Sometimes you just have to write…
Since my sister, Nina, is turning 50 today, I think it’s time to write about her.
Nina is a year and a half younger than I am, the baby of the family. When we were growing up, we were each other’s constant companion, constant competitive rival, constant mortal enemy, but eventually, constant friend.
We have an older sister, but she was so much older that she just didn’t factor into our world. One clenched fist waved in our direction was enough to keep us out of her way, and to keep her in the background of our daily lives.
Nina and I fought like cats and dogs. There was screaming, punching, scratching, kicking, biting, hair-pulling. My father would go hide in the basement to get away from us and, eventually, when I was nine and Nina was seven, we moved to a bigger house so that she and I didn’t have to share a room and my father had a better place to go hide when we were at war. And we battled pretty much constantly until we hit adolescence, when we just stopped having anything to do with each other at all.
But there were times when we played together, and times I tried to be a good big sister. The thing was: we were so close in age that I couldn’t really be a big sister to her. I was too busy trying to stay a step ahead of her. Within a week or two of my learning to ride a bike without training wheels, for instance, she learned too.
There are two incidents that come to mind when I think of our childhood, both of which we remember very differently.
One was the day I tried to teach her to walk down the stairs. I must have been about four years old and she must have been two or three. She could walk up, but to go down she had to turn around, drop to her hands and knees, and crawl down the stairs backwards.
So I offered to show her how, and she agreed. I remember standing at the top of the stairs holding hands with her and, in my four-year-old mind, all I had to do was show her how to take a step down. So that’s what I told her: “Just step down like this.” And we did. And the next thing I knew she was rolling thump, thump, thump, down the stairs, as I watched in horror from the top. I’m not sure if that horror was because she had gotten hurt or because I knew I’d be in big trouble with our parents.
They came running, of course, hearing her howls from the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, it was a split-level house, so it was only half a flight of stairs, and it was carpeted, so she only got bruised.
To this day she thinks I pushed her. I didn’t.
The other incident was, not surprisingly, very similar.
We were outside on the street, where we spent most of our days after school. I was perhaps seven or eight years old. I held a baseball bat, which I think didn’t belong to us, but rather to one of the many boys who lived on the street. I was pretending to be a baseball player warming up before batting, so I was loosely swinging the bat around, pretending I knew what I was doing.
After a while, I decided it was my turn at bat, and stepped up to my imaginary plate. I tapped the base with the end of the bat, just like the professionals do, and raised the bat, extending it back and striking the pose of waiting for the pitch. When the imaginary pitch came, I swung as hard as I could, imagining the bat connecting with a solid “thunk” to that imaginary ball.
But the “thunk” was my sister’s head. She was standing slightly behind me to my right (I’m left-handed), and after I hit the ball, I hit her. I must have simply forgotten she was there, or else she moved closer. I’m not sure.
The bat got her above the eye, splitting a cut into her eyebrow, and blood in impressive quantities flowed. Again, that same horror, either at hurting her or at the thought of how angry my parents would be. She still bears the scar from that cut.
And again, to this day, she thinks I hit her on purpose. I didn’t.
So those are my two most vivid memories of our childhood together: hurting her by mistake. What does that say about the rest of our childhood together? Hurting her on purpose was “normal”? However tumultuous it was, I suppose we shaped each other in ways we can’t even identify (other than her scar, I mean).
And once we grew up, we became simply friends. We don’t see each other much now, since I live in Holland and she’s in Connecticut, but we trade kids now and then – I send mine to visit her or she sends hers to visit me – and talk on skype from time to time. She’s become my BFF, to use the modern term, and on the extremely rare occasion when we see each other in person, we fall right back into the comfortable friendship that formed when we were young adults.
And now I can’t be there for her 50th birthday today, but I’m thinking of her, and wishing her the best birthday ever!
Did you fight constantly with a sibling too? What is your relationship like now? Leave a comment below. You can also share this post with your sibling by clicking on an icon below.