THAT’S MY SISTER!

???????My sister, Lizzie, spent the first twenty-odd years of her life telling me what to do.? She also provided discerning commentary and feedback on my personal appearance, my mental acuity, my musical talent, my athletic ability, and my emotional maturity. (I’m still wondering how I should have responded to her observation that my ears looked like an “afterthought.”)

?Lizzie felt that her status as the eldest, by a slim margin of twenty-two months, gave her the prerogative, nay duty, to boss me around.? If we played school, Lizzie was the teacher.? If we played house, Lizzie was the mother.? Lizzie was also the authority I consulted on all types of worldly matters, a veritable walking encyclopedia.?                                        

I yearned for the day when I would be released from subjugation to her superiority.

??Several months after Lizzie got her first job and left home, she had an appointment to get all four of her wisdom teeth removed.? I was about twenty years old at the time, adjudged by my parents to be sufficiently responsible to handle Lizzie’s transportation to and from the oral surgeon’s office, get any needed prescriptions filled, and care for her once the procedure was completed.? I was surprised but pleased by this turn of events, ready to step up to the plate and demonstrate my competency.

???We made it to the dentist’s office without incident.? Lizzie was an experienced dental patient, and seemed very calm.?? We glanced at some tattered magazines and chatted quietly until the dental assistant called her back for the surgery.?

After about an hour and a half, the white-clad woman reappeared to take me back to the recovery room, which was little more than a closet.? Lizzie was lying on a narrow bed against the wall.? The assistant checked on her, and I noticed Lizzie’s mouth was stuffed with cotton or gauze.  It gave her the appearance of a chipmunk with cheeks full of acorns.

??????Lizzie appeared to be sleeping.? She looked so helpless and pitiful that I felt a rush of protective emotion when I saw her.? I was determined to take good care of her and prove that my parents’ trust in me was justi-fied.? I looked at her with concern, wondering what I could do to make her more comfortable and how long I would need to sit with her in the recovery room before she woke up.

The attendant turned to me — I thought she probably intended to provide some important post-procedure instructions on Lizzie’s care.? She hesitated and then asked, “Are you her mother?”

???I was dumbstruck.? Not only was I not Lizzie’s mother, I wasn’t even as old as she!? I stood staring at the woman in mute horror.? How could anyone think that I was old enough to be my elder sister’s mother?

???Something stirred in the recesses of my sister’s consciousness.? Without opening her eyes, she sat bolt upright on the narrow bed and raised two fingers in the air.? I hadn’t known that she was awake, and I had no idea what she was trying to communicate.?

“NO!” she bellowed.? “That’th my thithah!? Two yeath!”?

With that, she fell back against the bed and resumed her slumber. The nurse looked puzzled.?

As I struggled to regain my composure, I explained what my sister had been trying to communicate. ?I was her sister, not her mother, and I was two years younger, not older, than she.?The nurse opened her eyes wide and turned pink before she turned and hurried off.

I have thought about my sister’s pronouncement many times in the years that followed.? Yes, having an older sister might at times be a bit of a cross to bear. Nevertheless, in this age of uncertainty and constant change, there is something to be said for having a place in the world, a sibling who claims you, even when she’s practically unconscious.

Between Lizzie and me, I will forever be her “thithah, two yeath!”

Mary Bridgman ( May ’11) adds, “My sister and I still laugh about this incident. In fact, we frequently write ‘s.t.y.’ after our names or signatures on email or other correspondence — for ‘sister, two years’!”

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