I'm going to break one of my own rules tonight and write about a close family member without that person's permission. Normally, the only time I do that is when I am teasing someone who is unidentifiable by name, but this time I am not teasing.
"First, do no harm," while one of the sacred tenets of the medical profession, should also be part of the foundation of blogging. So I work overtime trying not to offend (even though I'm sure I sometimes do, and sometimes I actually intend to, but I'm getting off track). But while trying to respect the privacy and feelings of the people I love, I have completely forgotten the sin of omission -- that, by not writing about someone who is important to me, I have wrongly and artificially diminished that person's place in my life.
I'm talking about my sister, Beth.
Technically, she is my half sister, but I cringe every time I have to say it that way. Let's just call her my sister, because that's what I prefer.
A few months ago I made a brief reference to my sister in a post, without going into detail. Jessie caught it and acknowledged it in her comment, asking, "You have a SISTER?!" That was like a gut punch, because I realized at that moment that my long-time reader (in fact my second reader EVER here at Foolery, other than those who know me in real life) didn't know I had a sister. And that was my fault.
My sister Beth is just a few years older than me, and was not raised with our family. Things worked a little differently in those days than they do now, and after the divorce that separated our father from her mother, she was adopted by a man who became her father in every sense of the word, providing her with a loving home. But she wouldn't become part of my immediate family.
We met for the first time when I was in full Scruffy Farm Kid bloom, and Beth was a teenager of the late '70s. She was everything I wanted to be but could never be: athletic, willowy, California "golden," urban, hip, and glamorous. Beth was this:
. . . and I was this:
(Original photo stolen from this guy)
So of course I idolized Beth and was terrified of her at the same time. These things are complicated. At least I could play the banjo.*
For no reason I can name, we drifted apart again for many years, in fact losing touch completely. Fast-forward to spring of about 1995, and I had the unique idea of finding my sister. I looked on-line; nothing. Okay, now what? I didn't know if she was married and had therefore changed her name, and I was stuck. I tabled the idea, and then, within six months of my idea of finding her . . .
Mom and Dad called to tell me that they had heard from Beth. Father's Day. Of course.
All of this sounds rather dramatic, but it wasn't, exactly; it was exciting, certainly, but we quickly adopted the go-with-the-flow behavior we instinctively employed in all matters relating to Beth. None of us had really known what to do or how to proceed. We just stumbled along.
Meeting Beth all over again, this time as adults, was strange, wonderful, awkward, nerve-wracking, and easy, all at once. How could this striking urban sophisticate be related to me? (More specifically, related to DAD?) And yet, there were signs. Beth had Dad's nose, and mouth, and brow line. And she loved animals -- horses and dogs, especially -- in the same fierce way that our mutual father loved cows. Yes, I could start to see the connection.
The most difficult part of welcoming a far-flung sibling into my life would prove to be figuring out how now to answer the mundane life questions: how many are in your family? Did you and your sister fight a lot growing up? What's it like being the smart one in the family?** You can see the challenges. Telling my boyfriend of a handful of months (Chas), "Oh, guess what happened this week? We heard from my sister. Oh, by the way -- I have a sister," was an unexpected conversation for which there is no guide; it's strange no matter how you look at it to suddenly change the size of your nuclear family. I was stunned as recently as last year when I rattled off the now-familiar phrase "my sister" to someone I've known since grade school but see rather infrequently; her jaw hit the floor and she fairly shouted, "Your WHAT?!" I had never had any reason or opportunity to broach this relatively new part of my life with her, and I suddenly felt at sea, like that Scruffy Farm Kid, above, all over again.
Getting to know my sister has been like peeling an onion. I know her on many levels, but every new phase of her life reveals some new part of her. I'm still learning about her, and I have no doubt that she could say the same of us, times five. So, I think I've covered what I wanted to cover with this post, but it's like an onion, too: once it's peeled open there are so many layers to dig into. Consider this an incomplete dedication and the start of a better approach.
Mostly, I wanted to say I'm sorry to my sister Beth -- sorry that I have mentioned her only in fleeting passages without explanation, and sorry that I kind of stink at being a younger sister (something at which I have very little experience). I'm learning. But I love you and I hereby promise you two things: 1) we WILL spend some quality time together this year, just we two, and 2) I will never play the banjo.
*No, I couldn't.
**Okay, that never happened. I have to be the dumb one in the family.