Dear Sister: Lessons Learned From a Broken Relationship

I am the youngest child in my family. There are four of us. There are two from my mother's first marriage - my brother & half-sister. There are two from my mother's second marriage, my elder sister & me. There is an 8-year gap between my half-sister & my sister who I will simply call Jay. 

Jay & I are two & a half years apart. Because Jay started school early, socially & developmentally, there was always 3-years between us. When I was starting Division I Elementary school (grades 1-3), Jay was starting Division II Elementary School (grades 4-6). When I started Junior High (grades 7-9), Jay started Senior High (grades10-12). This left a pretty big gap between us. While we should have had things in common, we just didn't.

Sisters & The Meaning of Family: Lamenting a Relationship That Never Was

Two People Worlds Apart

I know a lot of people with sisters. Most of my female friends with sisters describe their relationship as quite close. As sisters, they tend to have a lot in common. Some of them even look alike. 

Jay & I aren't like that. While people constantly said we looked alike growing up, I've never seen it & we certainly don't look alike now.  We also don't have anything in common. Jay was always a night owl & her propensity for sleeping in was something close to astounding. I, on the other hand, was up at 5AM for most of my life & have always had difficulty keeping my eyes open after 9PM.

Jay loved watching television. She could spend an entire day in her bed, wrapped in her blankets (she loved her blankets, I've never seen a person wear through their blankets like my sister) watching television shows or movies. I've never been a big TV watcher. It takes a particularly good show or movie for me to get lost in the story & lose hours or days binge-watching it.

Jay was always outgoing & seemed so sure of herself. She was always bold & a risk taker. I, on the other hand, rarely spoke, was terrified of everyone & everything, & lived the life of a particularly uptight & tightly wound child who was terrified by the world & everyone in it.

We were just so different.

Younger Sister Awe

The differences between Jay & I left me feeling inadequate. There's more to the story of my feelings of inadequacy, but that's an article for another time. 

As a child & young girl, I thought the way that Jay was, was the way that I was supposed to be. In my mind, Jay had this whole life thing down to an art form & I was a bumbling buffoon, tumbling through life & messing everything up. In my eyes, Jay was confident & always knew the right things to say. She was so smart, so funny & so beautiful. She could play guitar & piano & sing so wonderfully. She had so many things going for her & I saw my inherent differences as endless shortcomings.

Jay had the most lovely printing. Her colouring skills were something I coveted. She could draw so much better than me. She had so many talents. I always felt plain. Being 3-years behind Jay, of course my art skills were not on the same level as hers, of course I wasn't as good at math as she was. A child protégé I was not, but not knowing the things my older sister knew didn't make me stupid or useless, though that was what I lead myself to believe.

My inability to emulate the areas of life that Jay was clearly more developed in, however, left me feeling badly about myself. Of course, there was a dark-side to these feelings of inadequacy, as well, most notably that Jay would constantly tell me I was dumber than her, less-popular than her, uglier than her & the list goes on.  

Jay was mean, but, as the younger sister, I was always willing to overlook the meanness. I was also so grateful for the moments when she was kind to me & spent time with me, that I could never allow myself to hold a grudge, or even stand up for myself on most occasions.

Looking Past Childhood

I've always been a forward thinker. I've always been a meticulous planner. I've always had a clear vision of the future & understood that the now is a means to that future. This future-focus has always provided me with a unique clarity with regards to what I should be doing right now. 

What I mean is that, I always understood that I wanted to be healthy as I got older. So, even as an impressionable youth, I didn't smoke, I steered clear of all drugs, I didn't drink until it was legal for me to do so, & when it was legal for me to do so, I drank in moderation (with the understanding that I needed to maintain control of myself in order to avoid doing something I'd later regret which might threaten my future). I've always worked hard, particularly in young adulthood. I worked two full-time jobs while I attended university full-time, so that I would avoid debt. Basically, I always let my future goals govern the actions of the present.

With regards to Jay, this meant that I would never let myself harden towards her.

No matter what Jay did, no matter what she said, no matter how she treated me, & no matter the fights she & I would have, I was steadfast in keeping my heart open to her. I believed that, one day, we would be clear of the childhood distain that rested between us. I believed that we would outgrow the differences of our teenaged drama. I believed we'd blossom into women whose relationship ran as deep as the blood that bound us together & beat with a trust that bordered on conspiratorial.

I believed we'd develop into women & as women we would embrace our bond of sisterhood & that bond would remain unbroken throughout the years & the decades ahead.

I was wrong.

Unconditional Love & The Flogging of a Dead Horse

I believe in unconditional love. 

I believe in unconditional love because I feel it. I believe that feeling something is all it takes to make it real.

With Jay, I still love her. Now, it's just a different kind of love. 

Jay & I haven't spoke since 2012. I was living in Vancouver at the time & she was still back in Calgary. She had messaged me on Facebook about a particularly difficult time she was having with my niece. I sat & listened to her & tried to talk her down. The conversation, however, began to spiral, as it often did when Jay would get angry. Before it could spiral into a full-on fight, I told my sister I would talk to her later. 

She responded with a vitriolic rant full of untruths & concluded her message with "have a great life". We haven't spoke since.

Now, you'll notice I started this section by saying that I love my sister. I do love her. The thing that Jay taught me about unconditional love, however, is that is can happen from afar. I can keep that love in my heart & I can hope the best for her, but at this distance, it stops us from beating that love any further.

This was a valuable lesson to learn. I'm grateful to Jay for teaching it to me. 

At this distance, the love that I have in my heart sits above the mire of our differences & our tumultuous relationship. It's safe & untouched by words & actions. 

Long distance Love, Learning About Family & Wishing Things Were Different

I've always maintained a future-focused perspective on my life. This keeps me moving in a forward trajectory. Without the realisation that unconditional love can happen from a distance, however, I would be trapped in the mud & the quagmire of the juxtaposition between the family that I have & the family that I so desperately wanted us to be. 

Knowing that I can hold the love that I have for Jay in my heart without subjecting the both of us to the bedlam of our relationship has allowed me to grow & to stretch in ways that I didn't know were possible for me. I hope that the same is happening for her. The destinations I have reached & the destinations that still lie ahead, waiting to be discovered, make the lesson of "long distance love", one of the most valuable in my life.

I am thankful for that lesson.

Still, there is a selfish part of me that wishes things were different. I wish for a time & a space where maintaining a relationship with my sister didn't have to involve jumping ship on myself, or cowering in the corner hoping that the name calling & verbal assaults she prides herself on wouldn't be directed at me. I wish there was a dimension, or plane of existence where we could thrive in a relationship of sisterhood & we could nourish & nurture one another.

In spite of my wishing, I have granted both Jay & I the gift of understanding that this wish of mine just isn't us & that imposing this ideal relationship on the two of us would be restrictive & run counter to who we both are as people.

This understanding is the best gift that I can give to both her & to myself.

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Who is Britten? She's a reticent little beast born in the wilds of Northern Alberta to a foul-mouthed, French-Canadian father & an angry, stiff-upper-lipped mother. Britten is, almost always, wild-haired & poorly dressed. She recently left the beautiful & untamed chill of Canada for the blistering & somewhat oppressive heat of Australia. Her list of pastimes is short & includes reading, writing, petting cats, overeating & alphabetizing things. She's a fan of Windex on Facebook because who doesn't want a streak free shine? She dreams of one day writing a super-awesome novel that affords her & her partner a comfortable lifestyle, a large property, a few horses & the means with which to foster children in need...or just becoming a red panda.

When Britten isn't writing, reading, or organizing things in her home, she can be found cuddling with her boyfriend, arguing about why Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the history of ever, browsing Gumtree for a future cat or kitten, or contemplating days gone by, the passage of time & how ridiculous it is that humans have yet to evolve enough to grow a third set of teeth.