“You can kid the world, but not your sister.”
– Charlotte Gray
“An older sister helps one remain half child, half woman.”
As the oldest of two in my immediate family, I fantasized often about having an elder sibling. Brother, sister, it didn’t matter much. The point was that in an unstable, unhealthy environment, it was a warm reprieve to imagine an older, stronger, loving person whisking Jenny and I to safety. Like Charlie Salinger from Party of Five.
It’s not that I resented being my kid sister’s de facto protector. Quite the contrary. I relished being the one dependable person she could always turn to, trusting I’d never leave her defenseless. But sometimes, many times, I needed an older, wiser hand and was left wanting.
As I grew up, I found surrogates that subsidized many of the lessons and unconditional support I lacked. In high school, my academic decathlon coach and history teacher Mr. Smith and my best friend Christian’s parents were vital adult influences. Mr. Smith once buried a quarterly absence report because I’d cut a class and he knew about the embarrassing, unpredictable wrath of my father. Christian’s mother Marnie took me to a nice salon for my first manicure, invited me frequently to family dinners and vacations and to this day, uses the instant connectivity of Facebook to remind me of her consistent pride and love. It’s an incredible, enduring gift.
I have a number of close friends with whom I enjoy some form of brotherly or sisterly relationship. But until I met Andrea through work 18 months ago, that secret yearning for an older sibling someone to love and look out for me, to understand, support and admonish me with equally passionate involvement (because it’s for my owned damned good), seemed just that. A quiet wish that must go unfulfilled.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened – only that the bond formed easily, quickly and robustly. Yes we share complicated upbringings, acerbic wit and a mutual love of sightseeing, but it’s more than that. I trust Andrea like I trust myself. It’s often the case that I don’t need to articulate my thoughts and feelings. They are intuited before I can form words.
Knowing that I am generally cold in temperatures below 90 degrees (tough way to live in the frigid, Windy City), I opened my mailbox last holiday season (Andrea is Jewish, I’m Protestant turned Hindu turned atheist) to find the longest, warmest, prettiest scarf ever knitted. Andrea made it herself. I’m able to wrap this thing around my head and neck five times with length to spare. It can be used to lasso errant co-workers, be folded and fluffed into a makeshift pillow – all of these variations have been successfully tested. Someone loves me enough to want to keep me warm from across the country.
I will be wearing this scarf when I greet Andrea in the baggage claim area at O’Hare Airport this evening. I haven’t seen my adopted sister in a full year. A lot has happened and I’ve missed her. I look forward to hugging her close and relish her baby talking to my pets while I answer questions. Am I getting enough beet juice? Do I like my new job? Is Dino not the sweetest snuggle sandwich on the planet? (The answer is “Yes” to all). She will finally meet Bob, who was not part of my life when Andrea and I were last together tromping through the streets of San Francisco. I am eager for them to love each other the way I adore them both.
And for the next few days I’ll let go – just a little bit – of the constant need to manage (fill in your favorite noun or activity here – like a Mad Lib). I’ll relax, overeat and entertain a whole Saturday that as yet still has no definitive plans. It’s ok to wing it. My big sister is on the way. She’ll know what to do.