I never knew I wanted a sister until one chose me. Since then, I’ve come to know that close female friendships are an essential requirement for a long and happy life. I already knew what it was like to be a sister. I was the consummate little sister: receiver of unsolicited advice and the moody whims of my older brother’s friends, who were often alternately annoyed and intrigued by me. But I had yet to know what it was like to have a sister of my own and what that meant.
My sister-in-law once told me the story of our first meeting, a clearer memory for her than for me. Apparently, I wasn’t very nice. I said something like, “Well, I guess you clean up nicely” in my harshest attempt at a Bette Davis burn. I’m not sure how long she had been dating my brother, but I had learned to approach his girlfriends with suspicion and derision. They were always pretty and outwardly sweet, but some of them had a darkness just under the surface from which I wanted to protect my brother, try as I might. And what better defense is sarcasm and the emotional warfare that women can use against each other so incisively?
I also don’t remember the exact moment when we started to get along but she made it clear that she had chosen me. She had stayed with my brother longer than expected and they had moved in together after a few years. After they married and I introduced her as my “sister-in-law”, I saw her face speckle red with frustration, “I’m your sister, damnit!” I never made that mistake again. I was taken back by the fierceness of her conviction and very flattered. I had come to admire her in a myriad of ways, including giving birth to and raising one of my favorite people on the planet.
When my family got together for holidays or vacations, we started cooking in the kitchen together and then started planning meals together and then took over the shopping together. I became her “book pusher” by bringing home about two to three books that I had curated over the year. I would shove them in her hands with specific instructions, “This one you’ll read in 24 hours, don’t start it until you can lose a day to it” or “This one is a tome and a commitment.” We got engaged in heated conversations about writing and fashion and we slowly started stealing clothes and accessories from each other. She was often up for an adventure and willing to try something new whether it be food or a new exercise regimen and she would jump in enthusiastically. We both loved to dance and get silly. We would find ourselves laughing at the same absurd moments in life when no one else noticed them. I found out that she was stubbornly loyal to my brother, which was admirable and sometimes frustrating.
One year after I had returned to Chicago from spending Christmas in Texas, she told me on the phone, “After you left, it was like a light went out and everything got dimmer.” I realized that I felt the same way about her. I felt less alone in my family with her there. I had an advocate and confidant I didn’t realize I needed and one that I had come to depend upon. I had a “partner-in-crime” who was tied to my family. Together we experienced the joys and the agony of family car trips and awkward familial moments.
Not only do we support each other wholeheartedly and without reserve or judgement, we inspire each other. When I had graduated college and was floundering, she invited me start a magazine with her. She has always encouraged my writing and I hers. One of my favorite memories with her was meeting up at the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 2004 in Washington D. C. We had both traveled great distances to get there: I drove in from Chicago with a carload of fellow activists and she flew in from Houston. This was the age of rudimentary cellular phone technology, yet somehow we had found each other among the estimated 1 million marchers. We came to march for personal reasons and for the greater cause. We saw each other from across a great lawn wearing shirts with pro-choice slogans and holding signs. We both knew in that moment how much we were alike in our values about ourselves and other women around us. I was so proud to have someone like her living among us and so lucky to have her as my sister. And who could ask for anything better than that?
Happy belated birthday and Galentine’s Day to my V-Dawg. I love you, lady!