From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Midnight Black

If your sister is in a tearing hurry to go out and cannot catch your eye, she’s wearing your best sweater.

Pam Brown

As kids, we divided our bedroom down the middle with sticky masking tape and dental floss. Naturally, that didn’t keep us from fighting for very long. Everything between Karen and I turned into a major competition which we eagerly played out with balled up fists, kicking legs and name-calling. With a little brother and a third bedroom to vie for, Karen gave her warning. “If I am forced to share this room with you any longer, the walls will go from this sickening pink to midnight black. And you know I make good on my threats.” She loomed over me as a predator. I shivered in her presence. So that is how Russ and I ended up as roommates for a few years. (He never once complained about my favorite color but now as a grown man in his forties he has an uncanny passion for cotton candy.) She accused me of stealing her Cinderella glass slipper while I tried to right the wrong of it being addressed to the incorrect sister at Christmas. For a science experiment, she made me eat caterpillars.

Teenage years did not prove easier; I announced she was a good example of what not to be and she stole my boyfriend. As young adults we revered being dissimilar. Karen became “Miss Manners” and lived her life by etiquette books. I gave them as gag gifts.

Years later, you would think we divided up the interstate much the same as we had our bedroom years earlier. “I’ll stay on the east side of I-35 and you can have the west side.” Three hundred miles apart, we were worlds away from each other. It was not just our lifestyles that were diverse; she lived in the country surrounded by animals, while I lived in the suburbs and taught, but it is our life philosophy as well. Somewhere in the interim of our last tumultuous visit I have grown older and mellowed, even making friendships of people with viewpoints that are quite different than mine. Could Karen and I take an adult stance and bridge the gap to become friends?

Wistfully sighing, I watched sisters shopping together, sharing undisclosed childhood secrets that they carried into womanhood, making them closer. I envied their holidays spent together with gift exchanges. With us, birthdays went unnoticed. Dreams never shared, heartbreaks never carried. Karen had not seen my daughter since Kim was a baby. She was about to graduate from college. I had not seen her son since he drove his matchbox car through his peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the silver tray of his high chair. Today Ben stands over six feet tall and sings in a country western band.

Pondering the issues of everything that went wrong in our relationship, I decided to go for expert counseling; my sixteen-year-old son, Matthew was available.

“So tell me your secret. How come you and your sister never fight?”

“Easy. We accept each other as individuals. I do not try to change her and she doesn’t try to change me. We just love each other.” What a new idea! Total acceptance. It may just work.

Karen and I were stuck on opposite sides of our pink room still back in childhood, surrounded by sticky tape and dental floss. It is a grief that reaches deep inside my soul. I decided to erase the invisible line that we drew between us, separating us, dividing us. It was time. I deserved a sister.

Sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor, I turned page after page of old scrapbooks. Happy faces of another life smiled up at me. I remembered useful things Karen taught me, like how to mash up peas and put them on the back of my ears then cover with hair, so Mom thought I ate them. We watched Roy Rogers on TV and became cowgirls together, riding our broomsticks into the sunset.

I yearned to return for just one day to straighten out our misunderstandings, tell her I loved her and say how grateful I was to have her as my sister. Laying down my battle weapons of competition and pettiness, I was left with raw honesty. Deep affection remained. Since our parent’s death, I yearned for part of a family I no longer knew. Could we leapfrog over the past? Would she tell me the secret ingredient in her delicious apple pie? Maybe we could ride her horses together and feel the wind of renewal in our faces as we rode side by side into the sunset of life.

It was time to see Karen and build a relationship from rubble. A time of new beginnings. At long last I would have my sister to confide in, to send frilly grocery store cards that read: “I am so glad that you are my sister.”

Driving to her house unannounced, I saw rounded cheeks in the rearview mirror. I was alone in the car so I knew they had to be mine. Once I had gloated over being the thinner sister. Now that couldn’t be further from the truth. Time dropped my chest squarely onto my waist, making me thankful to have a large stomach to keep them from journeying down to my knees. I felt embarrassed, apprehensive. Would she receive me?

Arriving at her little country house, I saw Karen stooped over digging with a spade in her garden. Hearing the approach of the car, she stopped and cupped her hand to shade her eyes from the bright summer sun. I could tell when she realized it was I, for her hand dropped to her side and the spade fell to the ground. Yes, a slow smile burned its way across her face. Her hair was gray and she was trim and fit looking. Time had been good to her. She came closer to me as I walked quickly to meet her. We giggled.

Karen patted my fanny. She thought she had won the weight competition.

“Did you know being overweight is in vogue now?” Karen asked to my amazement.

“Really,” I replied pulling my blouse down to help hide bulges.

“I just read an article about it.” Karen opened the door to me.

“No kidding.”

I smelled apple pie . . .

Robin Janson-Shope

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