My first memory is my sister. She was born in the cold of January. I don’t remember her face or how she cried or the softness of her baby skin. I only remember a shift in space, the family changing. A doll come to life.
We grew up in the same room, with the same toys, without any other siblings or neighbors to be extras in our world of Barbies and imaginary boats with frisbee wheels. We had our fights; battles over the front seat or the bathroom or Who Said What. But mostly it was very equal, very amicable, very You Get This and I Get That and I’ll let you know if I hear the garage door so you can turn off Blossom.
But in school we pretended. We pretended to be the kind of sisters who fought because it was more interesting. Even when we were in college together, we nodded along to the sitcom stereotype.
“I bet you girls fought allll the time!” a drunk soccer player would exclaim. Oh yes, we conceded dramatically. She was a real nightmare.
It’s funny who we pretend to be.
I will never forget walking through a street fair in Pittsburgh a few years ago with my friend Carrie and spotting a clown. Immediately I recoiled, shrieking like a scared toddler. “Oh my gosh a clown,” I gasped dramatically. “They really freak me out.”
Carrie didn’t miss a beat. “You should really find something more original to be afraid of.”
It was the first time I realized pretending to be interesting is actually really uninteresting.
There is a shift that happens in our 20s and 30s when we start the lifelong process of being true to ourselves. When we stop pretending to be someone other than who we are.
It’s laughable the things I’ve pretended to fear, to love, to do. It took me years to admit I hate camping. One day I was sitting around with friends discussing our various camping experiences; tents, bears, rivers, overlooks, fires that wouldn’t start….and it just came out. I feel claustrophobic in tents! I get blisters just looking at my hiking shoes! Mosquitoes are my nemesis! I don’t even like Northface!
Of course figuring out you hate camping is only possible if you actually try camping. There is no merit in declaring our pleasures and aversions in absolute terms. There is merit, however, in letting our nerd and jock and I-actually-like-staying-home-on-Friday-night flags fly if only for the relief. The relief of settling into ourselves, of being original, of sitting at home pinning egg salad recipes in the dark while everyone else is out making small talk in a loud pub.
Age has its grievances. Growing into ourselves is not one of them.
May we stop pretending. May we camp and not camp and love our sisters in the most genuine, interesting way.
May we face ourselves.