Today call me julienancy. It’s what I called myself when I first started school. I couldn’t remember life before my little sister. Couldn’t enjoy kindergarten without her there. So I brought her with me. At least in the name I wrote on my artwork, projects and papers.
People believed we were twins. We wore matching homemade Easter dresses, our hair arranged in white-blonde pigtails. We were sixteen months apart but she was TallForHerAge, the difference indiscernible by the time she could walk to school with me.
On our way once, a neighbor boy threw a rock that chipped my sister’s tooth instead of mine. I cried harder than she did as we helped each other home, both of us covered in tears. I can still see the line where her tooth was repaired; evidence of the day I knew I could make my sister cry, I could bruise her feelings and her skin, but no one else would be allowed to hurt her.
We shared secrets and clothing. Toys and inside jokes. I sought my parents’ attention, sucked the air from a room with my non-stop talking. Friends arrived to play House and I made Nancy be the dog. She grew taller than I did and when she defended herself, I would blame her. On nights when she was scared, she’d come to my room. And I would let her stay.
We sang songs in harmony so instinctive, it was eerie. We danced to Shaun Cassidy and ABBA. Begged for later bedtimes and designer jeans. She made friends wherever we went. I sat under a tree reading a book, mortified and shy. We were so alike but also jealous of each other’s differences. No one else could make us so angry; no one else could make us laugh so hard.
She was always more mature. Responsible and productive. I was content to be a mess. Lazy and unreliable. We pushed each other’s buttons. On purpose. Until I moved away to college and once again, she could not come with me.
So we wrote each other letters, missed each other fiercely. I put down my book and made new friends. She finally spoke at the dinner table and took risks. I assumed our separation was temporary. As brief as my solo trips to kindergarten when she awaited my return.
But my little sister was ready to take on life. She got married and had children. I moved home and eyed her empty bedroom. She moved on and made a new family. She could not take me with her.
Julie. And. Nancy.
For more than forty years, she has forgiven my mistakes, remained patient with my shortcomings. She celebrates my successes and roots for me unconditionally, while I do my best to be worthy of her support. We’re far from perfect. But when we fail, we help each other home; both of us covered in tears, the lines across our teeth visible to those close enough to see.
This past Sunday was the Surf City Half Marathon. It was also my sister’s birthday. I placed a card on the counter and left for the race with friends who were running, too.
She and my brother-in-law Randy arranged bagels and fruit on platters. Poured champagne and orange juice into crystal. When we racers returned with our stories and smiles, she hugged me. Sweat and all. Offered us cream cheese. Listened as I sucked the air from the room with my non-stop talking.
Then we raised our glasses to toast the day. Randy whispered to me, suggesting I begin a round of “Happy Birthday” for Nancy. She fixed us with a serious stare.
“Don’t,” she pleaded. “Please don’t.”
So now? Here is my song for you, baby sister. My first, best friend.
I will sing for you always. Will take you with me wherever you want to go. I do not remember life before you, cannot imagine growing old if you’re not there.
Do you hear it? The same old eerie harmony we never could explain? Listen carefully. Our song echoes still. Across four decades of sibling rivalry and love. Always playing in my heart.
And it’s called julienancy.
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