I once had a theory that if someone could handle competing on the show The Amazing Race with their partner or spouse, then they were truly the perfect match.
If they could handle the repeated stressful situations and taxing challenges—blood, sweat, anger and frustration—and come out the other side with even a modicum of love and respect for their partner, they were clearly meant to be together forever.
After all, who can hope for anything more than finding a soul-connection who has seen us at the absolute worst version of ourselves, and chosen to keep loving us.
I am afraid to phone my sister, Caitlin.
The Amazing Race and sisterhood are connected, I promise you.
We haven’t had a falling out. We didn’t squabble over silly matters (or serious ones) to create a ravine too deep to cross. She would, I believe, be baffled to know how scared I am to pick up the phone. But there it is—I can send a few texts, an email, a note on Facebook. But I just simply cannot, will not, dial the numbers. What if there’s an awkward pause? What if she feels like I am talking too much about myself and not asking enough about her? What if she thinks I’m an idiot?
The truth is, she intimidates me.
She lives only a province away, where she is attending Law School at UBC (after first having completed Engineering and International Relations degrees). I’m not here to list her credentials though—I am here to tell you why I can’t pick up the phone. We have never been extremely close (we were 4.5 years of age and 6 school grades apart) but never at complete odds, either.
As little girls, my mother always told us that in life we could do things the hard way or the easy way. Anyone who know me, has seen me go above and beyond the hard way to do things the “Everest-like” way—the almost-insurmountable way. As a teen and into adulthood, I caused an intolerable amount of chaos, and my sister became ( or was forced to become) reserved, capable and strong.
She excelled at everything she did and didn’t make waves in the family dynamic. Rather, she surfed them as they rose and fell and stayed steady on her board.
For years, I’ve been battling an inferiority complex about this beautiful woman that is my flesh and blood. I’ve avoided her because of all she is that I wasn’t. I felt foolish beside her. Never up to par. I felt a little less myself, around her, like a piece of me had been carved off—say, an inch or two off my height or my hips or my heart — because I didn’t have the degrees or the stamps in my passport or the work-study experiences under my belt that she did.
She, never ever even remotely caused this or made me feel this way.
I did it completely on my own (our minds are amazingly talented that way, aren’t they)?
My sister turns 28 on Sunday and I suddenly realized what a f*cking waste of time I have spent, comparing myself to her instead of loving her. Hiding from her instead of laughing with her, walking beside her, asking her about her gifts and sharing mine.
She is different than me in many ways, and similar in others. This sisterhood business is one hell of a lucky gift—I have a sister, imagine that! —far too long neglected.
My sister walks like a princess. She has to-die-for posture and when she strides somewhere, she moves as if on a mission. (I, who have scrambled to follow her down winding European streets, know this well). She has strawberry blonde, thick, beautiful curly hair, where mine is dark and straight and fine. She has a quick, biting wit and a kind, compassionate heart.
There is no one on this earth whose sense of humor is as similar to mine as hers. I am often on a bus, or in a public place and something strikes me as funny—and I wish desperately, right then, that she was there for the pee-in-your-pants laughter I know we would share. She is the kind of person who decides she wants to do a triathlon, barely trains and then signs up for and completes a half-ironman. Just for kicks.
She is private. She is elegantly reserved. She has fabulous taste in all things (books, clothing, what the appropriate thing to do in any peculiarly awkward situation is). She has delved into studies and embraced life and worked all over the world. She is so smart it frightens me (watch out, future opposing counsel).
I could honor her gifts and capabilities for entire volumes. And yet. In all this time that I have been afraid to pick up the phone, there are so many things about her that I do not know. What was her favorite country? What is her worst fear? What does she love about Law School? What does she dream about?
I am 10 years late finishing a bachelors degree, because I dropped out of university when I was pregnant and confused. I wear my heart on my sleeve (possibly ridiculously so) and have learned that only by opening my vulnerabilities to the world, I am saved.
I never know what to do in peculiarly awkward situations, but I am a master at getting myself into them.
My clothing is an off-kilter mix of boho-thrift store randomness. I am self-taught—I too, am a reader, of everything and anything and I know, despite the chaotic years past, I am smart. I have an incredible son, laying opposite me on the couch as I type.
It was only today, when I sat down and realized how nervous I was to phone my beautiful Caitlin, that I realized the competition with her was completely in my mind.
We are both uniquely gifted, madly passionate, and human and sublimely perfect in our imperfections. We are different, and that is divine. If I want to know her—I need to ask her the questions and stop hiding behind a facade that I am scared of her brilliance.
Because she is, totally, shatteringly, blindingly brilliant.
And so am I.
Perhaps when someone intimidates us, the first thing we need to do oppose the instinct to curl away into our own safe hideaway, and reach across the space between to know them.
“Only connect.” ~ E.M.Forster said
Maybe connection is what I’ve been missing all along.
Throughout this, the years of self-imposed inferiority, the life-changes and challenges, there is one thing that I have always known in the deepest, most sacred part of my heart—my sister, Caitlin, is my Amazing Race partner.
She’s the one who’s seen me at my hideously worst and loved me regardless. She’s the one that would yell me into action when I became too frightened to scale a wall or jump off a cliff and she’d be the same person who’d still love me if I failed to do it quickly enough.
She’s my one phone call. She’ll always be my ride home.
She is my sister, and it’s time I picked up the phone.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of the author