My kid sister probes me for information. She needs to know more about me. Our upbringing was an odd one. I’m more of a mother-figure to her than a big sister; with 19 years separating us, she “ma’ams” me rather than “Ooh, girl” or “Child, pleases” me and it just seems weird.
She urges me to open up, to share, but I’m not really the type to complain more than I need to or give more of me than I should. I’ve learned who to shed skin with and who not to and this isn’t to say that my sister isn’t to be trusted, no, that’s not it. I’m just . . . careful now.
I want to vent sometimes to her, I want her to hear me when I’m in distress, yet there’s this overwhelming feeling to protect her too even if it’s from me. She assures me she’s old enough to digest what I dole out but I’m hesitant.
I’ve lived a far different life and my demons tend to follow me along my sacred paths and my sister is still growing, still learning. I don’t want her to know the me that drives people away. I’m still working on that me. I need her around.
I’d hate for her to be one more person I find myself chasing after; another heart to grip. People want you to strip bare, stand naked before them, but many of them aren’t ready for the curves and folds and two-toned skin. They just want to see more of you even if more of you isn’t beautiful.
It’s one more thing they can hang over your head, dangle like a dagger, cut you to the quick. I’m trying. I swear, I am. I ask her to be patient with me, to understand — I have a way and my way is comforting. I can’t be rushed.
She understands. Thank God in heaven. She understands.
I wonder who has told you. If you know. If you’ve always known. If you want to know. I think about the right moment to say something, casually bring it up, but there’s nothing casual about coming out — again. I know you should hear it from me, but I am dragging my feet as it has been hard getting them from up under me — I have been sitting on them for too long. You should have known years ago or at least, in October when I told our brothers or when our father called and I confirmed what he already knew in January. Every time I dance around the subject of repeating those words again and this time, to you, I get an ache in my heart. My eyes water. My soul screams.
Everything in me stops.
I see you, but not the woman you are now, more like the infant-to-toddler that you were years ago and I want to hold you close and sing “You are my sunshine” until my throat becomes sore. I suspect that the task has been completed by someone else and you were not given the opportunity to hear me — see me as I spoke those words to you. I hope it hasn’t. I hope I still have time. I tend to sit on precious things, cover them up, then release them when everyone has stopped worrying about the potential harm they can cause. It has always been easiest for me, this method. I am learning to not lean into fear or hide behind it as much as I used to.
You don’t seem to have this issue, but then again, I have only watched you grow up from a distance. Much of my teenage to early adult life was lived before you even began to figure out things on your own. That’s what a nineteen-year gap does to sisters. It pushes them apart without either one knowing it is happening. I can call. I can text. I can pop up at important events. I can do all of this on a whim simply because you ask for my presence, but I can’t even tell you what presses on me more than anything.
I live with the thought of you daily. . . If you’re safe. If you’re learning how to maneuver through life and in the world without someone holding your hand. If your third year of college, now that you’re experiencing it, will strengthen you as much as mine did. You are strong, this is undeniable, but you have been sheltered. If I tell you, will you break? If I don’t, will you do so even more?
“Truly, my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved.” Psalms 62, 1–2 NKJV
I have missed about twenty Sundays in a row. To sit and count them, to think that my body hasn’t met a pew in over three months, causes me distress, but every time I tell myself that I am going to get it in gear, Sunday arrives, and I sleep in longer than planned. I find peace at my church — strength. I feel what I need to and when I need to there, but my body won’t let me move. My heart won’t, either. I have no idea why. You checked on me first thing in the morning, the other day — said you could not start your day without sending me a note. I missed it. Nearly most of my day went by before seeing your message and by that time, I let the toll of my workday cost me change.
I shared with you my emotions, how I’d been in and out of crying fits, how I am in therapy. This concerned you. You instantly began to worry. You wanted to call me and these days, I don’t welcome phone conversations like I used to. I told you that I was okay, that I’d be fine, I’d only answered your question. I wonder if being too upfront with you will cause you pain or sadness. But, I am growing and learning that I can no longer bite my tongue or hold in what needs to be said based on what the other person may feel when my feelings are expressed. I cannot control the emotions of others. I can only move forward when I feel it’s best to.
There is time. There will be time. I feel that it is nearing. I’d much rather the opportunity to sit you down in my favorite coffee spot, buy your drink and danish of choice, and talk — really talk. I want to sit and be with you, big sister to little sister and spill out what we need to. There are things you have always wanted to share with me and I have things I need to share with you, but distance is our enemy. It won’t be for long. I write. It’s what I do and I have written you a letter. You can sit with my words and I can come out again without even opening my mouth to tell you in person.
Lemuel’s eyes are fixed on the broken sky. His big sister Cassie is planning to sneak out again tonight. This will be the fifth night in a row. Lemuel is not a snitch, but he’s been itching to get Cassie into trouble since she ratted him out for eating the last thin crust pizza, their Mom’s favorite. This behavior is not what he expects from Cassie, she’s never jumped ship on a “babysitting” gig before. Although Lemuel was thirteen and could practically fend for himself, he was blind. Their parents depended on Cassie to make sure Lemuel’s well-being was positively maintained.
“I’ll be back. I put some leftover barbecue chicken in the oven for you. The timer is set for thirty minutes. I’ve heated up the mashed potatoes and the spinach only needs two minutes in the microwave. Don’t forget to take the aluminum cover off this time, Lemuel. For God’s sake, just don’t.”
Lemuel nodded in his sister’s direction and did not utter a word. The timer dinged, signifying the sweet morsels of honey-glazed barbecue chicken and Lemuel skirted his way into the kitchen. In the dark, dank, confines of the tiny space, he could hear soft whispers,
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel ignored the whispers, surely he needed rest. He devoured his dinner, remembering to remove the aluminum cover on the spinach. Before he could swallow the last bite, he heard the chant once more. This time, it filled the walls and filled the cracks in the floor. Lemuel’s parents came barging in the door, one after the other. Lemuel couldn’t wait to let them know about Cassie leaving every night this week when she was supposed to be overseeing his care.
The voices grew louder and louder. Lemuel’s parents gazed at the boy, finally believing his days were numbered. “Cassie isn’t here. I don’t know where she is. And, she’s been leaving every night this week.” He felt a sense of pride revealing his sister’s secret.
“Tattletales go to Hell.”
Lemuel pointed to nowhere in particular as the voices grew louder and louder. He smiled in his parents’ direction and bit down lightly on his tongue before opening his mouth.
“Cassie, she’s been…”
Thunder roared, the floor in their kitchen shook, and hands erupted from beneath Lemuel and his legs were the first to disappear. The souls pulled Lemuel under while his parents watched him sink in a fiery heap.
At that very moment, Cassie walked in. The only thing she could think to say was,
I think about how crazy my upbringing was sometimes and there are bits and pieces that stir me up in ways that I cannot clearly understand or explain.
I am a child of divorce.
A further description: I am the eldest child from a divorced parents home who remembers so much more than her siblings and who has a lot more good memories of her Father to hold on to than her siblings as well, except her youngest, which is her sister.
To be frank, I am head over heels about my kid sister. There is nothing (within my power) that I would not do for her. Being nineteen years older than someone gives you such a distinct perspective on life when there’s a need to share experiences and my kid sister comes loaded with questions. She’s an intensely intelligent young lady and I am not surprised by this. Often the saying in our family to her is, “You are so much like Tre.” Or different variations of that phrase and I want to shout to everyone telling her this to stop!
While I’m appreciative of their comparison, I see the dismay and feel the worry from my sister as she struggles to make a name for herself. I am so proud of her. I do not know what it feels like to have a Father raise his daughter beyond twelve years. That connection has to be an intense one and my sister has that. She has had our Father since her birth and at the age of nineteen, he is still very involved in her life. My Father and I only recently began renewing a bond that fell from its pedestal when I was still in grade school and it is awkward, but we are both growing within this process.
Last year, my sister entered a University in close proximity to Atlanta, GA. The kid has a full ride, Presidential Scholarship and is excelling in every way possible. Again, I am not surprised. From the moment she began speaking, I could tell that she was going to press on in life in a way that could be considered unstoppable. I did not/ do not worry about her. Not in that realm. I had/have other concerns about her growth, like first heartbreak and how will she heal from that? But, those bridges have not yet formed, so we cannot cross them.
What sparked this post? Our Father’s worry over her entering school for a higher education four hours away from them. Not within his immediate reach. My kid sister was sheltered. Someone’s eyes was always on her. I grew up quite independent and left for college at eighteen, worked full time, and never returned home. I have been out of school for fifteen years, however, last year, when my sister was beginning to make her path into an unknown world, my Father called me up frantic and nearly in tears.
“Tre! Hey. Hey. Can I talk to you? Will you tell me about your college experience?” The question came as an instant gut-punch to me. I thought, “Now, you wanna know about my college experience?! You mean, the one you had no hand in, the one I struggled with, the one in which I worked full time and had classes full time, busted my face too many times to count regarding love because I had no MALE figure to point me in the right direction, the college experience that left me with debt after a lost scholarship?! THAT COLLEGE EXPERIENCE!” I thought these things, but I did not say them. I am good at pushing my feelings to the side in order to cater to someone else’s and I could tell my Father was hurting. The one child he truly raised was beginning to leave the nest. It wasn’t a time for me to break fool on him.
But, I did so after our phone call. I cried. I thought about the many years I spent time giving myself to boys, men, girls, women, searching for that love I did not have from my Father, and I just broke down. I screamed. I shouted. And then, I thought about something my Father said before we ended the call and it helped me put things into a better perspective. “You were always so independent. You did everything fast; walked, talked, learned, and became an adult before your time. I did not have to worry about you. You had it altogether. I worry about your sister. She’s not like you in that aspect, baby. ”
I knew what he was trying to say, but it didn’t make me feel any more loved. It actually made me feel like he had an idea of who I was but did not know I had to be who I was because of what I did not have, a Father. Parents do not know what they do to their children unless they’re told. They do not see us when our pain is most visible. In that moment of my breakdown, I felt second best. I felt as though my life was no longer a concern, I am grown, there’s nothing more to my growth that can be watered on me to help me grow even stronger, and I did not like that feeling.
I have yet to tell my Father how his asking about my educational life so many years after it has taken place makes me feel and I doubt that I will. When you have voiced your opinion on so many things with one person and you get reactions that are often wrought with accusations and finger-pointing, you learn to just be quiet and accept it for what it is. It is a part of life that keeps me on my toes. Truthfully, I have to be.
There will come a day when my sister will ask me of my college experience and I will tell her all that she wants to know. But, that day isn’t here yet. But, I will be ready when it arrives.