The sister I never had --- nor anybody else, apparently
By Gina Barreca
JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) There it was in a gift store window: a frilly pillow elegantly embroidered with the phrase "G0d made us sisters; Xanax made us friends."
I laughed. As someone who has always envied those with sisters, I figured I should buy several of these for my girlfriends to give to their siblings. But before I could ring the bell allowing me to enter this fancy boutique (turns out sarcastic remarks concerning family and medication aren't cheap) an inner voice warned me "Your friends might not find this funny. Step away from the door."
What's the fantasy of sisterhood like for those of us who have none?
Our imaginary sisters are perfect: They're supportive, charming, encouraging and just slightly less attractive than we are. We spend a lot of time brushing each other's hair, finishing each other's sentences, and saying, "No! You're the smart one!" Imaginary sisters delight us by baking brownies, cleaning our rooms and discovering absolutely fabulous retro earrings but insisting that we take them: "I originally bought them for myself but they look so much cuter on you!"
Together we'd watch "Gone With the Wind;" I would like Rhett and she would like Ashley. We'd watch reruns of "Lost;" I would like Sawyer and she'd like Jack. (But we would both hate that awful last season.) We'd laugh together, cry together, sigh together and never disagree.
Apparently, though, not all real-life siblings live The Dream. Friends offer complex and surprising replies when I ask what it's like to have a sister.
"It's like being in a potato sack race with a midget," explains friend A. "I'm in the same bag with her, neither of us chose it, and it's not exactly like we're doing each any good. But since we're both in for life, we just take it three steps at a time."
Friend B says: "Every major holiday ends in crisis. We try to pull together a simple family dinner and it ends up like the Marshall Plan. You'd think that five grown women could figure out how much ham, turkey and variations on garlic bread everybody needs. But you forget the one sister who wants to make exotic Thai appetizers or the one who thinks that she might be gluten-free, but isn't sure. Then there's the one who's a vegan . . . except for pepperoni." When I challenge her on this last statement, she looks me in the eye and says, "Do you think I could make that up?"
Friend C, the youngest, hesitates. "I love my sister but I don't like her," she says. "Does that make me a bad sibling? Is it because we know that we're in a lifelong relationship that we complain about our sister more than we'd complain about a friend? Why do I always feel like I have to judge and be judged by my sister?"
She's asking good questions. I learned through my mother's family that connections between sisters don't end simply because one of them dies. Only 47 when she passed away, my mother was the first of her family to go. There had always been strife between the whole tribe: competition over whose kids were brightest, nicest and most talented; whose husbands were most attentive, attractive and accomplished; whose lives were most fulfilling, enviable and prosperous.
My mother never won those contests. And yet I'm sure that after they lost her, my mother's sisters would have given anything to have her back. Their grief was deep and lasting because what had driven them apart was trivial and foolish.
Yet if I'm being honest, I'm not entirely sure my mother would have accepted an apology. Each sister struggled with the belief that she was irrevocably part of a choir when she should have been a soloist. There was love, but there was also conflict.
After all, when we say a person is "just like family" it isn't always a compliment. And every family has a loved one that somebody can't stand.
Families are tough organizations.
Yes, I would've loved a sister so long as I got to admire Rhett, keep the earrings and choose the color of the pillow.
Which is to say, I can't be certain I would have liked her.
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Gina Barreca is a columnist for The Hartford Courant.
© 2012, The Hartford Courant Distributed by MCT Information Services