By Dawn Onley
My sister use to make me cry.
When I was a baby, my mom said she would notice that every time my sister came near me, out of nowhere I’d start crying. I would be just as content and happy before she came close, but then suddenly I’d start wailing. Mom didn’t understand this so she decided to pay closer attention, the way moms instinctively do when something seems amiss. When she did, she caught my sister pinching me on the down low.
Conveniently, my sister has another take. According to her, mom and dad wouldn’t let her hold me often enough since she was just 3, so she found her opportunity whenever I started crying. She learned quickly, the way precocious toddlers do, that if she pinched me to make me cry, then she would get to hold me and make it all better. She says she only did it because she wanted to hold me.
Sounds diabolical doesn’t it? Her rationale and brilliance have always impressed me. Still, I thank God for small miracles. And I thank my parents for keeping me safe and alive because who knows what unintentional forays could have gone down had they left the room at any time.
This story illustrates my relationship with my sissy for a good part of our youth. She loved to tease me, to boss me around, to insist that I never touch her, even during the times when we slept in the same full size bed or during the long, cross-country car rides that my dad use to love and we barely survived. I could not roll over and touch her. I could not slouch over in the car, half asleep, and touch her. I. Could. Not. Touch. Her. Ever.
I also could not play with her toys or hang with her friends – unless she extended a personal invitation, and on those rare occasions, I was the pitiful little sister who was over the moon thrilled because my sister was the “It” girl and everyone wanted to play with her, especially me.
My sister was a hell raiser and she took me along for the ride. Whether that was handcuffing the babysitter, taking over my friend’s toy tunnel, even after she forbade us from playing with it, or teaching me her coveted dance moves, there was never a dull moment growing up in the Onley household. And let’s not even talk about the name-calling, which my brother instigated. I was ant because I was dark-skinned and itsy-bitsy and my sister was elephant because she was big-boned and boisterous. We called our brother beaver because his baby teeth hadn’t caught up with the two gigantic ones in the front. We each made up these stories about how it was better to be an ant, an elephant or a beaver – depending on our vantage point — and my sister usually shut it down when she announced that she could stomp both of us if we didn’t leave her alone.
Underneath the veneer though, I realized early on that my sissy was fiercely protective of me and staunchly in my corner. If someone even looked like they were going to cause me trouble, she was all over them. And let me tell you, there is no fiercer protector than a big sister. Mine is a warrior woman ready to do battle with anything that comes against anyone she loves.
In the third grade, I remember mentioning to my sister that some girl was talking smack to me at recess and the next day, sissy went over to her on the monkey bars as she played, and told her she best leave me alone and if she ever heard of her saying anything mean to me again, she would have some serious problems. The next thing I knew, the girl wanted to be my friend.
My sister is the one who showed me the ins and outs of high school and college, helped me to recognize and refine my inner toughness and whom I can safely tell my secrets to without judgment.
Of all the people in the world, it is my sissy who understands me best.
She is the first person I call when I have to vent; the one I called to meet me down at the lawyer’s office 15 years ago when I filed the divorce papers and again once the divorce was finalized. She is the one I commiserate with. The one I rejoice with.
The one who was there when my new beau proposed to me and the one I called to be my maid of honor when I remarried.
She’s the one who shows up when I’m battling my fears and the person I most like to travel with because I know somewhere within that vacation, we will cut up and act a fool, laughing until our sides hurt.
She is strong and courageous, a bit impulsive and fun. She is front and center of so many of my best childhood memories. I admire so much about her: Her integrity. Her honesty. Her faith. Her sincerity. Her loyalty. Her big, beautiful heart. The way she single-handedly raised my two nieces and nephew. The way she lives her life on her own terms, unconsciously giving me permission to do the same.
It’s so weird because it could have gone another way. In many cases it does. We will always be sisters, sure, but there was no guarantee that we would grow up to become friends.
Yet that is exactly what we are – the best of friends. Thelma and Louise. Nay-Nay and Dawnie.
Today on my sister’s 50th birthday, I want you guys to know how much of me has been shaped by her. I also want to publicly thank her for all that she’s given me. Her consistency. Her time. Her prayers. Her hope. Her optimism. Her protection and guidance. Her ‘rah rah’ to all of my endeavors. A lifetime of memories.
Here’s to 50 more years, my dear sister-friend. Even in the tears, and sometimes because of them, my joy was still there. Here’s to my Joy!