On sister-friends and dork-shaming

Lesli Woodruff
May 21, 2018 · 6 min read
[one of the original selfies…circa 1987? 1998? definitely film.]

As I write this, I’m on a plane pointed towards South Florida, where my best college friend, and the closest thing I know to a sister, lives; her youngest daughter graduates High School this weekend. It’s a mind-bending thought that we met when we were her age, and now we’re here, sending her off to flourish, and to wreak her fabulous self on the wild and woolly world at large. As we did.

I grew up, older sister to a brother 2 years my junior; eldest cousin to 3 boys until Uncle D remarried and we acquired 3 more. One girl in the bunch, but Cousin D and I were as different as dogs and pineapples… I didn’t get the hair and nails and makeup and shopping gene that somehow touched most of the girls, growing up in that surreal NYC suburban life.

A Freudian buffet of sorts: a parental divorce, a stringy relationship with a self-absorbed and emotionally-toxic mother, a stepmother 9 years my senior, a smattering of childhood friends, mostly boys, all contributing to the girl-less influences on my life.

J’ai grandis, lopping the hair off Barbie dolls, ditto a childhood friend’s…and my brother’s; in not necessarily that order. The dog was spared — it was to his benefit that he was a poodle. I was clearly not destined to be an aesthetician or hairdresser. I fumbled my way into tween-ness and adolescence, informed mostly by trial-and-error. And Judy Blume books. I didn’t make Kilties. I didn’t smoke after school with the popular girls. I was headstrong on dating boys outside my zip code. I was not quite a misfit, yet not quite an insider either.

Truth be told, packs of girls frightened me… I didn’t know their social protocol, and as such, felt like a glaring outsider amongst my supposed tribe. In hindsight I realise that whilst properly equipped, I just didn’t have adequate training.

Enter, college.

I had been away for summers: summer camp was 8-week, all-girl stretches of terrifying group social encounters and a culmination of lifelong eptitude for being horribly inept at team sports (if you needed me I was at the stables, perfectly content riding, or grooming, the horses). Later, a 6-week cross-country trip with a busload of Mean Girls left me battle-scarred, yet helped me find my Why; they spent the weeks dork-shaming me for always wanting to know more about a place or its story.

But college, this was a different planet altogether. I had visited a couple of friends at different schools during Senior year and knew I’d do just fine: books and learning and people from different backgrounds and a co-ed dorm…what could possibly be any worse than the present, with all that going for it?

We met during LiveAid weekend. Boy George and Bob Geldof and Princess Di lead the world in a rally to fight famine in Africa in that enormous internationally-televised global fundraising effort; we were in Boston, at Boston University’s student orientation, for 3 days of information sessions, class registration, campus tours, meet-and-greets. It was completely overwhelming, thrilling, amazing, daunting. And I was there, in awe-struck, 17-year-old-love with the concept of College; simultaneously half heartsick, not even 100% sure I’d be able to afford to go to school here in the fall.

I didn’t know how many of the same hopes and fears we shared, even then.

We’re all on loan…

Through tear-inducing laughter and tear-jerking memories of our adult lifetimes flashing before our eyes this weekend, we’ve come to the conclusion, my sister-friend and I, that we are not unlike her two amazing offspring: one, an analytical, semi-reserved introvert; the other, a creative, free-spirited, adventurous soul. Each, a little envious of the other’s super powers. Each, effortlessly, wordlessly, instinctively balancing the other sister’s weaknesses with their strengths. Both, gorgeous burgeoning women on the verge of their own individual greatnesses.

So it was, on orientation weekend in 1985, that we met the girls with which we’d spend the next 4 years studying and partying and dancing and laughing and crying. In those years were weeks of pranks, where she toilet-papered our room and we turned hers upside-down and later moved her side of the room to the lounge (whoever wrote the “eviction notice” on official BU stationery crafted a masterwork of pure comic genius!). There were the years of trial-and-error, and later-on some drifting away to try out new friends and foods and spirituality and activities…But we always made our individual ways back into each other’s inner circle even tho we were never roommates.

My sister-friend was there for the all-night gab-fests, and my crush on the singer in the local band, the failed boyfriends and wrecked relationships, the exam stress and the parental BS. She met my family and friends and knew my dad and what he meant to me. She always helped me manage my angst and empowered me to be a sillier version of my fairly-reserved self. To this day I envy her ability to put the what ifs aside and just f*cking do it already…cheers to my adventurous alter-ego. To this day I cherish the woman who knows where I’m coming from before the sentence is out of my mouth. We get only a few people in our lives with whom we can share the full rainbow of emotion without effort or guilt or shame or fear of judgment. Some people are lucky enough to have a sister like this. The rest of us have to recognise these relationships when we run across them.

And so, between raindrops and thunderstorms this weekend, we packed in a music gig, family visits that felt like an extension of my own, a shopping excursion to Wal*Mart, a graduation party, one of those late-night living room gab-fests (she, dancing and making everyone in the room grateful for her energy; me, revelling in the hilarity that, of course, ensued), and a heartfelt conversation this morning as we chatted before going to the airport. We, in our adult versions of our teen and twenty-something selves, reminiscent and proud that we each turned out kinda okay…

These connections are rock-solid, yet we agreed that, really, we’re all on loan. We’ve got limited time on this planet in which to make a difference. There’s no room for toxic relationships, there’s no need for excess stuff; what matters is the experience…what’s important is the impact of our actions. A couple of late-night* hours of laughter with the girls while listening to disco was more valuable than a night at the Ritz ever could be. [*That “late-night” now means half-past midnight rather than half 3 is irrelevant. And yet, it’s the most important thing in the world.]

I’m on the plane now, pointing Northwards again, mulling these thoughts: I’ve never had a frilly wardrobe, and I can’t be bothered to do the makeup thing or learn to dance in big heels; J did my hair in braids for the party (to match her sister’s!), and I’m still useless with long fingernails. But I have a sister-friend that’s priceless, and she doesn’t care if my grays are threatening to outnumber the browns, or if I eat salad or ice cream (or both) for dinner, or if I still can’t sing or still can’t make heads or tails of my social life… We really did turn out okay.

Since day 1, I’ve called my sister-friend, “Mimster” and I wonder only now if that was always a double-entendre.

Lesli Woodruff

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Instructional Designer, writer, photographer, wanderer, reluctant but sometimes sparkly introvert, curious one, believer in magic. http://lesliwoodruff.com