Are you thinking about how this title might be a metaphor? About how I’m going to tell you all about how I’ve found my voice again and am gaining confidence? Nope. Not even close. Take this title literally and I’ll explain!
My sister was 3 years old when I was born. And no, I’m not going to tell you the year. As I was starting to acquire language, my parents realized something was wrong. The roof of my mouth is abnormally high, and I couldn’t speak clearly at all. In fact, it would take years of speech pathology at my elementary school until I could, and to this day, when I’m tired, I’m more difficult to understand. Anyhoo, my parents couldn’t understand me at all. To them, I was just talking gibberish. But, my sister could. She understood every word I said and mom and dad would depend on her to be my voice…to translate what I was saying and tell them what I needed.
I think having to be my voice also made my sister very protective of me. In every single picture of us when we were little, her arm is around me sheltering me from anything negative (unless SHE is holding OUR guinea pig for the Christmas picture). She felt a responsibility to me…because without her, I’d never be understood.
As we got older into elementary school, we were both bullied…and in one case, it was the same boy. My sister and I had buck teeth, glasses, and zits, so we were both easy targets and our shared bully would follow us home from school, making our lives hell until we got home. And not once did my sister run away (which she well could have) and leave me to fend for myself. That wasn’t her. She was my protector, and she continued to take the job seriously.
Our growing up years had some great memories, and to be honest, most of them were at our grandparents house. We adored going over there and rode our bikes to their house multiple times a week. We always felt safe at our grandparents and they spoiled us. Not in terms of material objects, although my grandma adored Christmas, but in the attention they paid us and the compliments they showered upon us. Since our dad was uncomfortable with affection and suffered from undiagnosed depression and anxiety (this was the 70’s, so we knew less about mental illness than we do now…and I also just realized I pretty much gave away our ages!), my sister and I were often on edge in our own home. We had to be perfect…and when perfection wasn’t possible, we were berated and made to feel as if we simply weren’t good enough daughters.
So at home, we stuck together too. We listened to our 45’s on our little blue record player until we actually got real stereos for our rooms. Often, we used hairbrushes as microphones and would give concerts, singing along to the Partridge Family or Donny and Marie! We were great! For some reason, sis liked to do my hair. The problem was this: she would blow dry it for me, and EVERY time she moved the dryer in front of my face to get to the other side of my head, she’s hit my nose with the barrel. Yeah. It was fun for her, but a bit painful to me. That was ok, though. My big sis wanted to be with me and that was awesome! Once, she braided my not so long hair wet, and had me sleep on it. The next day, she took out the braids, and instead of having curls, I had a hair full of friz I had to go to school with. It was bad. As we got older, we’d save our allowances and then ride our bikes to a drug store a few miles away, and spend LOTS of time debating on which Bonne Bell lip gloss to buy. Back then, they came in HUGE tubes…bigger than a roll of life savers. And we’d put on our strawberry or watermelon ‘make-up’ and smear much of it above and below our lips. We were gorgeous!
Since sis was older, she knew about the facts of life long before I did. One day, I was at the table eating my Poptart, and she sat down and proceeded to tell me about sex. To this day, when I smell brown sugar and cinnamon Poptarts, I always remember that conversation! To be honest, I didn’t believe half of what she was telling me. It was just too gross to even contemplate!! So, being the ‘sex educator’ she was, she got her hands on a Playgirl, and showed me my first penis in the centerfold! Initially, I was horrified, then more curious, so we sat on the couch and thumbed through the entire issue. To say the first penis I saw was Nick Noltes is a kind of cool thing to say!
I was so jealous when sis started to date…not just because she could, but because I fell in love with EVERY single boyfriend she ever had! Once, she and a boyfriend were arguing and I was mad at him. So, I called him up and screamed that he was just a hoodlum!! Ooooooooooo…tough language!! Sis started crying that I upset her future hubby (no…didn’t work out…who would have figured an 8th grade romance would end) so I had to call him back and apologize. I thought he’d be SSSSOOOO mad at me. Instead, he was laughing. Later, she went out with a guy in high school who I adored! And, like every other high school couple, they wanted to skip school at times. So, after mom left for work, I’d call the high school secretary, and tell them that sis was sick. Then, I’d call again in a few minutes, and tell them that boyfriend was sick. I don’t know if the secretary was just too busy to see the pattern (or to not believe my pre-pubescent voice), but we never got caught!
A downside of sis being able to go out with friends and date was me being at home with my parents. My mom was a good mom. Truly. But, I didn’t have my sister there to commiserate with and I if dad was having a bad night, I got the brunt of it.
Sis and I handled our growing up years very differently. We both remember being told at times that she was the pretty one and I was the smart one. So, if the transitive property is correct, I’m basically ugly and sis is basically dumb. I often wonder if we lived up (or down) to those labels. Sis is so very smart and I know could have gone farther than she did in school…any degree would have been within her reach. But I think her confidence in her intelligence was damaged. She has earned 2 associate degrees and is a LPN. She graduated from the nursing program with high honors just a few years ago. She didn’t struggle through her classes, but worried about them anyway. She kept saying she couldn’t do it, when I knew she easily could. Of course, you know I have a masters degree, but I judge my looks very harshly. I wonder if we’ll ever not think back to this early message and have it affect how we see ourselves?
My sister is very curvy. She got the boobs…and hips…and a ‘womanly’ figure. But this, once again, was the 70’s and early 80’s when VERY thin supermodels were in vogue. So instead of celebrating her figure, she was teased for it and my parents were hard on her as well. I remember a lot of fights centering around her weight. I’m the type of person who tries to avoid conflict…call me a turtle. So, knowing I didn’t want the same treatment, I made sure I stayed my skinny self to the point of developing Anorexia. To this day, we both struggle with our body images, for polar opposite reasons. She always thinks she’s too big…and I always think I should be even smaller.
We haven’t always been close though. There have been times in our lives, as adults, where we won’t talk for a period of time. I think so many things happened during our childhood, and we handled them so differently, that family issues can cause a chasm between us. There’s also a history of people cutting others off in our family, and I wonder if we are even conscious of continuing that pattern. We’re trying very hard not too. I think there’s a jealousy between us too. So often as kids, we were pitted against each other by our parents, and I think that jealousy has taught us to continue feeling it at times. But we always come back together, because we realize how much we love and need each other. We also know how one day, it will be only the 2 of us left in our nuclear family, and we need to make sure our ties are strong.
This is what I know: Without my sister, I would have started life without a voice…would have had to fend off bullies by myself…would have been at the mercy of anything that happened in our family. I wouldn’t have had my ally. I wouldn’t have had my teacher. And I certainly wouldn’t have had my friend.
P.S. My sister is going through a very difficult time…her grandson is quite sick and any prayers or happy thoughts would be very much appreciated. ❤