Remembering a biological bond lasts much longer than your apartment lease
When my sister Jennifer was born nearly 20 years ago, I didn’t quite understand the concept of having a sister. While my mom was still in the hospital and my grandma was taking care of me, I asked my grandma, “Who is Jennifer’s mommy going to be?” and then, “Where is she going to live?” After taking out my initial jealousy on our white couch with my magic markers, I learned having a sister essentially meant having a built-in partner-in-crime, having a playmate on family vacations and rainy afternoons, having a seatmate on roller coasters and — most importantly — having a best friend.
Now that we’re almost “grown up,” I often ask Jennifer for advice when I can’t make a decision, or call her when I’m having a bad day. Wise beyond her years, she always knows exactly what to say to make me feel better without sugarcoating the situation.
Maybe it’s the years of watching teen dramas such as “The O.C.,” “One Tree Hill” and “Gilmore Girls” that taught her what not to do, or maybe it was her superior ability to learn from the mistakes of those around her. Either way, my sister really has a great outlook and understanding of how to approach life — regardless of her occasional overly dramatic text about trivial things like a botched eyebrow wax.
I don’t know why this surprises me. When we were little kids, I always envied my sister’s ability to live life to the fullest. Jennifer “YOLO’d” before it was cool. She was not afraid to get dirt on her clothes and ruin her outfit while I watched from the sidelines, keeping my half of our matching Gymboree outfits pristine. She would play with her toys all throughout the house until they wouldn’t work anymore, while mine were kept in mint condition and in their rightful homes. When our youngest sister, Lindsey, was born in 1999, Jennifer was able to sustain her imagination longer than I ever could, making sure Lindsey’s childhood was filled with as many Barbie Jeep and dress-up memories as our own.
As we got older and outgrew those matching outfits, our relationship evolved from that of playmate to confidante. Even though our car rides to high school were silent, as I groggily forced her to listen to my favorite songs on repeat, our car rides home were filled with chatter as we compared days.
While I worried about a one-point mistake on a math quiz or stressed out about not starting a long-term project a week in advance, Jennifer was more focused on whether she would be carbo-loading with a bagel or bread sticks before she ran off to hours of cheer practice. She never sweated the small stuff like I did, instead throwing herself into her greatest life passion.
As I studied world history and read classic American novels, Jennifer analyzed hours and hours of cheerleading competition DVDs and voraciously read her American Cheerleader magazine. Then, on weekends, she would jet off to a new city — okay, it was usually Cleveland — to perform the routines she practiced all around our house and at the gym. And after she practiced flipping on our couch so many times she almost broke it, our mom finally caved, and our childhood dream of having a trampoline right in the backyard finally became a reality.
The night before I left for college I knew I would miss a lot of things about home. Strong water pressure and home-cooked meals were near the top of the list, but one of the hardest people to say goodbye to was Jennifer.
Despite that tearful goodbye, I quickly realized it wasn’t a goodbye at all. After a night out on Rugby Road listening to Miley Cyrus sing “Party in the U.S.A.,” I would Facebook message her to tell her all the details of what college life was really like.
Then, when she went to James Madison University just two years later, I was able to visit her for lunch on a bad day or invite her to Charlottesville to watch “Saved By the Bell” for old times’ sake. Like our TV choices, not much has changed. She doesn’t spend too much time worrying about a text message she shouldn’t have sent or what she could have said to someone instead of what she actually said. Over-analyzing is my specialty, but Jennifer recently taught me a good rule of thumb: if you’re obsessing about something for more than 15 minutes, you’re overanalyzing it and should change your mental channel.
The 15-minute rule doesn’t apply to everything. Some things, like thinking about how I don’t know where I will be living in June when my lease in Charlottesville runs out, merit a little more consideration. But my uncertain future becomes less paralyzing when I remind myself that no matter who else comes in and out of my life, Jennifer isn’t going anywhere.
Katie’s column runs biweekly Tuesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.