The earliest memory I have of my sister is still a bit hazy. But it’s been told to me over and over again by my mom when she wanted to remind me that I was a pretty mean big sister when Junior was little. I wish I remembered more of Junior when she was a baby because she was really quite cute – wee and cuddly. But I’d had 3 years of my mom’s undivided love and attention, so it was only natural that her arrival upset my balance of nature – you know, having my mom drop everything to tend to my every need, all the time – anytime. So on this one afternoon, my sister’s Godmother was coming over to visit and my mom was busy doing something in the kitchen while Jr. was “standing” upright in her little play chair in the family room. Our house wasn’t very big so my mom could still keep an eye on both of us. I was “watching television” when I noticed the spray bottle my parents used to spray water on the plants had been left in the dining room. Backed with the agility that Ethan Hunt (via Tom Cruise) pulled out when he was breaking into the vault in that iconic Mission Impossible scene, I managed to grab the spray bottle from under my mom’s nose and sprayed an unsuspecting Junior full in the face several times before my mom ran from the kitchen and was, according to her words, “ready to kill me.” As my luck would have it, my sister’s Godmother came in at that exact moment, calmed my mom down, made sure she and Junior were okay, and then took me to McDonald’s to keep me alive while my mom cuddled my sister. While I loved my mom’s attention, McDonald’s French Fries remain a weakness of mine to this day, so I was easily distracted and made happy.
I can easily say now that the best present my parents ever gave me was my sister. While it didn’t always feel that way, I can’t imagine having made it this far in my life without her. When we were growing up I was always told that Junior was my responsibility and that it was my job to make sure she was all right when we left the house together. A three-year age gap isn’t much once you get into your twenties, but when you’re a pre-teen, it feels like you’re decades apart. Since my parents, both worked, and I was a really fussy, independent kid, I didn’t want to be stuck at a babysitter’s house. So when we were finally allowed to stay home while my parents went to work, I was “in charge.” It mostly worked out. We had more than one TV in the house so we didn’t have to argue over the television. We’d play games together – “Sisters” – was a favourite with all of our My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake, and other dolls all lined up to play in our “houses.” However, I know I can be a little (lot) bossy. Junior could only take it for so long. Once my parents got home, we would go our separate ways and didn’t hang out very much outside of the house. To be fair, we were two totally different personalities and had few shared interests. We did bond a little bit through high school as our shared love of the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) provided some common goals. But even that came with a chance for me to be bossy since I had to make sure I got us both home safely so that neither of us got in trouble for gallivanting around town, getting home too late, or running after those foolish boys onstage. So I always felt a responsibility towards my sister rather than really trying to take in those moments and just enjoy them.
I mean my sister was certainly braver than I was and liked to go out and have fun with her friends. I would spend most of my time at home – alone. She always wanted to be out, much to my dad’s dismay, and she challenged him more often than I did. I just did what I was told for fear of getting in trouble. I had a small group of friends, didn’t get invited to many parties and I didn’t have any boyfriends. My sister, however, was the opposite. She had a larger friend group, was invited to parties, and had boyfriends. She would always push back to demand to know why she wasn’t allowed to do something and sometimes she’d just go out and do it anyway. And that’s when I would get into trouble. All my bossiness was no match for the apparent influence I had over her. My dad would always say to me, “It’s because she looks up to you!” to which I would want to reply, “If she did, she’d keep her ass at home then!” (I never said this out loud and this is why I am alive to write this today.)
But as we got into our twenties we became much better friends and allies. I still didn’t want to know when she got her belly button pierced because she was hiding it from my parents and look – plausible deniability is a REAL THING, ya’ll. But we bonded over many TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular), a love of concerts (though she’s seen Snoop Dog in concert and I never managed that), and genuinely some sister hangings where we could talk about nothing for hours. She helped style me, did my makeup whenever I had to go out, and met Donnie Wahlberg before I did, but then made sure I got the chance to meet him too. No relationship is perfect. My sister has driven me crazy more times than I can count and vice versa. But at the end of the day, she’s the only friend I have who will always be there for me no matter what. She will drop everything and get back to make sure I am okay. When I tore my Achilles tendon she rushed back to come take care of me. She made sure my feet were clean, that my hair was washed, and put flaxseed oil in everything I ate to make sure I would heal. Who else could I have dragged to all of those NKOTB reunion concerts and cruises? And when my mom had her first stroke, who else could I have shared all of that pain with? And then after the second stroke – it was almost more than I could handle. Through all of those intense overnights in the hospital watching over my mom and praying she didn’t die and would recover. All the care my mom required afterward, she was there to provide comfort and love for both my mom and me.
As much as my dad would say that Junior looked up to me, I very much looked up to her. She’s a talented artist, she loves unconditionally, she forgives easily, she’s incredibly loyal, the way she treats animals would put any animal whisperer to shame (insects not included), she’s a great cook, she’s frugal and loves the art of the deal, and she loves cake more than I do. She’s made me braver, a much better negotiator, given me a much greater appreciation for furry animals, and taught me how to stick up for myself (especially when someone tries to steal my parking spot).
So why am I telling you all of this? I am telling you all of this because I haven’t been able to see her in over a year because of this damned pandemic. And I miss her so much. I feel like we’ve been robbed of this time together. I hate that she hasn’t been able to see my mom as much as I hate that my mom hasn’t been able to see her. All this wasted time and I’m getting crankier and physically aching that we’ve been separated. We are lucky, she and her family are healthy, but as Stacey wrote in one of her recent posts, I took my shot and feeling all the feels. I know we’re getting closer to the goal line, but I’d really like to fast forward a bit. I just can’t wait to see my sister again.
I’d like to say I fall into the “sandwich generation” – and while I have no children of my own to care for – I find myself falling somewhere in between caring for my mother and caring for my sanity. When I am not working, I have the honour of helping look after my amazing mother, who has suffered 2 strokes in the past 11 years. Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart, and if I am being honest, it can be a crappy club to be a member of. I have fallen down more times than I care to count through this journey, but while channeling my incredible stubbornness, strength (both of which I come by honestly,) and several F-words (Faith, Family, Friends and Food), I keep getting back up. IG: @Coolman_Eh