I was four when my sister was born. I don’t really remember what it was like not to have her. For as long as I can remember, she’s always been there. We didn’t always get along, having very different temperaments but we have always been there for each other. No matter what our relationship is like, it’s always been a given that we’d be there if the other needed us. And we always are. The same goes for my brother actually, whose friends sometimes lovingly refer to us as ‘the sisters’. Well, they used to. I don’t know his friends as well as I once did. I know not all siblings are like this. I am lucky that my sister is actually one of my best friends. But that’s the thing about sisterhood. I think that as women, especially, we need as many sisters as phases of life, at least. Well, I do. And they don’t need to be related.
The first sister friend I can remember was back when I was at primary school, when my sister was just a baby. I must have been about five or six. At the time, I was living in a very white area and was one of the only brown kids at school. My friend, whose name I now cannot recall, was Indian. She had long, straight shiny hair (which I coveted, having not yet learned to love my curls as I do now) and a shy smile. The shyness may have been part of her personality but it was no doubt exacerbated by those kids who took it upon themselves to remind us, repeatedly, that we were different. We were united in our otherness and played together often, and I missed her when she wasn’t there. She never spoke but we became firm friends. I thought she was mute but then one day, while we were playing far from the other children, she said, “You’re funny” and laughed. At the time I think I was just pleased that someone thought I was funny (I don’t really ‘do’ funny), and that she had decided to share a little more of her world with me. Looking back though, I can only imagine what the other kids might have said to her on hearing her accent and realized that was probably a big part of, if not the reason for, her selective silence. Apart from one older girl I always considered my personal bodyguard, who took it upon herself to protect me from bullies in the playground, this first sister friend was one of very few positive memories of primary school.
Fast forward again to the age of nine, when I moved to a new school and was again, ‘other’. I stood awkwardly at the front of the class while the teacher introduced me and pretended not to hear the remarks some of the children made about my skin color. I just wanted to run and hide when a girl said, “she can sit with me!” I looked up, wondering who could have been so brave as to go against the tide in the room and a girl with eyes as wide as saucers and what seemed to be a genuine smile was looking at me and ignoring everyone else. I sat with her and we became firm friends, at least for as long as I was at that school. We too were united in our ‘otherness’, hers was just on the inside – a refusal to follow others, an open heart and mind and an unshakeable self-belief. And it was beautiful.
Over the years I made and lost friends through school, as you do, finding sisters at the two schools that saw me through the crazy journey that is the teenage years. Through crushes, first boyfriends, GCSEs, A-Levels and choosing universities. My sister, although at a very different life stage, was a constant through all of this. Sometimes we were best friends, sometimes not so much, but she was always there and we have only grown closer over the years.
“I’m your sister, and always for ya” – Brandy
It was 1995 when Brandy released ‘Best Friend’. At the time I had just started university and was navigating my way through a new life path, making new friends and drifting apart from some of the old ones as our lives went down different routes. I didn’t know it then, but one of the friends I met that year who was more of a ‘fun times friend’ than part of what was to become a tight knit sisterhood across my university days, would become my closest sisters in later life.
This is the woman who was there to help me pick up the pieces when my Mum died, who held my hand when I confronted some of my darkest shadows a couple of years later, who, alongside my sister, walked down the aisle with me on my wedding day and who came straight from work to hold my two-week-old son when I had postnatal pre-eclampsia so that I could sleep, before flying out to give a presentation the next morning having had no sleep herself. She’s not ‘like family’ she is family. Even my sister calls her sister.
Now, as well as work sister friends I’ve known over the years – those with whom I could truly be all of myself at work – there are my mother sister friends, who are and have been so important on this parenting journey. While all my friends are wonderfully supportive of my parenting choices, there are just some things that you need to talk about with those who have been through, or are going through, the same. My son is highly sensitive, spirited and until he was almost two, he was a terrible sleeper (that reads like it’s a bad thing. It’s not, it’s just who he was. He didn’t sleep well. Neither did I until I had him). So I gravitated towards women with similar children, who also prefer a gentler parenting approach. In my circle I have a wide range of friends who use different parenting methods, all of which I respect but during the messier moments of motherhood, it’s those with the most similar approach I reach out to first. That’s just how it is.
I love my brother, my husband, my son and my closest male friends just as fiercely as all of the women in my life but I honestly think that we need these sister friends in adulthood just as much as we did as children. This may be a sweeping generalisation (or indicative of my personal experience rather than ‘how it is’) but I find that women are generally better placed at being able to ‘hold’ each other emotionally, without trying to ‘fix’ anything. To sit with us in the shadows when needed, before gently guiding us back to the light.
I’ve written poems for my sister, not all of which she has seen, and occasional poems for friends but unlike lovers, who have received the most of my creative gifts, my sisters can sometimes go unmentioned. It’s not because I care less, far from it. As I said before, it’s a given. And to quote Brandy one last time, “it’s automatic”. So this treatise is for all of my sisters: past, present and future. I couldn’t do life without you.