An Open Letter to the Neighborhood Bully Squad
Weird and Creepy Neighbors Part 100

The Importance of Big Sisters

My big sister, 13 years my senior, provided little in the way of soft and fuzzy physical enchantments. Certainly, in those many moments of family grief, she probably wished I hadn't been born. My brother became one of our biggest contentions, but as the years following his death slipped away, I could see that she became closer to my way of thinking, especially as it concerned his mental health and substance abuse issues. It's impossible to understand any of us if you know nothing about our brother and our father, men that failed to completely recover from different wars: World War II and Vietnam. None of the men in our family shrank from civic duty, and their legendary courage and military successes were a matter of family pride.

The stressful incidents became routine, first with Dad, and then later with our brother. My sister tried to shield me from the ongoing chaos, but ultimately she left home for a different life. I felt compensated watching her move forward, first with a career in cosmetology that supplemented college, and later as a certified public accountant. Her resilience made me feel inadequate and underachieving. I read everything anyone handed me, and I listened to my brother's long rants about politics and the military industrial complex, his ideas on philosophy and history. While only a dilettante, my brother's insight still caused all of us to become skeptics and critics, especially myself as I studied his state of mind. I knew the war caused him to come back changed. For me, the loss felt horrendous and unacceptable. During that time, we didn't have a name. Now the name is PTSD. My father suffered from PTSD. My brother died after a lifetime of trying to self manage something he had no way to understand, something that no one knew to help him with--PTSD.

Watching my big sister evolve out of the chaos of our home made me a better person. Over time, I took on adult responsibilities and tried to become independent and skilled. My work took me out of Oklahoma and the world opened up for me. Because of my fractured childhood, I managed to learn more out on the road than in a classroom. Finally, after a couple of decades of living life like a vagabond, I felt the urge to return to school. My sister encouraged and supported me, even if my choices were not perfect. Her own achievements were something I could aspire to, her years attending college, the obtainment of a professional license, and the way she managed her life.

The pain we grew up with caused us to feel incredibly sensitive around each other. Spending time together meant facing reality, the reality of our shared trauma and pain, the disappointments we shared, and the inconvenient, and often terrifying, memories. The differing points of view interfered in our ability to communicate effectively, silencing both of us. We disagreed on points about our mother, our brother, and especially our father. When he left the country for the last time, she was twenty and on her way into a better life, and I was only 7 and terrified. This contributed to our differences. I became isolated at home with our mother, an angry person that rightfully felt abandoned and disappointed, a single, older mother struggling financially and emotionally. I can barely remember those years.

My sister recently died. Her death was sudden and inexplicable, a pain unlike any other. Her death was completely preventable. She left behind beautiful grandchildren, a successful son and devoted husband, and most importantly, at least in my mind, she left me at my most vulnerable, when I really needed her. Like two points of star light from opposite sides of the universe finally conjoining after trillions of years in space, my sister's beliefs about my father, brother, and mother aligned with mine. We became friends. We made plans. And now she is in the spirit world.

Big sisters challenge our beliefs, make us better people, and watch over us. We don't need to live in their pockets to feel their presence, to feel their disapproval, or to access their wisdom. My sister was a gift. I will always miss her.


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My sister and me (1962).

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