My Sister: An Exegesis on Patterns and Ice

Okay.

I’ve written about my sister before on this blog. She is probably, apart from my mother, the person I have the most complicated relationship with. In fact, it’s probably more complex than my relationship with my mother. At least we communicate.

My sister is 4 1/2 years younger. As you know if you’ve read my blog, from about age 8 to age 14 I was a hellion– or in less inflammatory terms, a very troubled little girl with symptoms of OCD, bipolar, and depression. Now, as my parents jump to remind me, she wasn’t a perfect kid either. She had learning disabilities and struggled in school. But really, that’s no match for a little girl who bangs her head against walls and threatens her mother with a knife. Yup. Both those things happened.

When I was struggling, I didn’t get along with anyone except, perhaps, a teacher or two. I had friends but I didn’t feel like I did. Basically I was too sick to really give a shit about much at all. The moral being that I CERTAINLY didn’t get along with my sister.

We fought in the normal ways, but she also was part of the collateral damage when things were very bad. It never got much more violent than an Indian burn (wow, looking back, that’s a terrible name for that), but the intention to hurt was there. I certainly made her cry because I was mean, and most importantly, my behavior scared her. I was unpredictable and lashed out at the smallest provocation. i wasn’t a safe person.

But, being my sister, she also learned how to provoke me. And when she provoked me, she knew exactly when to call for Mom’s help. And no matter what, on every occasion, my sister was comforted and put somewhere safe and I was punished. Because I reacted. I know this is basic sister stuff. Everyone does this. But for a kid whose ability to hold it together is on incredibly thin ice, and for a kid whose parents are hyper-vigilant about her moods, and for a kid who doesn’t really feel much of anything thanks to the psychotropic drugs… An angry reaction from me is met with severe consequences from my parents. And of course, because no one believes the “bad kid,” I could never convince anyone that there was an instigator in the sweet, sticky face of my cherubic sister.

We also struggled because she took on every activity I did, again, like most sisters. But again with us, this tension was on crack. Getting to feel special and good at something was, for me, the only way out of my unhappiness. Dancing was something I was good at, and made me feel good. My dad teaching my flyfishing made me feel closer to him. The boarding school I went to was a magical place that was mine, that I had made. And each one of these steps, she stepped in after, and they stopped being mine. And I felt forgotten and lost. I still feel this way sometimes.

And, of course, the icing on the cake was that I moved out at 16 to go to boarding school. My sister was 12. I missed her entire adolescence, which was fairly “exciting,” though in a different way than mine. She dated boys who treated her badly. She drank. She had ceaseless health problems. When I fucked up, I must have done something wrong. When she fucked up, she was damaged and needed protection.

The clearest recent experience of this dichotomy was when I was deep in the early part of my disorder. I’ve told the story about Russia a million times, but in a nutshell– I was moving into a new apartment, then was flying to study in Russia for a month. My mom came to help me move, then my family spent Christmas together on the East Coast before I flew away. I had a blast, despite my disorder. My family pretended to. When I returned from Russia, after a month of cheery emailing, I came back to my therapist who had a letter my parents had sent her behind my back. I was falling apart, they said, and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was tightly wound and treated other people like shit.

I was infuriated for a million reasons, but key among this was the assumption that I wasn’t in control of my own life. Someone needed to come in and MAKE ME change, FIX me. There was no encouragement. There was no compassion. There was a mistake that needed to be fixed.

When I decided to go back on Zoloft, I called my mother, since I’m still on my parents’ insurance. I told her, very practically, what I had chosen to do. I had recently suffered an injury (which was NOT caused by the ED, fyi). My mother’s response was, “Well, it’s about time. It’s too bad it took an injury to get you to see the situation clearly.”

My disorder. My fault.

My sister’s poor decision-making. Well, she was sexually assaulted so her boundaries are fucked. Well, she’s just confused. Poor thing. Let’s make sure she has the resources to recover and let’s love her all the way through it.

My mother never came to New York to help me recover or support me in my struggle. She never offered.
When was being treated for endometriosis and migraines, my mother moved to San Francisco for a month to take care of her.

My eating disorder is selfish. I should get more help for my depression. I suck at getting “well.”
My sister’s assault is obviously not her fault, so her actions after the assault are not her fault. She’s recovering, in her own time. She gets time.

I am the perpetrator.
She is the victim.

The pattern continues.

Another layer is petty but real. My sister is beautiful. She’s 5’9″, slender, long-limbed, with a round, stunning face and big brown eyes, hair that naturally curls in ringlets. She’s got that sweet sexiness of a commercial model.

I am not unattractive. But I’m not a model.

Boys flock to my sister. Girls flock to her too. She’s popular, and always has been. She gets what she wants because people want to give her things. She’s like Jon Hamm’s character on 30 ROCK.

Haha, now I believe we’ve finally gotten to the crux of the matter.

Here’s why I’m writing this entry.

My sister is studying abroad in London this semester. She whined about the program at first, but is relishing in the fact that it’s apparently the “best” ceramics program in the world.

She has also been traveling. She’s visited friends in London, Copenhagen, Munich, and now, Iceland. She’s seeing a number of different boys of high quality and doesn’t seem to understand that most people don’t get to have their pick of international hotties. She’s spending my parents’ money on all of this. Her lifestyle doesn’t take money into account at all.

None of this is objectively THAT BAD. But here’s where it gets tricky:

I’m jealous.

I live a pretty “fancy” life in New York City. I see Broadway shows, I pee in bathrooms with Julie Andrews, I go to world-renowned festivals. But I don’t travel. I am here, or I’m at “home” with my folks. MAYBE I’m in PA with A’s folks, MAYBE spending the weekend in CT or a day in Cold Spring. When I studied abroad, I chose a frugal and logical choice. I know Shakespeare well, and I didn’t want to miss any time in NYC. So I went to Russia for a month instead of London for six. Russia is a terrifying place, and I learned a lot about myself. But we didn’t travel. We didn’t have time. And when we did do “big” things — New Years’ Eve in Red Square, for one– I was scared because Russia is FUCKING SCARY. And I was logical enough to know what I needed to do to stay safe. My choice to go to Russia was a bold one, in that way– Western Europe is COMPLETELY different from the Eastern Bloc. But I didn’t travel the world. And I only spent my own money and scrimped and saved beyond belief.

But I see her pictures– traipsing about Copenhagen without a care, sipping Guiness at the factory in Dublin, jaunting up to Rejkjavik with a boy she doesn’t even really like, while money is flushed away. This really hit me when i called my mom recently, and I told her how I was jealous my sister was in Iceland. My mom heaved a sigh and reiterated that my sister is frittering away funds that they don’t have, and she doesn’t get it. She’s mad and jealous too.

So a part of me is grateful that I’m sensible and responsible.
But another part of me wishes I could do what I wanted and not fear the consequences.

My whole life I have been aware of consequences, aware that the way I act will affect the way my parents see me. I’ve lived my entire life as though I’m on very thin ice with everyone. It’s not a great way to live, but it has kept me safe.

My sister blows through her life without a sense of how she takes advantage of people. She is loved no matter what. By my parents, by men, by friends. And there will always be someone new for her.

So yeah. I’m jealous, and I’m mad, and I’m a bit sad.

And maybe I needed to talk about this?! Jeez!!

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