The last time my sister and I spent six weeks under the same roof was when I still lived at home and shared a bedroom with her teenage self. My sister is seven years younger than me and, since I left home, and the country, at age 23, we spent a couple of vacations together and she made multiple visits to wherever I happened to be living (and, recently, I visited her in Rome) but those stretches of time amounted to no longer than a week or two.
Tomorrow my sister lands in Los Angeles for a six-week stay. Not quite a vacation – more of a partaking of my life, an experience together that is long overdue. We are both giddy, like teenagers on an adventure.
Despite my penchant for solitude, even as a kid, I was a reluctant only child. The day my mother finally announced she was pregnant, I made cartwheels down the long corridor in our house, while she dispersed the news to her girlfriends over the phone. I remember going to the hospital to visit the little bundle; the anguish when, a few months later, the little bundle nearly died of a mysterious disease; sharing a bedroom for our entire life together. On hindsight, this seems a strange choice on the part of my mother – we could have easily have had our own separate bedrooms, but she chose to keep us together. We never protested.
It is an even odder choice in light of an age difference that meant we were living very different lives. When I was a teenager, she wasn’t in middle school yet. We never had the same friends, we never mingled in the same circles and we ended up very different people, who made very different life choices. But we were always close, and now that I am 54 and she is 47, the similarities (not just physical) are more apparent.
I consider some of my girlfriends as sisters: Sue, for one. Or Silvia, whom I have known since age 12. In a way, they probably know me better (or, at least, know way more secrets) than my sister does. We have been through a lifetime of battles and laughs together in a way I never did with my sister. We lived, played, vacationed together and we still do. Yet, the one I still consider as my baby sis will always know more about the milieu who made me who I am; what our kitchen smelled of; how to tease some extra pocket change out of our father; the cruel streak that possessed me when she was a toddler and I tormented her to no end. There is not another single person on this earth who knows what growing up as me felt like. While profoundly different in our characters, those differences stem from the same roots: we both took the same set of circumstances and tweaked them to suit our personalities and our needs.
When I hear or read stories about vastly different human beings springing from the same family, or, conversely, about twins with the same traits despite having grown up apart, they all make sense to me.
There is a cellular bond between sisters made of shared DNA that can never be erased. But there is also a kernel of individuality that will tilt our worldview just enough to push us into different territories.
What I don’t understand, because I have never experienced it, is jealousy or the greed that pushes siblings apart. I have never envied her life nor, I believe, did she ever envy mine. Maybe, if we hadn’t been born under the same roof, and our paths had crossed, we wouldn’t have become friends. We are not friends now. We don’t need to: she is my sister, which means I could never hide from her who I really am, nor she from me, so we don’t even try.
It will be an interesting six weeks. Full of laughter I hope. And shared meals and experiences (and possibly obsessive cleaning, as she is even more OCD than I am when it comes to the house). There will be two dogs who will get much too much attention. And there will be memories: the ones shared thus far and the ones in the making.