The swing sets of the ‘70s were heavy. The simple contraption in my backyard didn’t have a whirly-feature or a slide, only two swings that hung side-by side. I was four when my older sister made me a spectator of her newly learned skill. She pumped her legs, her hair flying out behind her as she rose higher and higher into the sky.
When the legs of the swing set began to lift from the ground, I told her to slow down. She didn’t. She kept pumping, and the legs kept lifting and bumping down again. It began to scare me. I told her to stop, but she didn’t want to listen to her annoying little sister.
I watched the swing set lift from the ground and fall over. Like a slow-motion movie, my sister slammed to the ground directly beneath her previous position. The heavy contraption tipped toward her, falling, falling, until the crossbar pinned her at the neck. Her face turned blue, and she kicked her feet, desperate for breath.
I was a little girl, and the swing set was too heavy for me to lift. I ran to the house for our mother, who upon seeing my sister, ran for the first time in her life, at least that’s what I believed. Watching my mother’s urgency negated the lack of her attention to me. She heaved the heavy swing set in one swooping movement, telling my sister to move, demonstrating her devotion to her oldest child.
Freed from the entrapment, a red band crossed my sister’s neck like an imprint of bad luck and negligence, an insidious antagonist in our lives. When my mother scolded me for not keeping my sister safe, it gave me a lifetime of something to resent.
This was not a singular incident. I grew up feeling incompetent and unworthy of safety. My older sister grew up without discipline, free from accountability of her own mistakes. She grew violent in adolescence, leaving me bruised on the outside, and corroded on the inside. How could my mother not see the inequity?
My simple perspective in childhood encapsulated a larger dynamic that negatively affects nearly 30% of adult sibling relationships. My mother stole my sister, enlisting her as my adversary, and ostracizing me in the process. Who does a girl trust when her own mother has an agenda against her?
Loneliness and depression are heavy weights that need muscle to lift from family lessons of self-perception. Mental wounds do not define our potential. I have learned that safety comes in collective truth-telling, that an entire world exists beyond the barriers of shame and resentment. When we encourage each other to be true to our own unique perspectives, we allow a community to bloom around us, tackling bias and prejudice from a higher vantage point where empathy resides. This is now where I place my trust. I do have sisters, though, we look nothing alike. They are stronger than they know, and they have my back.