By Claire Burianek
My sister came to visit me yesterday. She hadn’t been to the east coast in a while, and she wanted to go swimming. I warned her that the water’s pretty cold this time of year, but she insisted anyway. When we arrived at the beach, she took one look at the overcast sky and choppy waves, pulled off the clothes she was wearing over her swimsuit, and fully submerged herself underwater.
I stayed on the shore, waiting for her to come running back with teeth chattering and goosebumps all over. However, this didn’t happen; she seemed perfectly carefree in the frigid ocean, so I sat on a nearby bench and started scrolling through social media. Half an hour later, she reluctantly agreed to leave the water and go get some food with me. In the car, she gleefully informed me that she had been swimming with mermaids. I rolled my eyes. Twenty-year-old sisters shouldn’t have imaginary mermaid friends.
When we were little, our parents asked me to help take care of her. Our mom worked nights and slept during the day on top of being responsible for all the cleaning, and our dad worked a very demanding job in some skyscraper downtown. Because of this, I was responsible for packing my sister’s lunches, making sure she found her class every morning, and walking home from school with her every day.
I was never able to stay after school with my friends on the playground like all the other kids who had two working parents did. A small part of me wanted to hate my sister for needing me as a second mother, but I squashed that part of me down so deep it could never come out. Now that we were both adults and lived in different states, things were better between us, but our relationship still felt strained. I still resented her, as much as I didn’t want to. And that leads to her visit.
After we got food at her favorite chain restaurant (really, the only chain restaurant she would tolerate- she was very picky about her food), we drove back to my apartment. She had never been in my apartment, and she spent quite a bit of time examining all my little knickknacks. At one point, I caught her looking in my underwear drawer, and told her sternly that polite people don’t look at other people’s underwear. You’d think most adults would understand this, but not my sister. My anger built up more and more as the evening progressed. I tried to get her to sit down and watch a movie with me, but she kept getting up and wandering around.
Finally, I heard something shatter in the kitchen. I got up immediately to go investigate and saw her standing over a broken bowl and looking shocked. I began to yell at her. I told her how rude it is to visit someone and break their stuff. It was a cheap bowl, but in that moment, it felt like the most precious bowl in the world, and she had broken it. I yelled until my voice was hoarse and my throat hurt.
When I was done, I sank into one of my kitchen chairs and continued to shake my head in disappointment and disbelief. After a while of this awful silence, she spoke up.
“Sylvia?” she said timidly.
“What?” I snapped.
“I know you and mom and dad-you think I can’t take care of myself. I know I make messes sometimes, and I don’t want to be a burden on you…” she trailed off. I sighed, my anger melting away.
“It’s ok,” I say, wanting to comfort her. “We-I-don’t mind taking care of you when you need help sometimes. I just wish it wasn’t always my job.”
“Actually,” she cut in, “it doesn’t have to be just your job anymore. I’ve been seeing someone recently, and they’re really good at helping me.” Shocked by the news, I did my best to hide my surprise.
“Wow, that’s awesome! I’m really happy for you,” I say, and I mean it.
“Thanks,” she replies, “mom and dad have already met them and I’m hoping you will too.”
“I would love to,” I say. “Now, would you like to unpack your overnight bag and get ready for bed? We have all day tomorrow to do fun things together before your flight home.”
She agreed to this, and soon she was all set up in the guest bedroom. As I fell asleep that night, I realized, perhaps for the first time, that my sister wasn’t so helpless after all.