#16. On Siblings / On Difference

We imprint on each other constantly, compulsively

Dear Reader,

It’s been long. This edition should have gone out in early March, but I didn’t have a lot to say in early March. I’ve had a busy month of walking and reading. I also wrote for This is My Newsletter run by The Alipore Post which you can check out here.

This edition is slightly weird. I will go back and forth on whether what I’ve written about is the most generic younger sibling experience or if it’s completely isolated to me. Bear with me.

 As a child, I wanted to believe that I was exactly like my sister. I watched all the same TV shows as her, I tried to like having short hair, I tried to bake. She was The Person To Be. A lot of it of course can very easily be explained by the fact that women don’t usually get to see good “example lives” around them to grow into. So when you do get to see it, you chart its territories like a map. You make notes on what roads to take and which ones to avoid. At least I did, and I held on to it for as long as I could.

It was in my early teens when my sister moved out of our home that I discovered I was sappy and vain in the girliest of ways. I loved shiny things in my hair and hated baking. I would never have been able to articulate or understand it back then, but that time was possibly the closest I came to knowing the experience of being an only child might be. I was oblivious to my sister’s absence, for the longest time even after I moved cities myself, I didn’t understand that she had missed out on a part of my growing up. That for this part I didn’t have access to her personality, there was no map — so I just winged it. Perhaps I still tried to subconsciously do things the way she would, but ultimately with no demarcated paths I just ended up becoming more like... myself??? How wild. 

I’m unsure of why I wanted to mimic my sister when no one asked me to. The only thing I have that resembles an answer is this: As people we imprint on each other constantly, compulsively. Old friends, lovers, parents, family, enemies are how we access the multiple selves we nurture through a lifetime. There is no solidity to personality and some of us who are more restless than others can sense it early enough in life.

For me, it is an unsettling experience — when a friend calls up expecting me to respond in a certain way, or when someone has too full of an idea of who I am, when someone reminds me I hated carrots three years ago. It adds up to the secret guilt I hoard — of becoming a different person, of allowing myself to change. Almost as if I spend all my time on slippery rocks by the beach that I keep falling off. I’m sometimes this and sometimes that, and the imprints I leave of the falls and slips make me nervous.

So, I figured it would be easy to have someone exactly like me — someone I can always relate to, someone I will go to when I hate everyone else.

Imagine then the astonishment that came years later when I and my sister were put in the same city again. The astonishment of discovering that once we were both roughly adults we were nothing like each other. Not that we didn’t interact at all in the years apart, but it’s kind of like what you think you look like at a party versus when you’re home and finally see your smudged lipstick and frizzy-ass hair in the mirror. 

The tricky bit was, as I began to see it, we were still capable and very good at loving each other. For all my subconscious doing, the love, I had to accept did not live in the same-ness. It is horrifying now, to think that I held myself with the pressure of being rigid — a person who knows things and herself. That I thought all those other people wouldn’t get it, that they would harshly show me older reflections of myself. The realisation that things can be liked, enjoyed, and even loved without being turned into definitive personality traits. 

It’s difficult to end this in any good way because I don’t think I know how to tie the loose ends. But here’s what I’ve discovered for sure — that with all our difference, as sisters, we still have a lot to share. We can still watch Grey’s Anatomy together and pick our favourite episodes, we can still both love tea, we both still have the possibility and landscape to make new memories. 

And that I can still hang around the slippery rocks by the beach and allow for the missteps and falls to be imprinted.

Thank you for reading

Six Impossible Things is a monthly newsletter about art, books, reading, and feelings. You may sign up if you want it delivered to your inbox. You can also come to say hi to me on Instagram @a_catinthesink