July 20, 2004

Poke Me with a Fork, Big Sister

I have only one sibling - my older sister, Paula. She is 3 1/2 years older than I. Ours has not been a happy sibling relationship.

My earliest memory of my sister is a painful one. I was around 3 or 4 years old, and was sitting on the floor playing. She grabbed me by the arm and hauled me upward off of the floor, completely dislocating my arm from the socket. It hurt so bad I peed my pants. I remember having to go to the emergency room and have x-rays to see if it was broken. I still have trouble with that shoulder sometimes if I exert myself...a painful reminder.

Our childhoods were filled with tribulations. We were forced to share a bedroom when we were very young. One time, she coerced me into "playing a trick on mom and dad" and we hid under our beds. When mom & dad came in to check on us before bed, she had climbed back up into her bed, safe and sound. I had fallen asleep under the bed so, as far as Mom & Dad could see, I was nowhere to be found and they panicked. When Paula woke up, she told them where I was and I got in trouble.

She made me eat dog food. She would sit on me and tickle me until I peed my pants, thinking it was funny. She took me out in the woods and got me lost and then left me there. She threw me out of her birthday party because she didn't want "that little brat" pestering she and her friends.

But there must have been some good times...some love. Paula was a very sick child - maybe that was part of the resentment because I was very healthy. Recently, when digging through a box of old stuff at Mom's house, I found a card that I had made to send to her when she was in the hospital. It told her that I loved her and missed her. I must have been about 8.

She was cured of her health problems at age 11. It turns out that repeated bladder and kidney infections (nearly shutting her kidney's down) were caused by the tubes from her kidneys to her bladder being attached to the bladder in the wrong place (the bottom as opposed to the top). They surgically repaired this and she's had no trouble since.

Paula was always skinny. I was the little chubby one. She always got very good grades with little effort. I had to work hard to get good grades. She flew through her teens in a flurry of fun and I struggled to stay strapped into that emotional rollercoaster, terrified by the ride. She got a full-ride scholarship for college, I had to pay for all of it - took me 10 years to pay it off. She always had nice cars - the Audi Fox that was supposed to be my first car got traded in for a nice Cutlass for her. I got the piece of shit Chevy Impala. She met the perfect husband in college and I was still lonely and searching for love years after college. It has, indeed, been very cold here in her shadow.

Years later, we are both women - all grown up. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding when I was 16. I realize now, however, that Mom probably pressured her into it - exactly as she pressured me to have Paula be a bridesmaid in my wedding. She agreed...reluctantly. She has always been "civil" when we see each other (family gatherings - usually at holidays). She gives me the obligatory loose hug (for appearances, I assume) and is nicey-nicey. She is not, however, interested in talking to me or what is going on with me. She moved to Minneapolis and then Colorado. I would go with my parents to visit her at Christmas as such, and usually felt out of place. For a while, I would call her just to say "hi" from time to time. She NEVER called me.

I have seen how some of my friends are close with their sisters. I longed for that closeness - a special relationship that can only be between sisters. A few years ago, the distance (not talking miles here) between us was bothering me so much that I decided to put my hand out to her and offer her my friendship. I could never get her to really talk, so I opted to send her an e-mail. I told her that I was sorry if I ever did anything to offend or alienate her and that I wanted us to be closer. I expressed the pain that the distance between us was causing me. I put my heart right out there for her to embrace. I know she read it because my Mom printed it out and gave it to her when she was staying with them for a few weeks in the summer. She never replied...not a word was ever said about it. Nothing.

That said it all for me. She didn't (and doesn't) care. She doesn't want my friendship. I don't think Paula ever wanted a little sister (or brother, for that matter). I feel like she resented me from the day I was born.

I could not believe that she didn't reply. I was hurt. I was angry. I have never felt so rejected in my life.

I went through a lot of soul-searching after this. Am I really such a bad person? Why would someone not care about their only sibling - especially when they've never done anything to deserve being written off like that? I asked my parents about it - they are bewildered. They said she's never said anything about having a problem with me or being angry with me. After countless hours hashing the whole thing out in my head, I remembered a lot of the things I mentioned above. She does not want a sister. She does not want me. It's nothing I've done...it's all her.

What really drove it home was when my son was born. She did not call, no card, no gift. Nothing. Her husband called to pass along congratulations, but not a word from Paula.

At this point, the only way I know what is going on with her is through news my Mom passes along. I haven't seen or spoken with my sister for nearly 3 years now.

This is all deeply painful for me. Every time I see some "sisters' love" thing in a catalog or book store, it makes me so sad. Deep, profound sadness. The word sister makes me sad. I have found myself wondering if she would even care if I died. I have my doubts.

I have to find a way to come to terms with this. It is a battle that I fight all too often in my head. I guess, as my friend Inanna says, I need to peel the onion...but I don't know how.

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