by Ferida Wolff
My sister and I were having a conversation about nutrition. I told her about a supplement that might help relieve the stiffness in her knee.
“You were always the smart sister,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You always did well in school. You have a master’s degree. You’re a writer.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “You went through three years of junior high in two because you got into that Special Progress program they had back then. I didn’t. And you have way more street smarts than I do. Besides, you were always the social sister. I wished I could be as pretty as you. I envied you for your friends.”
“What?” she cried. “My friends were the first kids who said hello to me when we moved. I was so afraid of not having any friends that I hung out with the wrong ones. And I certainly wasn’t pretty.”
I thought she was. I had compared her looks with mine and always came out wanting. But there was more.
“You were the strong sister. No one messed with you,” I said.
“I was big,” she said. “Mom and Dad expected me to act grown up when I was just a kid. I couldn’t get away with anything. You were the clever sister. You always got your way.”
“That’s because I was so skinny, they were afraid I would faint, or something, if they yelled at me.”
We looked at each other and suddenly the cartoon light bulb went on above both our heads; our sister perceptions were dated. Was it time to see each other through new eyes? It wouldn’t be easy. Our assessments were entrenched over decades of automatic thinking. We had to get out of the past and let go of our childhoods.
We began to focus on what we were doing now. We both went to the gym. Neither of us was particularly inclined toward sports as kids so this put us on equal ground. But our biases came out all the same when we were given new exercises. My sister had trouble understanding what our trainer wanted us to do but once she did, she could do lots of reps. I was able to follow his instructions but was soon puffing my way through the regimen.
“The smart sister,” my sister said.
“The strong sister,” I countered as I stopped to catch my breath.
The gym wasn’t going to do it. We were still in our old frame of mind.
When we shopped together, she had conversations with the salesclerks and customers while I looked at the racks on my own.
“The social sister,” I muttered.
When we bought a cabinet for our father’s bathroom, assembly required, I put it together and she stocked it.
“You are clever,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it.”
The old patterns were hard to shake.
The year we moved our father into an assisted living facility proved our epiphany. There was furniture to dispose of and to store. We moved an armoire, an antique three-foot glass and brass chandelier, and a kitchen table with four chairs into her basement.
“Wait a minute,” my sister said when we finished. “We are both strong now. Look at what we just did.”
“You figured out how to maneuver the pieces into the basement. Pretty clever,” I said.
“We never could have done it if you hadn’t borrowed the van from one of your friends. You seem to have so many these days.”
Humh, I thought. I do. I have more friends now than I ever did as a kid.
“Well, you were smart to think of putting this stuff in your spare storage area. Someone will need it eventually.”
My sister looked at me and said, “It’s time.”
She was right. It was time to put away the old labels and see ourselves for the women we were now. Both strong, both clever, both personable, both smart.
And both ready for tea and brie — hers baked with strawberry jam and mine with grilled veggies.