Years ago, I read a book called ‘The Sibling Bond‘ after reading an enthusiastic review somewhere. I remember its theories and insights as uniquely thought-provoking. Now, it’s all just depressing.
The sibling bond is like no other relationship. It is fraught with everything under the sun – issues of identity, intimacy, security, fairness, all woven together in a complex knotted mess.
I’m calling it a mess because I’ve had a major falling out with my sister, the sister I grew up with, the sister who was half of what my mom called “You Two Brats.”
In healthy families, children’s roles and identities are not fixed at birth or rigidly imposed early in life. In other families, however, parents fuse their children, treating them as if they were the same. The children are lumped together, treated as if they were each other’s twin despite differences in age, stage, sex and temperament. The children can become fused in their minds, because they are fused in their parents minds.
Sibling bonds will become intense when, as children, the siblings have had plentiful access, contact, AND have been deprived of reliable parental care.
I remember myself as an anxious, fearful child who looked to my sister for warmth and companionship. She was two years older, husky and athletic. I was skinny and clumsy and still can’t ride a bicycle. We ate together, bathed together, were punished together and rewarded together. When we fought and I tried to get our mother’s attention, she would scream, “You two fight it out!”
I gave up on the hope that my mother would intervene and protect me. So when my sister devised tortures to try out on me, I learned to accept my fate. The worst came at bath-time. My sister would take my cotton undershirt and hold it under the hot water tap until steam came off it. Then, I would have to put it on. It hurt and I cried but there was no escape.
The other bath-time torture was the wet bar of soap: She would order me to choose whether I wanted it “in the eye or in the mouth.” I remember the panicky brain work of making the choice. The choice was always wrong, naturally.
My sister had a huge problem with being copied. She became enraged if she perceived any copying. If I drew with a blue crayon, it might be construed as copying. She made up a thing to yell when she started to do something, meaning it was her idea and could not be copied. When she decided I had copied her, there was ‘slavery.’ It was actually called slavery.
Did everyone grow up this way? I really have no idea. But I loved my sister, because she was all I had. We made up a private language that we could speak a mile a minute. She taught me how to shave my legs. We both had to smoke our father’s cigar when he picked us up for Divorced dad dinners in expensive restaurants. We both had to endure his criticism of our hair and our teeth, and his self-congratulatory appraisal of his latest girlfriend.
Once, my sister was determined to get even with some guy for something, and the only way she could do it was to sleep with someone. I tried every argument to change her mind. When she announced that she planned to pick a stranger off the street, I told her to just use my former lover, a compliant stoner. She fucked him alright. She fucked him for around six months. At some point, I begged her to stop, but she wouldn’t. She told me that she wasn’t through getting even.
It was still a choice of the eye or the mouth, but without the choice factor.
We spent years of our lives, fused together or enraged at each other. We used to rely on each other to be what we called a Reality Guarantor, to compare our experiences or point of view. It was so reassuring. Whatever I might be worried about, she swore that it was nothing serious, it would go away or never happen or that she had it too and it wasn’t cancer.
Now we have crossed a line. Too many grievances have been aired. I see her as pathologically competitive and sadistic. She has rewritten my history, casting me as the villain in pieces where I was once the clear victim. Maybe it’s better to be the villain. The truth doesn’t matter to her, and I am the truth police, as everyone knows.
According to her, I’m the devil himself. “You think your shit don’t stink?” she shouted at me over the phone. Who even talks like that? Who are we, Mob Wives? Shouldn’t she at least say ‘doesn’t stink’?