The Strange, Strong Bond of Sisterhood

The author and her sister.

The author and her sister.

Liz is 12 months younger than me, and she’s basically better at most everything than I am.

My sister Liz is the funniest person I know.

She and I used to watch Saturday Night Live at the lowest volume, lying close to the set in our Anchorage, Alaska basement, practically crying at Adam Sandler’s ridiculousness. She also had a plastic and very realistic rat she’d put on her shoulder and talk to — it was disturbing and hilarious and scarred me for life. We walked to and from elementary school together each day, even when I'd fake a limp to embarrass her. Liz and I mostly fought — she grew out her fingernails just so she could scratch me better.

But we also sang along dramatically to Whitney Houston and Neil Diamond, as all young people should.

Liz is 12 months younger than I, and she’s basically better at most everything than I am. She’s always had the big brown eyes, the cuteness, the humor, and the athleticism. Liz got the My Little Pony ranch for her birthday one year, and I was so jealous I couldn’t stop crying. We shared the Barbie Dream House, complete with elevator. We both posted Kirk Cameron on our walls, but only she swooned over New Kids on the Block. I had the acid-washed denim jacket with embroidered roses, she had the rock-hard, curled-under bangs.

I grew when I was 11. For five or six long years I towered over Liz, who stayed perky and petite. I was the oldest in our family, so no one had gone through this before (as is obvious from family pictures of me in a Care Bears nightgown, awkwardly trying to cover my burgeoning boobs and butt. Good times). Liz never had to be the first — the first to get an imperfect grade, to start her period, to want to wear makeup or buy a poster of a hair band for the walls of our shared bathroom. My parents got to practice on me and Liz reaped the benefits.

I wouldn’t say I was jealous of my sister, especially with four other siblings, but she and I developed as polar opposites: she did sports, I did school. I think Liz is smart, but she can’t see it. Whatever talents we were born with got nurtured only if the other one wasn’t doing it.

We’re past 35 now, Liz and I. We both have two kids. We live 700 miles apart. It is perfect.

I’m not competing for friends, knowing they’ll choose her, anymore. She doesn’t get to see my cluttered house — the complete opposite of her antiseptic one. Her clean food eating doesn’t affect my daily life, so I can laugh about her meals of just chickpeas while we talk on the phone.

My sister Liz is also full of wisdom, like my favorite quote I’ve shared with practically everyone I know: “Every pair of underwear has two good sides.”

Liz has become the one I can vent to about our parents and other siblings. She knows the special charms of our family, the barely-below-the-surface conflicts, and the weird traditions. Without Liz, I’d think I was losing my mind.

My sons are three years apart, and they will be the only kids in our family. I love having five siblings, but there’s no way I could have that many children with me as parent. With just two, I worry the odds aren’t in my boys’ favor: if they don’t get along, there’s no one else for them to turn to.

More than anything, I want my sons to have each other’s backs. To be the one other guy they call, whether it's from jail or after an amazing date, or when one's terrified he's messing up his first baby, or just when they want to make fun of how their mom used to write about them all the time.

I won’t be around forever. My kids need someone who gets them, who understands their baggage. Someone who grew up in this house and knows their stories. My greatest dream is for these boys to be best friends.

If you’d told me any time before I turned 30 that there'd come a time when I'd turn to Liz when I had great news or bad news — any news, really — I wouldn’t have believed you. Friends move, life changes. But my sister is the constant I’m finally trying not to take for granted.

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