Good Work, Sister
We were in the kitchen, cooking, laughing. I started to tell a story about my dad, and so I began, “My dad says.” I stopped short. I looked her in the eye to see if there was pain there. He is her dad, too. And sometimes, because we don’t have the same mom, and because I only was with her on the weekends growing up, and because there are 17 years between us, sometimes I forget that we have the same dad, that we have half the same blood flowing through our veins, that we share half the same ancestors haunting us through our cheekbones and flat feet and uncanny sense of direction.
“I’m sorry. I meant to say just ‘Dad says,’” I told her, meaning it.
“It’s okay,” Skyann said. “I think I’ve done the same thing.” My younger half-sister was living with me for 12 weeks while she completed a graduate internship in the city where I live.
“I was just talking to you like I would a friend and sometimes I forget we’re sisters,” I said, trying to understand how I would revert to the habit of saying “my dad” after all these years. “We are sisters AND friends, now.”
“You’re right,” she said. Turning back to the stove, I smiled. We’ve come a long way.
Things were never difficult between my baby sister and me. I had always wanted a sister. When my dad had two daughters in his second marriage, I finally got my sisters. But somehow, I still felt cheated. I never got to live with them; I never got to borrow their clothes. We didn’t share a bedroom or stay up late giggling. We also never fought, never slammed the door in each other’s faces, never argued over a boyfriend.
All those years between Sky and me put us at different life stages at different times. She was born when I was in high school. I graduated from college as she graduated from kindergarten. I had lived in five different apartments in three different cities before she went to middle school. By the time she started college, I was in my fourth career.
When we made plans for her to live at my house during her internship, I was excited for the chance to really get to know Sky as an adult. But I began to wonder what we would talk about.
We discovered an affinity for jigsaw puzzles, spending time fitting the pieces together around the card table I set up in the living room. We found a few television shows that we both enjoyed, and our love for food kept us planning, discussing, even photographing the meals we made together.
But the surprise discovery of my sister’s stay was that finally, after 24 years, we found ourselves at the same stage of life. Each morning, we both left before 7 a.m. to get to work, and each evening, we reconvened at the house sometime around 5. We ate together most evenings and went to bed about the same time.
We found a rhythm to our new relationship, and the work that shaped our days also began to shape our conversations. I would tell her about the reports I was writing for clients or the training sessions I was leading for employees. As a speech language pathologist, Sky told me about some of her stroke patients, like the young man from Africa who was raising children on his own, and the woman who started cursing uncharacteristically after her illness.
One evening while we were out to dinner with a friend, Sky was more animated than I had seen her, discussing various techniques and procedures of her specialty. She talked about the neuroscience of speech and language and about the stages of recovery for various stroke and development disorders. This smart, well-spoken professional woman was my baby sister. My heart swelled.
“Is this what the rest of my adult life is going to be like?” Sky asked me one evening, tired after a long day. “All I do is work, eat, and sleep.”
“Pretty much,” I told her. “After a while, you’ll get the hang of it, though, and some days, you’ll even love it,” I said, remembering the engaging young professional she had been at the restaurant.
Then we took our plates to the living room and ate in front of the television, just a couple of working sisters eating together like friends.