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My sister was always mean. Beyond mean, actually. Venomous . Not really to other kids, or to animals, just to me. I never initiated any violence, but when she was mad, she would attack. As skinny little girls, we weren't much for hitting or punching, but she would pinch . Her big blue eyes would almost pop out of her face, all puckered up and beet red with hate, as she grabbed me in a vice grip. My tanned summer arms were lined with white half moons where she had gouged out chunks of my skin. It happened pretty often, but I can't recall what set her off in any specific instance. I can vaguely see myself pinching her back to get her to release my arm, yelling Cut it OUT! Let me GO!  Sometimes my mother would break it up, occasionally with an admonition to my sister to stop picking on me, but more often with a joint punishment, since as the older sister, I should know better. In all of her life, my mother had never seen kids who were as rotten to their brother and sisters as we were.

My sister told our younger sister once that I always got more attention. A lose-lose situation for me, as I suffered from my parents' disinterest as much as she did and  had her anger to deal with. I suppose it is easier for her to be mad at me than it is to express those feelings towards my parents. I keep contacting her though, hoping that some day we'll be friends. I call her once a month, set up breakfast dates when I get my car serviced near her house, invite her to my birthday celebrations. I send cards, buy her holiday presents, give her support and encouragement when she shares with me what she's trying to achieve. I listen to her go on and on about her life when she doesn't ask about mine. I never say a word about her complete lack of driving skills when we're in her car. I never complain about the smell in her house or car and I pretend not to notice when my dark clothes are covered in animal fur. I swallow every insult and snarky comment she throws my way, persuading myself that it's better not to stoop to her level.

When I got engaged, I really thought my sister would be upset. She is engaged herself, for 7 or 8 years now. She and her fiance live together and care for a number of domesticated stray animals, and are, it seems, too enmeshed to end the relationship any time soon, yet there is no wedding in sight. She says she is in no hurry to marry, but I don't believe that the same trappings of normalcy, the same longing to be accepted into our family, don't pull her as strongly as they do me. She is so competitive with me on every other level; I can't believe that getting married first wouldn't be important to her. But when I told her that Jeff had proposed to me, she seemed genuinely happy. She gushed on about what a great couple we were, what good energy we had, how she could tell when I first started dating him that our relationship was different from past ones. She even reassured me that my parents probably didn't seem all that excited about my news because they just couldn't deal with any of us having success. She shared her own frustrations with the way she had sabotaged so many opportunities by refusing to finish her projects when she had a real chance to present them, much as I've done. I was blown away - by her openness, her insights, her goodwill. And of course, as I’m wont to do, I waited for the other shoe to drop.

It did. I wrote a blog post about my upcoming marriage that mentioned her. It didn't mention her unfavorably, or favorably for that matter; I used a conversation between the two of us as a springboard to start the essay. The piece did well, and I forwarded it to her, thinking she'd be happy for me, and pleased that her involvement had led me to be creative - and successfully so. I wanted to believe in her new, supportive self. I did have a sixth sense, a slight inkling, deep in the pit of my stomach, that she might be upset. Upset  isn't the word. She was spewing bile like a rabid dog. In my essay I was whining like a bratty, spoiled child; I had reached new heights of narcissism even for me; in every encounter we had I was always completely selfish, which proved that I was self-centered to the core. She begged me to "cease and desist from f-ing up my life and ruining my chances for a happy marriage." (Obviously she was very worried about me and trying to help.) It was the most vitriolic piece of anything I've ever received from anybody. I wrote back several polite emails, trying to appease her, trying to understand where all this anger was coming from, then gave up and sobbed uncontrollably for over an hour. In a moment of clarity, I remembered my therapist's advice to set boundaries, so I wrote her and told her that I was hurt by her nastiness and assessment of me. If she could not be nice, polite, civil, and supportive, then she was not to communicate with me. (To which she answered that I was a wimp. I wrote it again.) The email chain stopped.

That was two weeks ago, and this is the first piece of writing that I've been able to do since then. I knew intellectually that my having writing and relationship success would change the balance in my family dynamic, but I wasn't ready for such a violent backlash. My not being the incapable loser who's always dating the wrong guy, always getting her hopes up only to have them crushed, always struggling for money because she (selfishly I suppose) refuses to take a full-time job - if suddenly I'm not all of those things, everyone's relationship to me changes. For some reason my doing what I want, expressing what I want, getting what I want - are extremely threatening to my family members. It makes me sad. I was heartbroken that my sister might not ever talk to me again, and the thought that she could live just fine without ever hearing from me or seeing me really hurt, the thought that my love was so unnecessary to her. My therapist assured me though that my sister needs me very much. If putting me down is the way she boosts herself up, what will she do when there is no more communication between us? I found that reassuring. If I were to die suddenly - she and my other family members would  notice.

And Jeff? He's happy we won't have to spend holidays at my sister's house with all those cats.




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