My younger sister and I are just shy of two years apart in age. My love for her is fierce and refined by years of sisterly struggles: we are oh-so-different and still so much the same. Being close in age has had great benefits. We shared clothes, cars and friends. We were, and are still, built-in playmates, and though drama could always be just around the corner, my stronger memories are those of laughter and friendship.
We each had our own bedroom in my parents’ house growing up. They were side by side in the square-shaped upstairs hallway, each with tall windows looking out into the backyard with the creek and the woods beyond. There was a time, maybe when I was around 12 years old or so, when our beds shared a wall, each butted up from within our private spaces. This shared wall became our sacred space, a space of friendship. That paper thin layer of drywall and spackle was just a thin veil between us, and her presence just a few inches from me was palpable.
My favorite part of this arrangement was our intricate knocking code. It didn’t take long before one of us would tap on the wall trying to get the other’s attention. But we would still have to breach the boundary, clamber into the hallway to be further understood. We couldn’t spend our time shouting at each other through closed doors, trying to be heard. We needed a system, a way send a message, and even better if could be covert. Little by little our knocking code grew. One knock to say “hello.” Two knocks to say “goodnight.” Six knocks to say “Turn on the radio!” A hand scribbled list was taped on the wall by my pillow with each number clearly documenting a corresponding message. The list grew as we thought of more things that we wanted to say: this list is iconic of the things that were important to our preteen selves. Number 22: “help!” This became a joke as we grew older, laughing at both our naive placement of this message, and the difficulty that we could have counting twenty two knocks — wait, was that 21 or 22? She might just be telling me that the phone is for me.
Another message that developed for us a few years later was “We’re sisters; we share.” I know that this line came out of a family vacation, but I’ve since lost track of it’s particular origin (TSC, do you remember?) This, though, has stuck around, quoted on birthday cards and thank you notes, and it’s one of the things that I find to be most true about sisterhood. Of course even siblings have different experiences within family, both because we are different people and because we were at different stages of life with each family episode. But we each, alone, were there for those episodes, together. We shared those experiences.
Even though Mark might be familiar with the well-worn folkloric stories of my childhood, it is all just second hand to him. With my sister, it is part of her story, too. We are woven so deeply into the making of ourselves. My sister is the one who is witness to my history: she was there when my jelly-shoe fell off my child-foot, sailing down the creek, and one of the neighbor boys saved it for me. Together we sang and danced in countless basement shows for our parents. We both carry the guilt of dressing up our cats and parading them around in baby doll strollers. These stories add up to mark my history, an arrow pointing towards my life now. My sister shares in this narrative that anchors my life. We continue to share a wall, knocking into this sacred space of each other’s lives.
“We’re sisters; we share.”
p.s. i love you.