They say your brother or sister is generally the person you will know longer than any other human being. My sister and I started that off on the right foot. Four years apart, I’m pretty sure the first dozen or so of my life, all we did was bicker.
There was the time she pushed me off the monkey bars in the backyard and my arm broke. There were the long car rides, seven or eight hours, arguing in the backseat on the way down to Florida. I’m pretty sure I pinched myself at least once and began to fake cry only to blame her so she’d be in trouble with Mom and Dad. We knew what buttons to push, and we pushed them, like all siblings.
But isn’t that a little weird? I feel like it’s the same story with every sibling pair I know. You grow up really disliking each other on some level, and then one day – out of some strange necessity or maybe maturity or perhaps it’s just coded into us – you grow out of that silly sibling rivalry and learn to love each other and rely on each other because you realize this person is going to be there for you no matter what.
I don’t think it’s coded into us or that it has anything to do with blood relation, since my sister and I don’t share any DNA. Maybe it has something to do with enduring the same shared beginnings, nurtured and loved by the same people. The longer our lives are lived, those shared experiences from childhood on are the groundwork for some kind of mutual understanding no one else will ever be able to match – a familial culture no one else has at his or her disposal.
But I also can’t seem to decipher what, despite that mutual understanding, it is that we believe we know about each other, and whether it’s as true as we believe it to be. I’m not sure if that sentence makes sense. Let me put it another way: how do you know if you really know someone? What assumptions – about any relationship – are built solely on past experiences, on the lies our memories become over time as they morph more into what we may want them to be than into what they actually once were?
I had a chance over the course of the last weekend to play tour guide for my sister for her first-ever trip to New York City. She’d never really been north of, say, Ohio, and the only large cities she’d seen were mostly those below the Mason-Dixon line, as we say in the South – Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis. Nothing on the scale of Manhattan.
You could say we did a lot of the usual touristy stuff you should do in New York. Had pizza in Village. Waltzed through Central Park and on to the Met. Went to thrift stores in Brooklyn and window shopped in the Garment District. We took a ferry from Hoboken to the Battery and we talked. We did a lot of talking, actually.
Maybe it was that it was her first time to see New York, but everything was startling somehow: buildings bigger than she’d ever seen, a subway system and her amazement with my ability to navigate it, the raw and somewhat upsetting expense of rent and food and – well – everything. Having been here now for a few years, it was like having my eyes reopened viewing it through her perspective, like, “Oh yeah, hey, I live here, and this place is kinda crazy or cool or startling or artsy-fartsy or beautiful or disgusting, and really it’s all those things at the same time.” Traveling with her was like seeing New York City for the first time, all over again.
In some ways, though, it was like seeing my sister for the first time all over again, too. I realized a few days into the trip that I couldn’t remember a time since my freshman year of high school when we had been together for that many hours non-stop. Sure, there’d been a few family gatherings over the years, but by the time I had gone off to college, we did what most siblings do: we just go on with our lives wherever they take us, and we don’t give ourselves enough of those crucial, sacred moments to just take pause and regroup and clarify what matters.
This trip gave me a chance for the first time in this relationship in a while to take pause and ask those tough questions about where we’ve been and how far we’ve come and who is my sister – or who am I as a brother, as a friend?
And I wonder now, how has the course of time chipped away at that painfully sculpting it into what it needed to be? Truth be told, I’m not sure either of us are who we remember the other once was, and yet, we’re bound somehow, tied together in eternity not by blood but by a series of choices that we’ve chosen to continue living into. We might even be bound without having made those choices, too. God or the universe or time or mother nature or the great big whatever-you-wanna-call-it does this really good job of finding certain people across the short little time-and-space-span of our lives we were gifted and manages to speak to our hearts claiming, “Here, this person is going to be fused to you in this way. What will you do with that? How will you cherish it? How will you remember it as it was and not as you wished it to be? Or will remembering it differently be an important part of a healing process? How will you care for and embrace not just your past, then, but also your present and your whats-to-come of this relationship or that?”
The good news with our brothers and our sisters is that we have more time than any other to figure this relationship out, the longest span of time to right the wrongs that have stacked up – or a little time to make some new ones as the case may be. Whatever the future holds, though, I hope we can carry what we learn from one relationship into the next. I hope we can love each other like we’re all brothers or sisters. I hope we are gifted the time we need to “figure it out” with those we need to “figure it out” with, and that we don’t pass up those moments the universe puts right in front of us to say what needed to be said and feel what needed to be felt.