I don’t know why it surprises me sometimes when we look so much alike in photos. Despite being born of the same X and Y-chromosomes, in many ways my sister and I couldn’t be more unalike. She, the younger one, is very much the country mouse to my city mouse. At 23, her idea of a good time is getting lost in the wilderness on horseback, following only your tracks back to the barn. She prefers the company of animals and has a way with them that echoes a Disney princess. She is truly a whisperer. At 23, my days were spent serving tables at a restaurant in the tourist part of downtown Toronto while dreaming of becoming a fulltime writer. My nights, lost to boys and bars.
Families are funny things. The dynamics and the roles can shift, but the direct relationships will remain the same. My sister and I have always been sisters. We haven’t always been friends. When we were young and small we did everything together. When we became our own people, we no longer understood each other in the same fashion. Things began to change. Our thoughts and ambitions no longer aligned. We didn’t share a secret language or a code anymore. We never called each other late at night after I moved away from home. I longed for our sisterhood to be as strong as our cousins, two sisters as close as one could ever dream. My heart broke every time I realized it wasn’t.
There were times when I would cry myself to sleep over this. The fractured dynamic of our relationship as sisters haunted me, forcing me to find in myself flaws where there shouldn’t be. I questioned my own character and my own dedication as a sister and a friend. I wondered if I as the older one am more responsible than she is, because I know what life’s like to not have a sister, while she does not. Sometimes she says she’ll call and when she doesn’t, I have allowed myself to remain sad instead of calling her myself. I have wondered, at times, if we are not closer because I am not trying hard enough. How different can we really be? Our eyes are the same and we both have dimples in our chins. Our stories are intertwined.
At our cousin’s wedding, we Googled the lyrics to Joan Jett’s cover of “I Love Rock’n’Roll” just to make sure we had all the words right. If you wanted the bride and groom to kiss, you had to interrupt the evening by addressing the gathering and singing a song with the word “love” in it. I was drunk because I am sick and drink too much sometimes to cope with it. My sister was not drunk because so is she.
We decided on Joan Jett because it’s one of the songs we have sang together before, driving down the highway as teenagers. We chose it because we wanted to do something together that we both enjoyed. The wedding had brought us closer together and reestablished a bond that had been long missing. As bridesmaids, we went from spending minimal time together to seeing each other every other weekend. We went dress shopping and planned showers. We danced the night away at the bachelorette party and laughed later as we carried the drunk bride-to-be back to the hotel. We danced in the middle of the dance floor and roared until we cried when the same guy hit on us both, separately. We were acting like sisters and it was beautiful and meaningful.
We also chose the song because we thought it would be a funny departure from the love ballads other drunks had been serenating us with all night long. We wanted something that represented our newfound sisterhood. We knew this but we did not say this. We practiced the lines and then sang it to the bride and groom. They kissed. Everyone cheered. We were, for a moment, invincible.
When I was in high school, I bought her Metric tickets for Christmas or her birthday and we drove to Kitchener to watch the band perform at a venue that had cages in it, usually reserved for dancers. There were no dancers the night of the concert. I was 17 and the proud owner of a new driver’s license. My mom let us borrow the car, a white Neon, as long as we called her when we got there. We did. Before we left, we bought Doritos at the grocery store and left them in the car for after. It was January. To this day we both agree they taste better cold.
My sister and I have an understanding and appreciation of each other that we didn’t have before the wedding. I don’t think we knew before how to manage our differences, focusing instead too much on the variables rather than finding beauty in them. Our DNA may be tangled, but we are different people and as we get older we are starting to recognize that this is what makes our relationship so special. At four years apart, our lives have not always aligned. When she was entering high school, I was moving away to university. In many ways I wasn’t there for her in the ways she likely needed, and it has taken a long time for her to feel confident in seeking advice from me, in recognizing my own experiences as potentially valuable to her own. In the same light, I must remember she is younger, that she is still learning things I have already learned. Yet in many ways, she continues to teach me new things about myself and the way relationships—and families—change; how they flex in and out, how they breathe and mature and evolve.
When we were little girls, we would sit by the window in the kitchen, sun beaming down upon us, and we would draw for hours. We would draw everything—from puppies to sceneries, from portraits of our family to cartoon characters. We shared this love of drawing passionately and it became integral to our understanding of each other. It was something we had together. It was a foundation.
Now that we’re older, now that we’re entering new phases of our lives and learning and growing as people, it is important to remind myself that these foundations still exist. We can look out into the world and see different versions of the same picture, we can experience different narratives of the same story, and of our own stories, but the significance of this parallel is something I finally am beginning to understand. I love her for who she is in her entirety and while I may not always understand her, and she definitely may not always understand me, I will cherish how it is both our differences and our similarities that comprise the fabric of our relationship, of our sisterhood. I will put another dime in the jukebox, baby.
Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde as well as the Toronto editor. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.
Image from Home of the Vein. View complete work here.