A few years ago I wrote a book. I wrote a book because my sister and I had an argument (nothing new between sisters, I know), and I got to thinking about our relationship, how it changed over the decades, how it stayed the same. I began jotting down ideas and writing little stories, more to try to figure our relationship out, finally, than to do anything about it.
Over the course of several months, I came to an understanding - the relationship between sisters is complicated.
OK, that's a pretty basic and not in the least profound statement. On the other hand, it IS complicated, perhaps the most complicated relationship between two women possible.
On the surface, it would seem that sisters should share be closest of relationships. After all, they share history, family, stories, and more often than not, DNA. But with all they share, they also also share rivalry and competition.
At an early age, that competition is often for the attention and love of the parents. One sister might test all boundaries in order to call attention to herself, like my sister did. Another might strive to be the "good girl" in order to gain parental affection, like I did.
Kathie & Liz Mariaca on the monkey bars. As usual, Liz is out front and I'm just trying to hang on.
Somehow, as we plod through our early years, we figure out what works for us, what gets us the pleasure of parental attention and/or affection, and what helps us avoid the pain of denial or punishment. As we build upon these tested techniques, we form our personalities.
Sure, as sisters, we share history. And often, that is enough.
Yet, once we are set in our individual modes for earning parental attention, we begin to explore the world. We employ the same techniques and lessons we've learned (and experience some new ones) as we try for attention from outsiders, from teachers, family friends, and from our own peers.
During the growing years, the very closeness that will eventually show up as fond (or not) family memories, becomes our counter-balance. We watch each other, learn from each other, define each other. We learn how to blame the other, how to set the other off, how to eviscerate the other with a word or a rejection.
As I was writing The Complication of Sisters, I came to understand that a relationship that begins with some manner of rivalry is always going to have an undercurrent of strife, of strife that can erupt easily because it is both at the core of our emotional being and on the surface of the faces we present to the world.
But I also learned that there is grace in shared memories, in shared bedrooms and clothes (shared boyfriends, maybe not so much). There is no one who understands you more because there is no one who has spent as many years trying to figure you out, to surpass you, and, yes, to help you find your way.
It is a push-pull, this relationship between sisters. It is not always pretty - on any given day, at any given moment, in fact, it might seem utterly ugly. Yet here is something else I learned as I contemplated sisterhood - while we we know exactly how to tear one another down, it is our sole prerogative as sisters to do so. It is unacceptable for anyone else to try. Because at our core, even though we are one another's earliest rival, we are also each other's longest ally.
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