“It’s obvious you’ve had some work done. On your face.”
I haven’t been in the same room with my sister for almost three years. We live 800 miles apart and on source of connection comes from snippets of conversation via sporadic phone calls. These were the first words out of her mouth when she called me yesterday.
I was speechless for a moment as my brain attempted to connect the dots. Before I can confirm, deny, or ask her for to explain, she continues: “So, how did your TV thing go?”
The dots connect.
“The TV thing went well. It’s been fun so I’ve agreed to do it a couple of times am month. Did you see the clip I posted on Facebook?”
“You posted it? No. I didn’t see it. I really want to know what you did to your face. You have, like, no wrinkles even around your eyes. It’s obvious you’ve done something to look like that at your age.”
My sister is seven years my senior.
I will be forty-five this month.
“I haven’t done anything to my face. Maybe it’s because I’ve gained some weight,” I say with a self-deprecating chuckle.
“It looks like you’ve had Botox,” she insists.
She reminds me more and more of our mother.
“Well, if it isn’t Botox, what are you doing? What are you using.”
“I’ve gone old school,” I tell her. “ I wash my face with Noxema and use a moisturizing cream by Boots that I get at Target. Sometimes, I use their eye cream, too.”
She has me spell the brand of moisturizing cream. “Why don’t you just use Oil of Olay? That’s what I use.”
I shake my head, grateful we are on the phone. Moments ago she was accusing me of resorting to needles and fillers to achieve my youthful appearance. Now she’s suggesting I change what is working.
After this brief verbal assault, she is gone. She is busy.
In the Hallmark Movie world of perfect families, sisters are best friends. Sisters are supportive. Sisters stick up for each other.
My sister loved me unconditionally until I developed boobs at eleven. Then, I was seen as The Competition.
My first love. My first heartbreak.
She was the pretty sister.
And I was the smart one.
She was the raven-haired, olive-skinned beauty that tanned like an Indian Princess. She was a friend magnet and always had a boyfriend. She was the popular girl. She was the Homecoming Queen. The Captain of the Drill Team.
She was the girl that everyone wanted to be. Including me.
Yes, I was smart, but I was socially awkward. I had friends, but not the deep, lasting ones she attracted. I was frizzy-haired. My boobs were embarrassingly large. I was in theatre and choir and lacked her charisma. Instead of attracting boyfriends, I attracted a stalker/bully.
Despite being 6th in my class, I often heard “Why can’t you be like your sister? She did…”
When high school ended, I was grateful.
As we grew older, our lives were similar but different.
We both married and had children and divorced. The competition for her became about the perfection and comparison of our daughters. I didn’t have the energy to play that game.
She was the perfect and dutiful daughter. Always. She was there whenever anyone needed her. Steady. Reliable. Always vying to the the favored child.
After my divorce, I lived a Gypsy Life. I took every job I could that require I live out of a suitcase and be far away from home.
It seemed I was always out of town when a crisis struck. My father’s heart attack. My mother’s (many) hospitalizations.
She desired the roots of a redwood.
I desired to be a tumbleweed.
Good daughter. Bad daughter.
Competition. Judgement. Criticism.
Does there have to be conflict and comparison? Does it have to be this way?
We are in our mid-life years. Our mother is dead and our lives have very little similarity. Can we simply be who we are?
Celebrate and support that?
I love my life. I am comfortable in who I am. Who I’ve become. I value the paths I’ve traveled to be here.
Happy. Vibrant. Passionate. Loved.
But the doubts come when the phone rings. And it is my sister.
I look in the mirror and seek the wrinkles and flaws and signs of imperfection.
I am almost forty-five, but in a moment, I am again thirteen.
And on the other end of the line is she.