She taught me how to read by age three and how to type when I was 8 years old. By the 4th grade I could balance a checkbook on my own. I routinely wrote checks at the store in her presence and by myself. The clerks were accustomed to our family.
She taught me how it feels to be hated way before I ever knew the meaning of racism, way before my sister and I were removed from school because the parents refused to allow their children to be educated with two black students.
I learned to think on my feet, to hear past insults and listen to what the person was really trying to say. In English class I loved to dissect sentences. I’d been doing it for a long time. I realized there was power in properly constructed words and phrases. If I used certain words I might save myself trouble. I thought all the time, always thinking, always trying to properly construct words to keep her calm. I couldn’t / can’t spell for the life of me.
I knew how to ‘fake it till you make it’ way before learning the phrase. She taught me how to pretend. She gave me words to say when questioned about everything from her hair to the type of car she drove to what went on in our house. We practiced these questioned and answers. Even when said word for word, my performance wasn’t good enough.
She said she was the only one I could trust. I learned to trust no one. She taught me to be suspicious saying she had people following us, watching us. Not even our thoughts were safe from her. I wondered, can she read my thoughts if I think in German? I began studying German and Japanese to keep her out of my head.
She taught me the importance of a name and dignity by stripping me of mine and by changing my name at will.
The game red light green light was just a game for kids but my mother did army drills with us saying that if we listened to her voice it would one day save our lives. She could get us to stop on a dime. We were perfectly dressed soldiers fighting in her war.
She taught me that love is weakness and that love dies.
I’ve had 25 years to question early lessons, but my sister did not. In the last few years I’ve learned that all are equal because we are human beings, but we do not have the same strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or ability to overcome hardships. We are all different emotionally. I have learned we can be as different as snowflakes, as worn as stones and as layered as ash. I have stopped saying my sister could have left like I did. I’ve stopped saying she could have gotten help like I did, because I no longer believe it. Eventually, I will let go of having left her there alone with my mother.
I knew it wouldn’t take long before I saw my relationship with my sister for what it is. There’s nothing more to add to that.