Preamble again for sibling explanation: My sister is technically my half sister in that we share a mother but have different fathers. But she is my sister.
First off, it’s my fault her name is Siobhan. I was 8 years old when I found out I was going to have a sibling, and I was determined she would be a sister. So I had this giant piece of paper I had been writing “girls’ names” on for months (obviously I am more nuanced in my approach to gender now) that I made my mom take to the hospital with her. Siobhan was on that list, spelled Shavon, and it’s the one my mom chose. Sorry, Siobhan.
I’m sorry for a lot of things, really. For a lot of reasons not of our making, there have been barriers to my sister and I having a steady relationship for much of our lives. In the 28 years Siobhan has been on this earth, we have probably been out of touch nearly as often as we have been in touch.
I took care of her from the time she was a baby until the time she was nearly the age I was when she was born. From then into her early teens, I saw her a lot less often, but I we still had a real closeness and connection. Then I missed her teens entirely, and the next time we met, at the bus station in Belleville, we were like strangers. Strangers who had lived in the same small town — if that small town was our shared family — but had completely different relationships with its residents. I stayed the night and we eased back into knowing each other, and we’ve been texting and visiting since. We have never stopped loving each other.
My sister has had a hard life. She is much much more private than I am, so I won’t itemize her traumas for the world to see but believe me they have been legion. There have been literal trials and figurative trails and accidents and hospital stays but hardly any complaints. Siobhan is not a complainer. Siobhan is maybe the most stoic person I know.
She is one of the smartest people I know, too. Where I have never been to university, she was on the Dean’s List. Where I am emotional, she is measured. Where I want to watch dance movies, she wants to watch nature documentaries. Where I cover my eyes when there is blood around, she has studied to be an operating room nurse.
What we have in common is being atheists, wanting to write books, hating the telephone, and the fact that we would also both turn our homes into petting zoos if sensible people weren’t around to stop us. (Hers would have a lot more snakes.)
Another thing that we used to have in common was never ever wanting to have children. But then Siobhan married a guy named DJ. He is aces in my books for the fact that she can be herself around him and he always makes her laugh. DJ and Siobhan decided to have a baby last year, and on July 19th my nephew Connor was born.
Unexpectedly to everyone (possibly including Siobhan herself) my sister adores being a mom. There is a really lovely happiness to her now that I haven’t seen since she was a kid. She is protective and proud and I feel like all of this love is flooding into her and it’s lovely to see how much affection and care there is in her little family, even when things are tough. She smiles all the time, now.
When Siobhan was about three years old, she lost a tiny aquarium frog on the brown carpet of our mother’s living room. She woke me up, because to her I was the big person who would know how to find it. I thought there was exactly no chance at all that it wasn’t gone for ever or at least dead, but somehow I tracked it down under the couch and chucked it back in the water where it started to swim, and I was a hero. It was maybe the first time I felt like a grown-up.
But now my sister has a husband and a baby who is walking, and I have an ex-husband and a studio apartment and I don’t always know the best way to be there for her. So I don’t reach out enough because I don’t feel like the big sister anymore. But I am trying and we are trying, and we are solid now. We can shoot each other a look that will either calm us down or make us snort with laughter, depending on what we need. And I am so thankful to have her in my life.
Happy birthday, Siobhan. I will keep trying to be the big sister you deserve. xxxooo