Nature or Nurture?

My sister, Christina, is exactly eighteen months and one day younger than me. Maybe it is because we were so close in age (and fiercely competitive) that we spent most of our childhood fighting rather than being friends.

Even with the rivalry, however, I easily discerned my sister's strong points. Blessed with a quick wit and even quicker tongue, Christina could talk her way into and out of just about anything. Strong willed and confident, she didn't seek my parent's approval the way I did, and seemed altogether unphased by the turmoil this caused.

I remember Christina's famous drink order when dad once took his family out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Amid the calls for Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers, Christina blurted out her request, "I'll have a daiquiri that has had sex, please." The waitress looked over at my mother, who practically crawled under the table.

Even though I admired her gumption, I just didn't get my sister. I was sure that there was no way that we shared the same gene pool.

Adolescence brought more turbulence. A month after her 18th birthday, Christina left home for good. There weren't any goodbyes. She simply walked out of the house and didn't return. Determined to make it on her own, she spent the first couple weeks sleeping in her car, until a friend's mother gave her shelter.

But Chrissy is like a cat that always lands on her feet. She quickly got a waitressing job, moved into her own apartment, and disappeared off my radar. During that time I married, moved two states away, and didn't make the effort see or talk to my sister.

Then one day, on a visit home, I met a friend for lunch at the neighborhood Applebee's. Christina, a waitress at the restaurant, approached my table. Our eyes locked; our mouths dropped. An awkward thirty seconds of silence past before Christina burst into tears. Without uttering a word, she fled the restaurant and didn't return.

Christina rushed to her apartment, and phoned a surprisingly sympathetic voice. My mother had only heard from Christina occasionally, and was shocked to hear the sobs on the other end of the line.

"Mom, do you know the last time I was truly happy?" Christina cried. "Back during summer vacations when I spent my days with Grandpa doing church work."

My mother didn't show her surprise. In a calm, soothing voice, she reasoned with her distraught daughter, "You know, Christina, you can be that happy again."

"But I've done some terrible things," Christina wailed.

"It doesn't matter what you did yesterday," my mother advised. "It only matters what you do today and tomorrow."

Within a couple months, the transformation began. Christina moved home, started attending church, and began dating a nice man fourteen years her senior that would eventually become her husband.

During this period, I again met my sister at lunch. Only this time, I had invited her as my guest. We spent an hour catching up on all that had transpired over the four years since we had spoken. Some details didn't surprise me--the wild lifestyle, the heavy partying, the boyfriends. But what did surprise me were all the little things we had in common. We wore the same brand and shade of foundation, ordered the same dish at Mexican restaurants, worked part-time jobs in broadcasting, loved watching and mocking Presidential debates, and leaned left even though we were raised by conservatives.

I couldn't believe it. There was no denying we were sisters, spawned from same gene pool after all. Perhaps if Christina and I hadn't been blood relatives, we would have become friends?

It's odd how life changes and roles sometimes reverse. Christina married and started her family, just before I divorced. She became a pillar in her church, as I moved away from organized religion. These days, she cares more about what other's think, than I ever did. She is the golden girl, while I am the prodigal daughter. Everything about our current lives sits on opposite ends of the spectrum, which sometimes makes it hard to put ourselves in each other's shoes.

...But we still get together to mock Presidential debates, order the same dish at Mexican restaurants, and wear the same foundation. Most importantly, we never deny our sisterhood and make great effort to regularly stay in touch. Nature gave us a common bond, the same set of parents, and maybe, a taste for bean burritos and cheese enchiladas. But it took some nurturing to develop a relationship that went beyond the very familial ties and that also bound us.


Lynda said...

what wonderful and heartfelt writing. Just lovely.


Egan said...

Thanks for sharing your intimate thoughts about your family. That's great you have been able to spend time together as adults. I have five siblings and it has been much tougher as adults to remain close, but the love is always there. It's very interesting how the roles between you have reversed. Family dynamics are very intriguing to me mainly because of the large one I grew up in.

The Daily Randi said...

Great essay, Diane!

I, too, have a sometimes Rocky Relationship with My Sister. Espcically since she is So Easily Annoyed. At times, it seems lke we have Nothing In Common. But then, like You, we will order The Same Dish at a restarant. Just remember...Sisters are Forvever! (oy.)

running42k said...

What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing that because it is stories like that that make life worth living.

AmyD said...

*sniff* Such a lovely tribute to sisters. I'm the middle of three girls, and no matter which side I look to, I see two very different, yet equally important and influencing, wonderful women. I don't know what I would do without my sisters, always there to love and cheer me on no matter what my choices are or have been. I'm more like you, and my older sister is more like your sister. Guess this proves the birthing order wrong, huh? Or, is it life experiences that change that? Hmm...

Wonderful post. Thanks for this!

Have a happy weekend!

kenju said...

Your story gives me hope that my two girls will one day become friends in the true sense. They are not estranged; my younger one dotes on her nieces and nephews daily, but there is an undercurrent of stress with them. The older one has been jealous ever since the younger one drew breath. It doesn't help that the younger one is singularly determined to be successful and studied hard at her choice of profession, which is now paying off handsomely. That just gives the older one more fuel for her jealously. I pray that one day, they will become friends, and celebrate their differences.

I am glad that you and your sister have been able to do this.

Siryn said...

"It doesn't matter what you did yesterday," my mother advised. "It only matters what you do today and tomorrow."

I wish your mother would have employ this wisdom right now...

Thanks for such a beautiful post.

David said...

Great story!!!

jayfish said...

looks like you both have similar smiles as well.


TamWill said...

Oh what a lovely post, I did not want it to end!

meno said...

Oh, i am so jealous that i don't have a sister. Nice story. It's much harder to bring your life back on an even keel than to keep it that way all along.

ms chica said...

Siblings can be such foreigners. I relate to the, "are we really related?" aspect. Each time I think that way,I see a subtle action from my brother or sister and think, "yeah, we are drowning in the same pool..."