Ghost of Sisterhood

When I grew up, I was sort of my older brother’s shadow. My first word was “Tim.” Even if you don’t believe in signs, it was kind of a sign. I looked up to my big brother. I took his hand-me-downs and dressed like him. Not for long, but for a couple years when I struggled with female fashion that seemed to mandate that girls should wear short shorts and tight, form-fitting shirts. And skirts. It took a long time before I was ok with skirts and dresses and makeup.

But with my brother, I rode bikes on dirt trails, played video games, and… well, my interest in sports was pretty casual. We had a pretty good sibling relationship, my brother and I. We still do. We’re not best friends or anything. But he’s my brother and we enjoy hanging out when we can.

When it comes to my relationship with my sisters? My four sisters… We’re not that close.

I’m eleven years older than my oldest younger sister, and 19 years older than the youngest. When my first sister was born, my dad and stepmom lived in another state. The running joke in our family was that my dad and stepmom either moved or had a kid every other year… They moved a lot for my dad’s work. There were only a few years when they lived close enough by that we could visit every other weekend — and only two of my sisters had been born then.

Between the moving, and not being too close to their mother — and honestly, I was pretty upset with my dad, and jealous that my sisters were getting all these things my brother and I never did. He built them a giant swing set. He was home to spend time with them. He took them on trips. He tried to include my brother and I when we were younger, but once Tim got married the first time, had a kid… and I was in college, then graduated, then off to Chicago…

And then my sisters’ mother died of breast cancer. My youngest sister was only 3 years old. Still in diapers because her mom’s illness took priority. My stepmom miscarried twice after her diagnosis. Had she given birth before she passed, my dad would have pulled me from college to help raise my siblings. It’s something as the “dutiful daughter” that I would have offered. Instead, my oldest little sister felt the need to step into the role of “caretaker” even though she was still a child herself.

That sister… she’s head strong. Stubborn at times. But she sees her goals and goes for it. She’s always been a leader. We butted heads a lot. She didn’t like me for a long time, didn’t trust me. I went in her room when she was 13 and took her makeup and gave it to our dad. Because he wasn’t going to do it. Because he wasn’t comfortable with how she was “growing up” too quickly and the attention she was getting over her new body, and because he wasn’t going to say anything. Even though he told me he wasn’t comfortable with her makeup or the short shorts she wouldn’t give up… he wouldn’t tell her. So we didn’t really talk for years… We still aren’t close. Her son doesn’t know my name.

My next sister? She turns 22 today. She’s wondering if the magic is gone. I only know this because she wrote that online. Our 18 year old sister just had a baby. And our 16 year old sister is splitting her time between her best friend’s farm and England — were our dad and our new stepmom have been living for a year while my dad’s doing some contract work.

My sisters are all close with each other. They braid each other’s hair and told each other secrets. They did sister things. I never got the sister things. Not with them. Not even with friends, I guess. It’s hard, but I try to just remember there’s the age differences and all the years not spending time with each other. We honestly only see each other at holidays.

When we found out about my sister’s pregnancy, I’ll admit that one of my thoughts was sadness that she didn’t feel she could have contacted me sooner. I feel that with all of my sisters. I’m the eldest sister… they should feel comfortable to contact me for and about whatever. But they didn’t grow up with me. In many ways, they don’t really know me. And that makes me sad.

I am trying though. When I went to England, my youngest sister and I got to spend some good days talking about a lot of things. I try to let them know I’m here. And if I’m being completely honest, I could do more. I could call more, text more. But like them, life happens… and we keep going like this.