My sister was my first heroine. As a little girl I thought my sister the most glamorous in the world. Her multi-coloured mountains of make-up on her dressing table I was forbidden to touch but did anyway, jars of perfumed cream, palettes of eye shadow bold and loud, waxy lipsticks in fluted metal, irresistible to me then as now. I wasn’t meant to read her Jackie magazine but guess what? Each week I took a lengthy peek, followed the hammy photo stories and advice on how to get a boy to like you; they gave no information what to do after you hooked the boy, which is just as well really and my sister didn’t seem to need such advice anyway. She was popular with boys already, and everyone else.
Her best friend the daughter of a veterinarian! Could that be any more ace, please? My best friend’s dad worked in an office and my own father in a car factory, not nearly as exotic or exciting as a vet. My sister had glamour by association, it handed something for me to strive for, though I never caught up. At age thirteen my sister got a newspaper round on Sundays; after that I wanted one too, desperately, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I complained endlessly but on reflection, maybe seven years of age was a trifle too young to trek up driveways with a sack of Sunday papers, spines folded sharp, tied to my back. By the time I was thirteen my parents still said no, I wasn’t old enough. The youngest child never catches up the eldest, no matter how hard she tries.
My sister got older and became a teenager, leaving me in a never ending game of catch up. I wore her hand me downs although my sister stopped at an inconvenient five foot nothing while I grew for another seven inches. My mum rattled out “You’ll grow into it” without a trace of irony, but I knew what she meant. I don’t think we ever catch up to our older siblings. No matter how hard we run, they do everything first, experts on everything until you experience the same too and even then they know better. The novelty wears off before the youngest child hits her landmarks. It might be virgin territory for us but for everyone else it’s old news, second hand like our clothes. As a teenager I was bitter and whiney about walking an already well-trodden path, but teenagers are bitter and whiney about everything they can think of, sulkily grasping anything to brandish in the air as an example of “It’s not fair!”. I got over it.
My sister was a teenager in the 1970s/80s, loved the Bay City Rollers, she even wore the full Rollers ensemble including tartan knee socks. She outgrew the Rollers and moved on to The Eagles. She was going out with a boy once, he had the Hotel California album and she hinted how much she liked the group. No loan of the album was forthcoming or even an offer to tape it for her, so she dumped him. Mercenary some might say; I reckon it showed standards. On hearing the news another boy from a very well to do family knocked at our front door and asked her out. He did it properly with a box of chocolates and everything, impressing my mum, but my sister said no, his fringe was much too short. She took the box of Roses he offered though; even Mum was pleased at that.
My sister went to Polytechnic in Manchester UK to read French and Spanish then met her Moroccan husband on a gap year in France, moved to and raised her children there, only visiting home very rarely since then. Her mother tongue twisted and quickened to accommodate the French language freely over the decades, my sister’s English became poor and thready like a weak pulse. There’s sadness to it, but a beauty too. Going her own way was always how my sister lived it. I’ve found sisters since in the form of friends, women who’ve supported me, danced with me, drank with me, but sisters made and sisters found are very different.
I have an essay “Women! You’re Such Bitches” in Sister Born, Sisters Found (Wordforest, 2015)