Dear Big Sister: E’s Story
HA note: E shared this open letter with HA and said, “I wanted to offer a contribution to the Siblings series regarding what I can only call emotional incest.”
Dear Big Sister,
You were my first and often my only friend. In the early days of our lives it was just you and me. Homeschooling was new in our community, there were few other children for us to play with and we lived in the country with acres of woods and pastures all to ourselves. We built castles in the trees, picked mulberries behind the house, blazed trails through the weeds, gathered up our skirts and waded through creeks, climbed, fell, scraped, bruised, laughed, ran, and lived together. We were dinosaurs, runaways, horses, lions, detectives, unicorns, secret agents. We were always together, every day, every hour.
Sometimes I wonder if that togetherness is what hurt you. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why you never learned to let go.
We grew up. Still, we were together. Grandpa said that we were amazing because we never fought. That was not completely true, but fights were rare. We were very different people but sometimes I think we forgot that. Our personailties, our interests, our feelings were different, but people rarely saw that. We were still “the girls” we still mostly went to the same activities and were in the same places. Now we had more opportunities and friends to be with, but still, apart from a few hours each week, we were always together. Always, always together.
And then you went to college. Yes, it was hard for me at first. You had always been there. Now you rarely called, you rarely came home, you had new friends and a new life. But I adapted, I had my own friends and I developed my own interests and I learned to be with myself. Two years later, I went across the country to my own college and I realized I was happy for you that you had your own life, that I had my own life, that we could be apart and still be close. It was okay. We didn’t have to be together all the time. Right?
Isn’t that right?
I don’t know when your grip on me started to tighten. I can’t put my finger on when you changed or if you had always been this way. It seemed to start slowly. I would call you and you would be angry with me for not calling you sooner. I was confused; we were both busy with our own lives. If you had wanted to talk why hadn’t you called? How was I to know that you were expecting me to call more often? You brushed my confusion aside, demanded an apology. I gave it. I was sorry. I hadn’t meant to hurt you.
But it didn’t end there. It happened again. And again. And then it started to spread. When I would come home, you would demand my time. Talking to anyone else, spending time with anyone else made you angry. You needed to be included in absolutely everything. Time with just friends, personal outings, none of that was allowed. My dates with my boyfriend even became a point of contention… you wanted to be invited along. Again and again, apologies were demanded. I was being callous, cruel, insulting for living a life that didn’t involve you at every second. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
I was confused, but I apologized. I was an unsocialized homeschooled dweeb. What did I know about social etiquette? Surely I was in the wrong.
Soon, you were angry with me for even having a phone conversation with my significant other without conferencing you in. You were angry with me for inviting you to an outing with friends because I hadn’t allowed you to pick the activity. You were angry with me for accepting invitations to social events from friends that hadn’t included you. You were angry with me for not hanging up on my significant other immediately when you decided you wanted to go do something with me. And you were always, always angry with me for initiating contact with you by email or over the phone because it was never soon enough, it was never good enough, it was never the specific way that you had wanted me to contact you.
And you demanded your apologies over and over. And I tried to explain myself over and over, but nothing would satisfy you. So I would abase myself, I would apologize, I would wonder why I could never do things right.
Sister, I love you, but we are not the same person. Our lives are separate. Our personalities are separate. We are not two isolated, lonely homeschooled children anymore.
When I came out as gay to you, I had hoped to find an ally. I knew our parents would not accept it, but you had long been questioning the morals of our upbringing. I hoped that I could trust you. And at first, you seemed open, accepting, welcoming. You encouraged me, you told me that you would protect my secret.
I wonder if it was your jealousy and your possessiveness that led you to change your mind. When you changed, it was sudden and vicious. Your possession of me escalated as you found an ultimate enemy in my same-sex partner. You tried everything to prevent me from spending time with her or even mentioning her around you. Open hostility, passive-aggressive behavior, the cold shoulder, emotional manipulation, shouting, lying, poisoning friends and family against me, and spiritual abuse were your tactics. At the time, I thought it was about morality and homosexuality. I no longer think it was.
I think, in your opposition to my same-sex relationship, you found what you believed to be a moral high-ground and a justification for your possessive, destructive behavior. Suddenly, your controlling tendencies were applauded and supported by your family and the community around you. Even today, you say that homosexuality “isn’t that big of a deal.” At first that confused me. It seemed like a complete reversal of your opinion. But no, I don’t think this was ever really about me being gay. It wasn’t about me at all. I think it is about you and how you never learned to let go.
But Sister, I finally learned to be wise. I finally realized that our relationship was not normal, not healthy, and not my fault. I stopped apologizing. I stopped abasing myself. I stopped playing your game. And oh, how angry that made you. Every phone call, every attempt to talk to you, to have a relationship resulted in shouting, anger, and emotional abuse. You lashed out at me when I drove across state lines to see your Masters degree graduation because I did not agree to stay overnight at your apartment. You lashed out at me when I invited you to my wedding, not because you were opposed to the gender of my partner, but because I had not previously demonstrated enough devotion to you for you to want to attend.
You are the reason that there is only silence between us now.
I don’t know what made you the way you are. I don’t know if it could have been different. I don’t know if you would have been healthier and happier if we had been able to grow up with a little more separation and distance between us. I can only speculate.
But I want you to know, I’m not that lonely, dependent little girl anymore, who was attached to your hip, who followed you everywhere, who was always with you.
I love you, Sister. But we can’t be together anymore.