Is it always going to be this hard to be an older sister?
She asked me this with her baby sister tucked safely into the crook of her arm. We sat in the nursery, a white picket gate and a flimsy latch away from her friends. She watched them laugh under fluorescent lights, and from between egg-white pikes, she knew they were not staring back. There was nothing behind the gate they wanted, nothing innocent, naïve, easy. I understand what she wished for - a piece of me wanted it for her, too. To be outside, toppling dominoes and brushing baby doll hair, strings of plastic tearing through bristles in that rough-gentle way of little kids who don’t understand how to control their violent love. I sat in a rocking chair, her on the colorful baby-proof floor. Her sister with a tear-stained face and a subtle frown etched into her eyes. She was sad in that way you can only be when you are safe. She was sad in that way you can only be while someone holds onto you. Five years old and barely one. Both too stubborn. Both too hardened to be beneath warm daycare lights. The older sister was obstinate in her denial of help and, more importantly, too protective to let anyone else so much as brush the cheeks of her little sister with calloused fingertips.
When she asked me, she did not know she was baring to me her heart. At five years old, she did not understand her heart was something to protect. Is it always going to be this hard to be an older sister?
I had nothing to say to her of always. Only of my seventeen years, a little more. Is it always going to be hard? I don’t know. I’ll let you know when always is over. But, for seventeen years, if you’re as good as you can be, it’ll never stop being hard. I’ll tell you about always a little later. You’ll be the first one I call.
I know what you’re yearning for. I want you to know you will find some of it soon and more of it in that little girl burying her face into your chest.
Working with children is an experience that has triggered my existentialism hundreds of times. Sometimes, I see my face in them as they run around, seemingly aimless. It’s usually the quiet kids that mirror something in me. The ones at their dollhouses alone. The ones who only say hi and bye when someone else says it first. The ones with colorful beads and braids, and slim faces and hesitant smiles and crooked eyes. The ones with sparkling shoes.
Is this a selfish way to view the world? To see myself everywhere, even where I’m not meant to be? Or is it just fear making itself known? You were once a little girl, quietly playing alone. You didn’t understand how everything was so easy for everyone but you. And now you’re seventeen, loud and outspoken and surrounded by love you never meant to find. But you still don’t understand how everything is so easy for everyone except you. Are things always going to be like this?
Maybe it isn’t fear or a selfish nature. Maybe everything about it is just tragic. To see yourself in the world, everywhere. To be surrounded by faces and never full of scorn, because you find your heart on their sleeves and you really don’t remember leaving it there. Scared to lie, scared to rest, scared to speak. A perpetual cycle of victory and defeat. Remembering the good old days; living them away. Missing your childhood. Waiting for some obscure, indestructible concept to shield you from reality, age, death. Girlhood. Philosophy. Religion. Russian literature. Classical music. Crescendos. Vincent Van Gogh. Anything to keep this life in motion. Anything to feel defined, tethered to land. Accepted.
Are you scared? That things will always be this hard? That things will always feel too fast, yet indescribably too slow? That you will always feel more for the endings than the beginnings? That you’ll crash your car? That you’ll make some unforgivable mistake? That your sins have prematurely condemned you? That everyone is making moves while you’re still? That life has gotten away?
I can’t tell you much about always. I can only tell you about seventeen years. That everything is always ending and something is always beginning. That childhood and youth are as perpetual as you want them to be, and mistakes are only made to be forgiven. That nobody really moves, and we all just mistake the Earth’s spinning for our feet taking us somewhere worthwhile. That life will sometimes burst into colors, and sometimes flames, and sometimes stars.
I can tell you this about seventeen years. Don’t worry about if it gets harder. Worry about how it feels.
This life. This push and pull, this drowning and resurfacing. This remembering, forgetting, this pain and this suffering, this loving and this careful hatred, this poignant clock ticking, this breathless sprinting, those trees, that ghost of a mother, that empty hospital bed, that shopping mall, those smiles on the way to school, that drive to work, those pants you wore to shreds, that first kiss.
Think about it. Doesn’t this life feel good?