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Family Ties

Sisters sitting on fence
Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

It felt like falling—riding in the car with my sister over the hills of South Dakota. The hills weren’t high, but the land below was flat, and each dip up made our stomachs heave into our throats. Jessie was driving too fast. I was smiling. A pop song about “Summertime Girls” was on the radio, and we were quiet, enjoying our freedom. That was the last time I remember feeling at ease with my sister.

My sister is two years older than me. And we are opposites in almost every way. Her hair is curly. Mine is stick-straight. She is short. I am taller. She needed a bra in the 4th grade. I didn’t need one until I was pushing 13. She was quiet, and I was loud. When we were 6 and 8, showing our pet frog at a pet show, she got too shy to speak, so I spoke up for her. But growing up, we were friends. She loaned me money for the ice cream man and never asked me to pay her back. And whenever I was scared or couldn’t sleep, she always let me climb into bed with her, and she would hold me and sleep—and in the morning she never made fun of me for being 12 and afraid of lightning.

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But my sister fell in love and married, and that’s when our friendship ended. I didn’t like how he yelled at her, at me at our parents and siblings; he also threw things and hit her. My sister insisted I was jealous of her happiness. I tried to rescue her, always opening my arms when she left him and shutting my heart when she went back. Once, she moved out and gave me her wedding ring to keep. But two weeks later she was back, and he called, demanding that I mail the ring to him. I did, but I didn’t insure it. And that was the last time I tried to save her.

Now, 12 years later, we are slowly becoming friends again. And it's all because of our children. She has a son and I have a daughter, and despite living four hours apart, we still try to get the cousins together as much as possible: play dates, coffee dates, trips to the park when I’m in town. We’ve even Skyped just because her son wants to see “baby cousin Ellis.”

And parenting gives us a safe zone for our talk. I love hearing about my precocious nephew’s antics, and I often ask my sister for advice and insight on cloth diapering or making baby food. Even if I don’t need the advice, I still listen and take note. There is always a part of me that will need her to be my big sister. And my heart misses her.

We aren’t what we used to be, and probably never will be. The hurt runs deep for both of us. But we are dedicated to giving our children a space, even for a short amount of time, where the adult cares and worries that have torn our worlds apart have no place. And where we can love one another through our children, unabashed and unreserved—like we used to.

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