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My Little Sister is 40!

January 16, 2011

It’s a bit hard to figure out what to say about my sister. It would be like trying to explain the role of gravity and oxygen, or what it’s like to have gravity and oxygen, or how they feel. I mean, I’ve never taken a step without gravity and oxygen. Nor have I really taken one without my sister.  (Okay, there were 14 months of breathing, and maybe a wobbly two of stepping, but none of that is in my conscious memory. My world, as I recall it, has always had my sister in it.)

As most people do, I took her for granted for most of my life, and barely valued her at all. In fact, I pretty much had no use for her for much of our life together. When I think about that now, I think about people complaining about the weather. Yah, it’s cold as hell today, but cold air, like it or not, is still good for breathing, and let’s you live. So sure, I wasn’t always psyched that she was around, and was pretty clear about that.

There are countless good stories about how I showed my disdain for her existence when we were younger. “Pudding Head,” a short story written by my brilliant niece (who is the incredible girl that she is not just because of excellent DNA, but because of truly excellent parenting,) memorializes the infamous “hot pudding on head” incident that resulted from my sister programming the remote control so that the only channel the TV received was playing He-Man, and in frustration I did what I always do – cooked. This time, my lemon pudding, however, was poured on her head. But there are other antics, before and after, which illustrate the unpredictable path we took to this very dependable love we have now.

When I was 3 or so, I took a permanent marker and wrote my initials on my mother’s treasured antique desk. Nervous that I would get caught, I used the same marker to add “by BZR,” so that Bronwyn (Zoe Royse) would get blamed. (She was not old enough to hold a marker much less know her initials.) A year or so later, I pushed a small bookshelf over – perhaps even ON her – and then blamed her. The world’s first suicidal toddler.

Of course, I couldn’t eliminate her outright, because she was terribly useful to me. She was the perfect guinea pig for everything. Even as a kid, she was the helpful, cheerful and eager-to-please person that she is now. As a result, she jumped in every lake before I did. Got her ears pierced first. When we had to get shots at the doctor, I made her go first, to see how it went – and was, at least once, caught half way across the street after hearing her scream.

This was not entirely one sided. There was the necklace of mine that she “borrowed,” –  without asking, or returning, and swore she never had – and then wore it in her senior portraits. Or all of the earrings of mine that she took, because I had too many, and then took them apart and used the pieces to make them into many MORE pairs, which she then gave to everyone – including me – for Christmas.

Yes, the Royse sisters have always been crafty – literally and metaphorically. For those who have known us as long as we’ve known each other, the reasons are obvious. We were never sure what was coming in our next breath, or where our next step would lead us. Our youth was far from secure. There was little we could count on. Except oxygen, gravity and each other. Those three things were constant. And, it turns out, that’s enough.

I think it’s when I was pregnant with Celia that Bronwyn and I decided to bury the hatchet. Metaphorically, though until that time a literal hatchet burying would not have surprised anyone. I don’t really recall what was said, or why, all I remember is hanging up and feeling like I had a “real” sister.

In the 13 years since then, I know what that means. And why it matters so much.

Bronwyn is a constant. She is the only person on the planet who knows all of the weird environmental elements that created me. They created her too. As different as we seem to people, we are so alike. Our core values, desires, beliefs, are all the same. They look different from the outside: I’m still “the wild one,” she’s still “the nice one.” I’m still the “funky” one, and she’s still “the conservative one.” But we know each other better than anyone else. She knows that I’m also nice and traditional. I know that she’s also wild and funky.

And we are both “the one that is always there, no matter what.” We can tell each other anything without fear of judgment. We can count on unconditional support. We can communicate enormous things to each other without saying a single word. Because we are as elemental to each other as oxygen and gravity.

Ironically, the existence of Bronwyn is the one thing that makes me regret not having another child – Celia will never know this kind of love. Sister love is special. It’s hard-earned, and strong. It’s elemental. The existence of Bronwyn also makes it possible for me to live fearlessly because I know, if something tragic happened, she’d be a great mother to Celia. The kind we wished we had. The kind we have both become, because we had each other to lean on, think with, learn from and sort through the chaos of an oxygen-deprived childhood with far too much gravity.

Without her, I would not be the person that I am. My world would make no sense.

She is the person I respect most in this world. And she earned it. She earned it by consistently being one of the strongest, smartest, most honest, most generous and most fun people that I know. Watching her take all that and raise three more awesome humans is one of the great joys of my life. We talk at least once a day, and it still isn’t enough.

Happy 40th, Bronwyn. I did this one first. And, it is with great authority that I tell you, the best is in front of you. And if a bookshelf, or pot of pudding, falls on your head, I’m here for you. Always.

I love you. (More than oxygen or gravity.)

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