From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

My Sister’s Shadow

Love lets the past die. It moves people to a new beginning without settling the past. Love prefers to tuck the loose ends of past rights and wrongs in the bosom of forgiveness and pushes us to a new start.

Author Unknown

“Can we send her back? I’d rather have a kitten.”

Instinctively I knew, even at five, that this little bundle everyone cooed over would profoundly impact my life.

From the moment she could walk, she became my second shadow. Wherever I went I had to take “her” with me. But it wasn’t long before I discovered I was the one in the shadows.

My bedroom became “our” room. My things were constantly in the “share with your sister” pile. She “borrowed” everything of mine. Nothing was sacred or off-limits.

“Mom!” I yelled down the stairwell. “She’s wearing my underwear! But Mom . . . not my underwear. Isn’t anything just mine?”

My sister had soft blonde curls. My hair was mousy brown. She was homecoming queen. My prom date was nicknamed “Drippy Dreps.” She won the lead in the school play. I was too afraid to audition. She was bubbly, funny and fickle. I was serious and sensible. She made people laugh out loud, drawing them to her like a moth to a flame.

As much as I resented being in her shadow . . . never feeling I was pretty enough or funny enough . . . I, too, basked in the warmth of her love for life. And my days were sunnier, more interesting and more enjoyable for each day I shared with her.

As adults, we were the best of friends. Our rivalry became more subtle. She bought a bigger house, a newer car. The rivalry was nothing more than an occasional annoyance.

The final competition . . . the one I couldn’t overlook . . . involved a man—my man! Nursing her emotional wounds after a second divorce, my sister moved in with us. Six months later, my husband, my house, my world belonged to her. I took my two sons, filed for divorce, and tried to survive what I felt had been a terminal blow. To me, it was the final straw—the ultimate betrayal—she was my sister . . . my best friend . . . my enemy.

I went on with my life, raised my children, remarried and graduated from college at the age of forty-five. Meanwhile, I made sure my sister and I never crossed paths, carefully avoiding family gatherings she attended. And every time my inner self reminded me of how I missed her, how my life had lost some of its sunshine, I would silence it.

News of my sister would come through the family pipeline. Her life was one of pain and heartache. Her relationship with my ex didn’t last. She ended up in jobs she hated and with men she hated more. Now word reached me that marriage number four was on the skids.

“Hello?” I asked, breathless as I caught the phone on the fifth ring. I thought I had missed the caller, but I heard someone breathing. “Is anybody there?”

“It’s me.”

I froze in disbelief as I recognized my sister’s voice.

“Please don’t hang up. I need to talk to you. Please.”

My mind exploded with thoughts and emotions I couldn’t voice. How dare you call me. Are you crying? Good, I’m glad you’re hurting. No, I’m not. It’s been so long since we’ve talked, but that’s not my fault, is it? I’ve missed you. Did you ever miss me? How could you do what you did? Why did you?

“I’m getting a divorce . . . again,” she said with a wry laugh. “I . . . I need your help. I know I don’t deserve it, and I won’t blame you if you say no. But I have nowhere else to turn.”

Her pain was almost palpable and yet I couldn’t find it in myself to make it any easier for her . . . all the hurt, tears and resentment of the past bubbled to the surface.

“I was wondering if I could come and stay with you for a few weeks.” Her voice was barely a whisper. “Just until I find a place and can get on my feet.”

I can’t believe it. The nerve. She can just call up out of the blue and ask to move in with me . . . like what happened before never happened . . . is she crazy?


Finally, I found my voice. “Let me think about it,” I replied. “I’ll call you back.”

Our first days together were awkward. Forgiveness didn’t come easily. It didn’t come at all—until I faced two painful truths.

My sister didn’t break up my marriage. A good marriage, one of strong character and united strength, would never have been threatened. The relationship I had with my husband had been nothing more than a straw house built on sand, incapable of weathering life’s storms. For years, I couldn’t admit my marriage was a fairy-tale illusion, and when the happily-ever-after didn’t happen, it was easy to point blame outward and too painful to acknowledge my own mistakes.

Second, I wanted revenge for her betrayal. When the line in the sand was drawn between my husband and myself, she had to make a choice. I was her flesh and blood, her sister, her best friend—and she had picked him.

I found that once I was able to honestly access the past— and forgive myself—I was no longer a victim. I understood that anger and hatred was a choice—and I chose to let it go. I was free. It was an exhilarating feeling. Happiness at having the opportunity to have my sister back in my life became my priority. Weeks turned into months, and the bond between us grew.

One evening, as we sat before a fire, clinking wine glasses and toasting her new house, new job and the first day of her new life, her eyes filled with tears.

“I feel like such a failure,” she whispered. “When I think of all the mistakes I have made . . . the people I love but have hurt . . . the bad choices . . . I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I want it to be different this time. I want to do things right. I have to do things right. I won’t survive another wrong turn.”

Attempting to comfort her, I said, “We’ve all made mistakes, done things we wished we could take back.” I grinned. “Even me.”

The ghost of a smile touched her mouth.

Laying my hand on hers, I whispered, “It’s going to be okay.”

Suddenly I realized the truth in my own words. All our lives, we had both seen things in each other we admired yet envied. I loved her personality, her ability to make people feel good just being around her.

For her, I was a safe haven. She trusted me to listen and give advice even when it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. And she knew I would always be there for her, even when I hadn’t known it myself, because of my strong commitment to family.

We were sisters, not shadows of one another, nor competitors, nor rivals. We were threads of the same cloth. Our differences, as well as our similarities, had colored our lives in unique ways. But when blended together it turned into the most beautiful of fabrics. Strong. Resilient. A magnificent tapestry.

Diane Burke

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