Years ago I was at a bar with two friends and we were coming up with the three words that we would choose to describe the other person. I don't remember most of them but the one I do remember that both friends used for me was loyal. I also remembered, at the time, feeling disappointed. What a run-of-the-mill description. Loyal? Like a dog? But since then and through the years, I've thought about loyalty, what that means, where it comes from and how they were completely right.
The first person I remember feeling loyalty towards is my sister, my hermana. To some degree, I probably learned how to be loyal from the loyalty I felt towards her. And this is only one of the things I've learned from having a sister. It has taught me so many things not just about relationships but about myself.
I clearly remember us being at Marilyn's house (my sister's first friend in the first grade but one of our neighborhood shared friends) with Marilyn's older brother who is probably 5 years my elder. Her brother, TOTALLY joking called my sister stupid. I believe I responded by tackling him in the water and just about strangling him until he apologized (for being kidding). No one could call her stupid in front of me, unless it was me.
Another time, I came home hurriedly from school knowing very well that progress reports were due home that day. When I arrived at our mailbox, there was my very expected progress report (I was far from the best student in elementary school). What I did not expect was my sister's progress report (quite possibly the best student in elementary school - showing one of our many differences). I thought about it a while and then snatched them both, took them to my room, and hid them both.
On a few occasions, things would get broken in our house, usually my dad's stuff since he's the collector of everything. He would ask me if I broke it. I would say no and many times this was true. I didn't even know what he was talking about. He would then ask my sister, who also replied that she didn't do it. He would come back to me and ask why I was lying. It obviously could not have been my sister. I would take the blame. To this day, I don't really know who broke it or how it broke but the thought of my sister crying for getting yelled at, pulled at my heart and I couldn't have that. She was definitely more sensitive than I was (there's another difference). I was the kind of kid that would yell back and put myself in timeout. I haven't really grown out of that.
There is something incredibly special about having a sibling and for me even more exceptional about having a sister instead of a brother. Let me preface this by saying that my sister and I were never the kind of sisters that did each other's nails or told each other secrets. We were the kind of sisters that fought like Ali and Frasier but had fun like Lucy & Ethel. We made up games you that looking back must have seemed insane: Roommates, Killer, Mailbox, and The Flying Tromboli Sisters were some of my faves. We made up dances in our garage to Beat It, Rockin Robin, and countlessDirty Dancing songs. We attempted (and failed) the Dirty Dancing lift too many times. Our pool was countless hours of fun. Riding our bikes was never just riding our bikes; sometimes it was bumper bikes, sometimes it was a way to explore our neighborhood. We kept each other busy and entertained through too many places traveling by car or airplane. We hated each other with as much intensity as we loved each other.
I actually remember being upset when my sister first said she was getting married because the thought of Christmas morning without her was too much to bear. I was (am) selfish and not a friend of change, I wanted her to myself, like she had always been. Christmas with my sister was bearable, silly, and quite rewarding. My mom used to work Christmas mornings. Do you know how hard it is be a child waking up Christmas morning and WAIT?! Now add onto that that our Christmas tree was stocked with presents. I mean stocked Toys 'R' Us Style. There were years that presents were stacked on top of each other and the stacks were taller than us. And we were tall girls. We had closets full of games, a garage full of toys. It was obscene. I loved it. So for us to wait was unbearable. But waiting was also fun. We would make up songs about opening presents, we would choose which present we were going to open first, we would divide our stacks - this was says Jessy, this one is for me - which was pointless because we got the same gifts only in different colors or we got presents that were to Jessy y Jenny from Santa. Even Steven...always.
True to form of any little sister, I think I was totally obsessed with her. I wouldn't have admitted it then but I wanted to hang out with her all the time, do what she was doing. Isn't that why younger sisters are annoying? They want to do everything you are doing and you don't want them to. My mom on a few occasions had to remind me that in time, I would be doing the same thing my sister was doing.
My sister and I were always told that we looked alike and sounded alike. On various occasions people would ask if we were twins. People would call our house and never be able to tell who was who. Before I was an actual teacher I would substitute at our old high school, where she is a chemistry teacher (showing another of our many differences being that I am an English teacher through and through). I was walking down the hall getting to the next class on my sub schedule and a Spanish teacher that had both my sister and I waved me down. She asked how I was doing and then told me how great my hair looked like this. I was baffled. Did she really remember what my hair looked like when I was 18? No. I realized afterwards that she thought I was my sister and thought I had done something different with my hair.
Years later, I sit here and think about what having a sister has meant to me, what it has done for me. There was an article I read once about how no one affects the person you become as much as a sibling. They are there through the most important years, shaping your history and your personality without evening knowing they are doing it and without you even knowing it is happening. Siblings show you a mirror of yourself. Sometimes they show you who you could be and who you are even when you don't want to admit it. In so many ways, no one knows you better. Even in our relationship, which as I said before, was not one in which we always shared secrets, my sister still knows me in a way that most people ever will because she has seen it from the beginning. She knows that underneath all of my "crazy" lives a person quite sturdy and passionate and serious in who she is. She knows that although I can be tough as nails, it is usually because I have conviction and care so deeply about something that I don't give up. She knows that my loyalty and love for people runs strong and hard.
And I know her too. I know that although people think I am the stronger of the two of us, it is actually her that is. I know that she is sensitive and that things affect her more than she lets on. I know that while she seems easy-going, she is a competitor and hates to lose. She hates to lose as much as I do; I am just more obvious - well, loud - about it. I know that being soft-spoken doesn't mean she isn't opinionated; she just doesn't always find it necessary to speak. I know that people sometimes confuse being sweet with being naive which she isn't.
The most amazing thing about having a sister is the history that we share an that we will always share. And that is something that NO ONE will ever take from us. No one can erase the years we have spent together, shaping each other's lives, living each other's stories. Because she has been in every significant and not significant moment in my life. Playing school and teaching school. Walks to school and walks down the aisle. Being babies and having babies. There isn't a second that she hasn't been in my life, not one. From the time, my mom was pregnant with me, I have always had a sister and I am very thankful for that. Because I have been blessed with the most gracious, elegant, intelligent, and kind sister to guide me through life. And now, there is a whole new person, new generation that will benefit from having the most gracious, elegant, intelligent, and kind tia to help guide her.
Happy Birthday to a sister that has been through it all with me and that has complimented me. You are the quiet to my loud, the hand to my falling over at a Springsteen concert, the taboo clue giver to my clue getting. We have always made an excellent pair. And I hope life makes sure we always stay that way.
Here's to you, hermana.