that she had felt this same way...inferior to her little sister...and no matter what she did, she could not gain the approval of our parents. And now, with our dad in a coma, dying, she would never have the chance to even ask him if was proud of her.

Marylou and our dad at Disney World.
The tables had turned and for a brief moment we were able to see into each others' pain. Four decades of struggle, four decades of pulling out all the stops looking for approval, four decades of focusing energy on a rivalry that should have never existed, four decades of competing with an illusion. She was me and I was her. This was life changing. My sister's honesty was a catalyst for the direction my life has taken since that dreadful week in October 2009.

My dad's headstone.
I just spent 6 weeks with my sister camping in the New England area this past fall. Although our entire adulthood (actually, since I was 15 years old and she was 17) has been spent living thousands of miles apart we've found ourselves at the same place emotionally. We are seeking {and finding} a peace and balance in our relationship which has spilled over into all other facets of our lives...or maybe it's the other way around.

Along the Maine Coast...looking for balance {literally}.
I feel like we've been part of a "twins separated at birth" study. Both of us, far removed from our childhood past, far removed physically from each other and still traveling down different paths in some regards (like politics). But those paths are actually parallel to each other and constantly meet and intertwine, separating briefly and meandering back together more often than not. We are both now vegetarians and aspiring yogis...spiritual and inquisitive, grounded yet still dreaming, goal oriented but much more forgiving...not only of others but of ourselves.

Marylou and me at Squaw Valley Ski Resort for my wedding.
For the first time in my life I can say, unequivocally, that my sister is also my friend. I trust her with my innermost secrets free of the feeling that I will be judged or that they will used against me one day. As a matter of fact, I know that no matter how outlandish my thoughts, feelings or confessions are, when I expose them to my sister it will only draw us closer together.

My sister and I actually goofing off and having fun...together!
Befriending my sister and accepting our similarities rather than trying to force superior airs has been one of the most liberating experiences in my life. The time we recently spent together has only strengthened our bond. We spent hours practicing yoga side by side...sometimes in below freezing weather and sometimes dripping in sweat. I really believe our connection has deepened from both the tragic death of our father and the light and love we expressed in our shared yoga space. There is comfort in the fact that I know she will always be there for me, and I for her, not just because we are sisters but because we are friends.

Happy Valentine's Day.


  1. This was so touching it actually made me tear up a little. What a beautiful tribute to someone you love. It is the most precious gift you can give especially on a day like today. How very lucky you are to have each other :)

  2. Awww this is beautiful. I have a sister too and this is just inspriing to read. :) So touching. :)

  3. I am definitely lucky...and so very grateful that my sister and I have arrived at this point in life that we can actually add more beauty to each other's lives. Thanks for reading.

  4. Thank you so much! I hope you and your sister have some special moments together as well.


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