“Sister from another mister” was literal for us. In fact, we would call each other that ever since we learned what the phrase meant. Mom always laughed but said nothing.
I thought things were good. At least, as good as life could get being raised by a single mother with two middle-school-aged daughters having recently been uprooted for the nth time. We traveled from Hawaii to Virginia in a span of three years. That story is far too long to delve into here…
Mom somehow managed to keep a smile on her face through yet another divorce, moving states, and then moving residences twice. Megan and I only had to change schools once in the first month we got there. Sure, things were fine.
As long as Mom kept moving forward, I decided, I would be by her side every step of the way. She had been through so much. So as long as she didn’t lay a hand on me, I could handle whatever she threw my way.
Sister was like a rock, rigid and stubborn but firm and intelligent. I was like so many blades of grass, easily swayed by the wind yet fertile and ripe with creativity. Where Sister liked to play sports, I enjoyed art and reading. Where Sister preferred math and science, I loved my English and history classes.
We were yin and yang, even by our skin color. I am a creamy cup of coffee while Sister is a butterscotch candy. Likewise, I can be hot and bitter where Sister is sweet enough to give you a cavity.
She cried the night of the last day at our previous school. We were in the city, a totally different climate than we were used to. Yet this was the time she showed reluctance.
It was the final blow.
Mine came later. Much, much later. Some would say far too late. I would agree.
Looking back, I would say that I was just as shocked as Mom was when Sister blurted out that she would rather stay with Dad. Her biological father, not mine. Remember, Sister from another mister.
We had just come back from a trip to visit him in Mississippi. Last time we tried to stay with him, we got hit by Hurricane Katrina. Not to mention Dad’s new family had gotten so huge that I developed anxiety. I stuck out like a sore thumb. The schools required dress codes and the family was majorly religious. The list goes on.
So when Mom asked if I wanted to go with her, I said no. Of course, I said no. My blades of grass bowed to any gust of wind, but when there were two currents Mom’s was always stronger. Dare I admit, I was happy for the chance to become like an only child.
When she left, I was riding the high of having the house to myself, the snacks, the allowance, the glory. Mom might have been upset, but I can only remember feeling relieved.
Sister seemed to thrive in that environment. She always had a fondness for church and quickly found some friends within the congregation and school. Sister dated jocks while I dated smelly boys in worn-out hoodies. Sister was a salutatorian while I struggled through AP classes. Sister went straight to college while I let my AP credits go to waste and opened a restaurant with Mom.
We quickly ran out of money – almost before we opened for business. Traffic was meager and advertising complicated and expensive. I put in work like the owner but could only make decisions like a daughter. The only thing I struggled with those days was constant exhaustion from long hours. I let Mom stress about money and rent.
Even when the landlord gave us an ultimatum, she silently scrolled through her laptop for places that would take her credit ruined not just by the starving restaurant. I guess none would. My offers to get a part-time job were ignored. My suggestion for her to start working again was rejected even more harshly. I couldn’t be trusted to run the store by myself.
When I finally said it, a weight was lifted from my chest. “Maybe we should cut our losses.”
Suddenly, I was free.
I had an escape. A chance to start fresh, albeit on the street. Hell, that was where we were heading anyway.
My best friend from high school still lived with his parents and they agreed to keep me until I could get another job. With the business on my resume, it was a fast deal. I got a car and started managing a retail establishment, all while Sister finished college.
Sister is a chemical engineer while I work in customer service. Sister has bought a house while I am struggling to pay rent. Sister has found stability through her love of Jesus while I am so depressed that suicidal thoughts are a weekly thing – even with a handful of happy pills choked down every day.
No matter how it looks to me from the outside, I know she experienced the same trauma as me right up until the day she decided to leave. I want to ask Sister why. Why didn’t she tell me that she sensed a problem? Did she put the mask on herself and completely forget about me? Am I to blame for not seeing what is plain in front of my face?
I can’t change the past. And if I could, I feel I might do it all the same way again. I would lay on my bed, read a book, and enjoy the quiet of being an “only child”.
We will always be yin and yang, but we are still sisters. As adults with our own independent thoughts and emotions, we might even become best friends.