Sister, sister

Monday, April 8, 2019 - 1:27pm

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Courtesy of Michelle Kim

“We parked in front of that pristine white building with Roman columns surrounded by trees where all the kids were lounging on blankets and blasting Jack Johnson. Somewhere over that way past the cute coffee shop,” I claimed to my mom as we tried to find our way back to the car after moving into my dorm and taking a stroll downtown.

“It was two buildings down, a right, another right, and 15 feet forward,” my sister Clara countered.

I really want to scream in her face and walk away when she argues like this. It exemplifies perfectly what polar opposites we are. I see the world in colors, sounds and emotion (I even cry in the first few minutes of “Frozen” every time). Meanwhile, she’s meticulous, practical and painfully literal. She’s very straight edge and sees an answer to everything. I’ve always been the creative one who loves reading and writing, and she’s always been the science and math whiz. I’m the social one, or as she would say, the loud one. I take laps around rooms to talk to everyone and laugh so loudly I can be heard across the room. She’s extremely shy and introverted, usually waiting to be approached but becoming extremely close to a select few.

If we could combine our powers and fuse into one body, we’d be a superhuman.

The problem isn’t that we don’t get along, but that we simply don’t speak to each other. Growing up, we rarely interacted because we had absolutely nothing in common. We live our own lives, and because our brains are wired differently, it’s hard to converse. This isn’t what I expected when I was told I was going to be an older sister. I thought having a sister meant slumber parties and a built-in movie night buddy, and that’s why it frustrates me so much when I say it’s 2:00 p.m. and she corrects me that it’s 2:07 p.m. Similarly, she can’t understand why I’m always singing at the top of my lungs in the house or talking nonstop in the car. Her penchant for preciseness and her reserved personality contradicts everything I stand for. And because we don’t understand each other, we silently agree to simply ignore each other. This has been our mutual understanding for years.

She doesn’t often come up in conversation, so people in college are often surprised to learn I have a sister. They’re more surprised when they see a picture of her and realize we don’t even look like we’re from the same family. I explain that our relationship has always been a bit icy. Growing up, my teachers and family members kept swearing we would become best friends one day and that we would look back and laugh at our younger selves. I was told over and over again that sisters, even if their relationship starts off rocky or they fight until they pull each other’s hairs out, always become inseparable...eventually.

Yet during college, we still only gave each other quick waves whenever I came home for break. I didn’t feel the overwhelming inseparability we were told we would develop as we matured. We didn’t text each other about our personal lives, share secrets and bond like sister soulmates should. I felt like something was wrong with me. Who doesn’t miss their own sister?

Then came the first update about something annoying our mom was doing. I would chuckle, send a text back, maybe even share a funny joke I had heard earlier that week. She would send me videos of our baby cousins, and bake maize and blue sugar cookies when I came home for the summer. I would drive her to the mall and draw out of her a couple stories about her friends and her new job at the ice cream shop. The longer I was away from home, the more we seemed to communicate.

During my senior year, she finally visited me on campus. We did the usual rounds of tailgates, Blank Slate, introductions to friends and Frita Batidos. We did everything we could possibly do on campus, expended all our energy and by Sunday afternoon, she was gone.

The crazy thing was that when she left, I really missed her. I returned to my apartment and I could see she had left her hair tie on my desk, just like I do everywhere I go. My room felt a little empty and I realized how much I had liked having her around. She had a reassuring presence, as she would sit quietly and keep me company as I panicked to do the homework I hadn’t done while hanging out with her all day. She had a cheerful disposition, always happy to meet my friends and nod along as I tried to brainwash her for hours on why she should go here for college.

It was the little things that gave me comfort. I liked knowing that when we ordered food, we’d be picking two different things and automatically sharing — that I would probably get something sweet and she would get something savory and we’d be excited to try both. I remembered that when I ate the chocolate part of a black and white cookie she would eat the white part, which I didn’t like. We had scarfed down a large feta bread and I had felt no judgment from her. When she entered the apartment, she had immediately taken her shoes off because our mom would have killed us otherwise. I opened up my laptop to catch up on all the studying I hadn’t done when she was visiting and when I went to turn music on, I remembered fondly how much we had obsessed over One Direction growing up. Unknowingly, the weekend with her had been one of my favorites of all my time in college.

I now recognize that no matter where I live in the world my sister will be my home base — the person I know to regularly check in with. I might have more in common with my friends, but they aren’t my roots. My sister is.

I believe that my sister, the straight edge girl who’s always certain there’s a right and wrong answer, was brought into this world the way she is so we could balance each other out. She shines brightly through her strengths and softens the blow of my weaknesses. My expectation of having a sister who would be exactly what I wanted her to be was never fair. She needed to contrast me because two of the same puzzle pieces don’t fit just right. Our differences truly complement each other. And honestly, two of me sounds absolutely exhausting and dangerous.

Maybe one day we’ll be those inseparable and adorable sisters. Or maybe we’ll flourish and go our own ways. But no matter what, I know that she’ll always be there for me, and I will always be there for her. I feel for both the pains and successes she will experience in life. I hope she knows how much she has to look forward to, and how excited I am for her. I wonder how she will change throughout her college years and beyond. All of these sentiments I have whirling through my head. Meanwhile, we still remain fairly distant, living out our own separate lives while silently understanding that even if we don’t speak every day, and no matter how different we are, we will always be there when we need each other the most. Ultimately, it’s this unspoken trust that defines sisterhood.