I overheard some women discussing the fact that they would never know what it was like to have a sister. I don't think I'm overstating things to say I sometimes felt the same way, even though I had one. That sounds much harsher than I intend, but the fact is even though we have lived in the same city for much of our adult lives - our paths and experiences were very different and it often felt that we lacked the basic connection or closeness one comes to expect from siblings. When we were very small, our differences led to all sorts of spats and indignities. Karen once famously put tape down the center of the bedroom we shared and forbid me to go on her side - as she believed in order and tidiness and I, on the other hand, did not. It broke down eventually as I couldn't get to the closet.
Karen in many ways carried the role of caretaker after our dad passed away and I think some part of her needed to protect herself by not caving to emotional excess - whereas I carried the drama of my feelings to extremes. She protected me as best she could, appealing to my aunt to give back the soother she'd taken away from me in one of the frequent attempts to wean me from it by saying "just look at her face" - which I assume was crumpled and teary. She would win the prize of most responsible - even when she was very small and she interceded on my behalf on many occasions. At the same time, she found it frustrating to have me tag along and would actively try to escape me when she was trying to enjoy the company of her friends. As we grew older the competitiveness that seems to accompany members of the same family emerged. My mom describes a particular end of year piano concert - and the fact Karen was crying because she didn't get chosen to play and I was crying because I did. This seems to sum up how fundamentally different our world views were - even then.
But Karen has a persistence and sense of duty that has meant in any circumstance, she will be the one to make the overture to keep our family together in all sorts of thoughtful ways. She has a fierce loyalty to her friends, her children and to me - that is admirable in its intensity. She is warm and smart and incapable of saying no to anyone who might need her time or attention and I often felt short-changed by this instinct as it sometimes seemed to leave little time left for me. However, I know from her perspective that I often made excuses for not taking the opportunity - when it was available - of grabbing a window in her busy life.
Now we both find ourselves in many ways making up for lost time and trying to find what unites us, knowing the time available may be limited in a way we didn't anticipate. And in my mind, I am three and she is five and she is holding my hand and leading me down the road and I am happy to hold my palm against hers and put one foot in front of the other.