With her new outfit and freshly coifed hair, she did look rather nice. But her forthright fishing for a compliment startled me.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess I never gave it much thought.”
My sister, obviously disappointed with my response, turned towards her window and stared blankly at the passing scenery. Seeing her pain made me want to rescind my dismissive statement, but I knew it was too late. The damage had been done and the chasm between my sister and I widened.
All my sister ever wanted was a little affection from her big brother, a kind word, an open ear. I gave her none of these things. When she tried to get me to show some affection for her, I’d hide my true feelings with jest and light-hearted ribbing. She would always smile and laugh never letting on that I was hurting her by being so closed off.
When we were younger, she and I were best friends more out of necessity than anything else. We comforted each other through our parents’ divorce. No matter how bad things got, we knew we’d be okay as long as we had each other. To help quell some of our fears, my sister and I would spend hours creating imaginary worlds full of fantastic characters. Our favorite scenario involved a large family and a Snuggle Bunny, whose catch phrase was, “A little snuggle never hurt anybody.” My sister and I would engage the family in various conflicts which Snuggle Bunny could always resolve with a little snuggle. Afterwards, we would hug each other and wish that our problems could be solved so easily.
With time, the pain of our parents divorce waned and my sister and I stepped out of our fantasy worlds and became fully steeped in reality. While this segue may have been best for our psychological well-being, it was detrimental to our personal relationship. I started spending more time with my friends and less time with my sister. In fact, I gave her explicit instructions to stay away from my friends and me. I wasn’t about to let a little sister cramp my style. Besides, she had the goods on me. I couldn’t afford any Snuggle Bunny references to slip out.
In retrospect, it seems silly that I snubbed my sister in favor of people whose names I don’t remember, but back then it made sense. I needed them to like me. I needed their acceptance. Since I knew her love was unconditional, nurturing our relationship didn’t seem as crucial.
As time passed, my sister blossomed into a stunning young woman with increased confidence and a sense of independence. Although she garnered an impressive list of accomplishments, I never gave her any accolades. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of her. I didn’t think I had to say it. But I did. She was no mind reader. Everyone needs an encouraging word, especially those closest to us.
It wasn’t until my college graduation that I finally tore down the wall between us. She traveled to Washington, D.C. from Houston to celebrate this special accomplishment (I was the first in my family to graduate from college), and as usual, I was too busy to pay her any attention.
To spite me, my sister went out with some guy she had just met. I was sick with worry. If he did anything to her, I could never forgive myself. There was so much I needed to say to her, so many unresolved issues. I walked the streets of Washington, D.C. looking for my sister so I would know she was all right. Maybe God was guiding me on my quest, but somehow I ran across the guy’s car parked in front of his house. I ran to his door and started banging like a maniac. When he opened the door, I could see my sister sitting on a couch in the corner watching TV.
“Let’s go,” I screamed. She ignored me and continued watching TV. Then I lost it and started spewing profanities shocking both of us with my loss of composure. I stormed away from the house ranting all the way back to my apartment.
She made it home a few minutes later. As soon as I saw her, I started crying – a mixture of joy and anger. Seeing the iceberg that was her brother crack was enough to make my sister weepy-eyed as well. We cried together and I told her how much I cared about her and how miserable I’d be if something happened to her. That was all she ever wanted to hear, that was all I ever needed to say.
There are still times when I can’t find the words to express how I truly feel about her, but as each day passes it becomes easier. No one knows me like she does. She is my friend and I love her. And even if I never say it, I do think she’s cute.
photo copyright Frederick J. Goodall