As I was about to get started on my uni work for this new subject (Writing the Past), I thought I’d check to see if my grades were up from the one I just finished. I didn’t think they would be but I was wrong. They’d graded my second-last assignment, which was a creative non-fiction piece that explored character. It had to be about someone we knew/know or a researched historical figure. I umm-ed and ahh-ed for ages, unable to decide what to write about. I had a few ideas but none really stuck until I got started on the below, which is kind of a letter to my sister.
I got a High Distinction, which I’m very happy about as my average for that unit is now straight HDs. My average for my degree is 79% so hopefully this consistent string of 80+% will push me up into HD territory overall. Stupid Writing Magazine Features dragging me down with its stupid Credit mark. Bastards. Anyway, here you go. For your reading pleasure.
I’ve been an only child for six and a half years before you come along. You are this tiny thing that once puffed out our mother’s belly but you change everything. Before you arrived, I was excited. Now you’re here, I’m not so sure. After being separated from our mother for what seems like years, I meet you in the hospital under unflattering fluorescent lights and am not impressed. You’re red and wrinkly and the little black nub of your umbilical cord is gross. I want to yank it off. You’re not the cute, smiling thing the diaper commercials seemed to promise. You don’t even have a name; you’re No Name until mum decides on Aden and that’s after you leave the hospital. It begins to dawn on me that you’re coming home with us and that ‘us’ is now three, instead of two.
I am your first word – “dah”. It takes us weeks to figure out what you mean. There’s no dad around so there’s no obvious reason for this sound. As it turns out, you’re trying to say darling, what our mum calls me in my better moments. As a baby, your eyes follow me around the room like your older self totters after me as soon as you can walk. The eternal plight of the younger sibling, you just want to be around your idol but your idol wants nothing to do with you.
Over time, the lump of baby turns into a brown-skinned child like me but with richer, more chocolate-y skin and better curls. Perhaps that’s why I cut them off under the pretext of giving you ‘a trim’. Except I keep cutting and cutting. You watch me slice the orange Crayola scissors through your hair, trusting your big sister to do the right thing. In my mind, I’m trying to get the cut straight but is that really it or am I trying make you bald? How dare you have better hair than me? I came first! Mum snatches the scissors out of my hand but you remain unperturbed. Your sister cut your hair and that’s all that matters; you love it. Thus begins the reign of terror also known as ‘big sisterhood’.
When you’re three, I hit you in the face with a pink plastic baseball bat. By accident. I watch as your hands fly to your mouth and blood seeps around your fingers.
“You’re ok! You’re ok!” I say as if I my words can convince you. Or maybe I just want to convince myself. And mum. Your eyes widen with hurt and pain and you start sobbing. Mum is not impressed. You still have the scar, a small crescent moon across your bottom lip, now joined by the scar of your abandoned lip ring. Being the little sister can leave a lasting impression.
Mum is constantly telling me to be nice to you.
“One day you’ll want to be her friend,” she says. This makes the sixteen-year-old me laugh. “As if,” I scoff.
Turns out mum was right – she generally is (don’t tell her I said so).
At seventeen, you get a fake ID and we bond over late nights and early mornings. I start to see the woman you’re becoming. For all the years that separate us, we are both alike and yet totally different. You sensitive and volatile – me unemotional and measured. Like the time you refused to speak to me for six months because I didn’t bring you any Lays potato chips from the US. Defriended me on Facebook. Only spoke to me again on your 21st birthday after I made you a scrapbook of our memories – pre-defriending – and you cried and forgave me.
When you ask for advice, I learn to couch my words in softness and suggestion. The wrong word at the wrong time can spell disaster and tears. For months, you think my sarcasm is an insult, meant to hurt. It’s a slow process for each to learn the other’s language, how to be ourselves without causing offence. We are sisters but we didn’t really grow up together – six and a half years difference meant I was too far ahead of you to be close. We lived in separate houses then separate countries, may as well have been separate worlds.
Yet we both experience the extreme highs and crushing lows of our personalities. Although, your lows seem that much lower. You tell me some days you can’t get out of bed and you cry for no reason and I want to tell you I’ve been there – and I have – but I worry that this has been going on for too long now. I worry that I can’t help you with this.
One day we walk through the city – two sisters, arm in arm. I know you’ve been having a rough time lately because mum spilled the beans. You’ve been down on yourself, feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” isn’t that what they say?
“I look at you and Jared and I’m not doing anything with my life,” you say.
“I’m older than you, remember? I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was your age. Fuck, I don’t even know now.”
“You just seem to have your shit together.”
“I don’t. Everyone tries to look like they do but hardly anyone does. I feel just as lost as you some days. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I feel the same way about Jared that you feel about me – he’s got it all sorted out. But even I know he doesn’t. Not every day, anyways.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” you say as you palm the tears welling in your eyes. I know you know but will you ever really know?
We get to your bus and hug. I watch you climb aboard and find a seat by the window. You sit like you’ve always sat, like you’re trying to disappear. I wave as the bus drives off and my heart swells for you. You have this flawed idea I’m somebody you should look up to, someone you should be like, but I’m not better than you, just older.
You’ll always be my little sister even though you’re bigger than me now – my big little sister. You could definitely take me in a fight if you wanted to avenge my childhood wrongs. Yet, I feel protective of you. I don’t want anyone to hurt you. If anyone’s going to hurt you, it should be me because that’s what big sisters are for.