I’ve been thinking a lot about my sister, Heather, of late. The anniversary of her passing was in July. She died the day before her 35th birthday. She was coming to Sioux Falls to celebrate with me the following day. I have no idea where I am in the grief process in her regard. I miss her.
I still ask myself, would it make 7-year-old Heather cry? If yes, don’t say it. (A gift from my mom.) I’ve since changed it to, don’t think it. (I’m a notorious thought telegrapher.) My desire to be kind is far stronger than my desire to be funny. They used to compete. 🤭
When we were little, we had an unspoken alliance as the only black people in our family at the time. As the older sister, I assumed the role of Heathers’ protector. If a child hit her on the playground, I would see red and lose it. As I got older and recognized Heather deliberately antagonized kids to see my response, I learned to relax and assess before attacking.
As a kid, part of me thought Heather was an asshole for doing this, but mostly, I was impressed because it worked. As an adult, a psychiatrist prompted me to wonder why she behaved this way. It was the first time I ever looked at it with adult eyes and perspective. (It also distracted me for a bit when I most needed it.)
I wasn’t affectionate as a child. Heather needed to know I loved her unconditionally. So she tested me. She did this well into adulthood. I don’t remember ever saying it, (may have screamed it), but I showed her on her terms. I think my inner warrior originated to protect my little sister. I’m doing the groundwork (courage mustering) before letting go of that compartmentalization of my mind.
I can laugh about the time I almost went AWOL to (in my head) murder a piece of shit for beating her up. It would be more efficient for me to surrender at the nearest police station than go through the motions of committing a crime.
Cop: Did you do this?
Me: (Long pause while I consciously, agonizingly, make the neurological connections necessary to speak.) Nod. (Long pause while I debate whether I said it out loud or not.) Yes.
It’s just not logistically feasible for me to attempt deception. I mean. I think there’s a 72-hour time limit to answer questions or something. I’d need way more time, internet access, improv training, etc. Just give me the damn jumpsuit. (In Minority Report, I’d get suspended for murderous thoughts over horrible men who hurt my little sister.)
Fortunately for that guy, my military training prevailed. Also, I’ve never managed to hold on to that level of rage for more than an hour, tops. It’s incredibly draining emotionally. I firmly believed the punishment for making Heather cry was beheading for about an hour, though. Then I wept because I knew I couldn’t do that.
It was the last time Heather messed with horrible men. Our relationship changed a lot after that. We grew closer. Listening to me weep over the phone from another country and repeatedly apologize for not being able to avenge her, even though I was a soldier, affected us both in ways I can’t explain.
Perhaps we both grew up a little. We were honest about our feelings with each other after that. We talked for hours about our childhood, and how we felt. It’s when I first understood why Heather changed abruptly as a child. When she first encountered racism, she was never the same. She went from being called, Smiley, to an angry little girl who only acted out around me.
I noticed. For a large part of my childhood, I hated Heather on some level, because I was the only person who was safe for her to express how she felt. I’m just now fully grasping this. The former resentment is now retro-honor. I’m so glad I was a safe person for my little sister. She needed me. 🙃
The day Heather graduated from high school, she moved out of state. The day. Everything she owned (and everything I didn’t take with me to the Army) was loaded up and ready to go immediately following the party. (She relocated to the hood in a city large enough to have one.)
I moved out at 16, but only a few blocks away to my brothers’ house. I couldn’t live with Heather anymore. I wasn’t equipped to witness (or survive) her transformation from angry little girl to angry teenager. (I remember crying a lot.) She knew just what to say to reduce me to tears. (Not like it’s hard to make a teenager cry; it’s mean.)
I left for basic training before Heather fully got in touch with her anger. No shame in stating I’m glad. My mom was an incredible person. Somehow, their relationship strengthened during that time. She certainly got over her fear of what the neighbors might think. (Teenage Heather aimed at that little weakness.) 🤭
In some ways, I’m glad I was too busy trying to exist in a physically and socially hostile (to me) world to grok subtle racism. Most of it flew by me unnoticed. However, I also deliberately surrounded myself with more diversity as soon as I was old enough. (I think this used to be a symptom of growing up in Sioux Falls in general. It’s way better now than when I was a kid.)
I think Heather was the big sister when it came to coping with racism. She was also the little sister; in that, she acted out her rage toward me because she was a child, and that’s how they express hard feelings. I’m so glad I got to be Heather’s sister. It was one of my most cherished relationships.
I’m glad I told her how much she hurt me when I was a child, and she listened and apologized. She told me things I said that hurt her as well, and how those scars affected her choices. I apologized, and we cried and forgave. Then she asked me for a hug, and I presume I tensed up because she quickly retracted the request.
Sigh. And that’s okay because it was my body speaking for me. Hugging isn’t mandatory. It’s just one of many ways to express affection. I didn’t like allowing people to touch my body for most of my life outside of sexual relationships. I now know it’s because I wasn’t in my body, and that made it a repulsive notion.
My cat forced me to get over this issue. Weird. A kid would have done it, too. I’m just rambling at this point. Heh. I’m off to play Warcraft. ✌💜