“Lean on Me” ~ Bill Withers

Dear Terri,

So, I know you don’t get quite as mushy as I do, but bear with me because I promise to make this as painless as possible! Anyhoot, I don’t know if you realize this but you are a great sister to me and always have been…right from the start.

Remember when I couldn’t talk at first before I spent a few years with the Speech Pathologist and no one could understand me well…including ma and pop? The thing is that you always could; so from the very beginning you had to help me by being my translator and my voice. I wonder why you could get my words when others couldn’t? Maybe because it’s just a ‘sister’ thing? Or maybe because as much as we’re different, we’re so similar too (except in the ‘chest’ department where you were blessed more than me 🤨)?

There’s that arm!

Almost every single picture I have of us as kids, you have your arm around me. Not just casual like, but grippy…possessive…like you were broadcasting to everyone that not only were you my big sis (remember, you are significantly older than me 😐) but my protector too. And you had a job with that, huh? Both of us were bullied in elementary school…especially by that kid ‘B’ who would not only taunt us at school but also follow us home while making our lives hellish for that 2 block walk. But honestly, you remember that better than I do because you shielded me from so much of it. You took the majority of the bullying and pushed me aside. That was such a selfless thing to do, particularly for a kid whose instinct is often to protect themselves first.

I loved it when we would go to gramma and grampas. Getting on the floor with gramma while playing triple solitaire and squawking when we beat her. Running errands with her in the VW bug and arguing over who got to sit in front. I know…I won most of the time since I got carsick so easily. It was either win or have you see me puke. I honestly think you dodged a bullet in that case. And then we’d spend the night and grampa would make us something special and always had teen magazines for us to read. I think we both felt so cozy and loved and sharing those memories of all 4 of us together makes me smile every time. They both would be so so proud of you for the grandma you are today and your grandkids are just as lucky to have you as we were to have our own.

Thanks for the fashionable dresses, ma.

Did you know I started getting jealous of you when you hit Jr. High? You got to go to a HUGE school and have a locker and have more than 1 teacher and ride the bus (which come to find out sucked balls😬 ) and then the best part: go to dances and get calls from boys and have secrets behind closed doors with your best friends. I wanted to be a part of that so badly! And, you were beautiful too! I know you’re shaking your head or rolling your eyes or retching right now, but I’m being honest. You were…and still are! Being the first to try make-up made me long to be older and acting as the guinea pig for your hair styling skills was fun…but to a point. That damn nozzle on your hairdryer would whack me in the nose everytime…and I know it wasn’t YOUR fault…it was the dryer itself…right (🙄)? You know, I just realized that may have been the cause of my deviated septum, and not the broken nose I had years ago. Hmmmmm…

(Did you know I saved all of the letters you wrote to me when I was at summer camp those 2 summers? I saved every one!) 🧡

I loved talking to your boyfriends and even keeping them company while you finished getting ready for dates. I remember when Ben and you were an item and had an argument: he called and I was so pissed he was fighting with you that I yelled at him and called him a ‘hoodlum’…the worst word I could think of at the time. You were gobsmacked I’d do this but here’s why: it was my turn to stand up for you! And a secret? I always had a HUGE crush on Jack. HUGE! I pictured you dumping him and then him looking at me, scooping me up, and carrying me off into the sunset like a prince. A prince in a cowboy hat no less. Did it matter that I was 12 and he was 16? Nope. I figured that would work itself out in time.

And for a couple of years, I was your voice too! Calling into the high school, pretending to be ma, and telling the secretary you were too sick for classes that day. How I wanted to play hooky with you and your friends! When I’d be sitting through yet another lesson on biology which I had absolutely no chance of understanding, I’d wonder what you guys were doing. Make overs? Talking about boys? Sneaking a smoke? Exciting stuff to a younger sister!

You and your cute boys!

When you got married and left home, I missed you so much. The house seemed so empty. It was just ma and me and the vibe changed…the energy. That’s because you had brought it in. But it was exciting when A was born and I was an aunt. I could finally drive and loved visiting you in the country and playing with him. I can still see him on the walkway to your front door, riding his trike with his curly blonde curls bobbing up and down. Then when D was born and I was a bit older, I finally was comfortable changing his diapers and taking more care of him…that was so much fun for me and gave me the even bigger desire I had to be a mom myself. You are a great one.

Does this all sound too Pollyanna-ish up to this point? Like we never fought? Of course but these good memories stick out much better than the bad.

Showoff!

We fought like cats and dogs sometimes…we said things we didn’t mean…we did things we shouldn’t have to one another…and we sometimes couldn’t stand each other and made that clear. In other words, we were sisters. And yes, this sometimes still happens. But we always work through whatever it is and come out stronger on the other side. It makes these fights worth it just for that. BTW, the maddest I’ve ever been at you in my life was when you won the twisted balloons at the Mueller Christmas Party and you REFUSED to let me wear them. It still gets me going. 😬

I know you hear a lot about me being bipolar, especially since you read this and hear me talk about it with others. But I also know you battle so much with your own disorders too…after all, mental illness runs in our family and were both blessed to continue the tradition. Charmed, I’m sure.

The anxiety and depression you experience is horrible and I know your life has been affected by it in so many ways. We didn’t know much about mental illness when we were kids/teens…it just wasn’t talked about or recognized in younger kids. But our struggles were real…even if not always validated. I know these issues can cripple you at times and when they do and you reach out, I often don’t know what to say…because there’s no words that can truly help. It makes me feel powerless to protect you from this like you used to protect me from things. So we both listen to each other…commiserate with one another…and know that no matter what or when, we’re both there to listen. No matter what.

I know you’re hard on yourself for having anxiety and depression…in fact, we were talking about it this week. You said how you feel guilty for letting your grandkids see it…that you want to be ‘perfect’ like gramma and grampa were to us. But the thing is, you are. Your sweeties love you like no other and here’s what you’re teaching them by being who you are: that it’s ok to struggle…ok to express feelings…ok to say you need help. In other words, you are providing the example that being perfect isn’t possible, but being honest and true to yourself is. Think about how valuable of a lesson that truly is.

And today? You are still protecting me. Still keeping me in your grip. Still standing up for me and believing in me and loving me. In other words, you are still the sister I’m so blessed to have and my life would have been so lonely without you. I know this is getting long…and starting to get mushy…so I’ll stop here. But, just know that I love you. YOU. Imperfect, mentally ill, emotional YOU. Because just like you see the real me…I see the real you. And the vision that I see is wonderful.

Kristi xoxo

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