I have a sister who is sixteen years older than I am. Anyone who has had a sibling that much older knows how imposing such a figure can be in a child’s life. To me, growing up, my sister was beautiful, brilliant and powerful. I don’t remember when, in my youth, I first realized something was not quite right with her.

At various times over the years, my sister has disowned me. By disowned, I mean that she has ceased communication. I’m about five years deep into the latest freeze-out, and I confess it is a bit of a relief not to have to deal with her – she is not an easy person to communicate with under the best of circumstances.

The exact nature of her illness is a bit of a mystery, but she certainly has a deep well of loathing, which manifests itself in a narrow and stringent form of Catholicism. Thus the freeze-outs, when she decides someone has done something to punch a ticket to eternal damnation, something that threatens to contaminate her if she has any contact.

In much of her interaction with the world, she maintains a child-like, glued-on cheerfulness, which can suddenly peel off into a startling rage.

Today she turns sixty-five, and I shudder when I realize I haven’t seen her since she was in her fifties. Emaciated from a punishing diet and denial of any physical pleasures, she was a sad ghost of her youthful self then. I can’t imagine what she looks like now.

I think about her often, because the difficulty I have comprehending her is tied inextricably with the difficulty I have understanding myself – which, of course, fuels the music I write. I wonder if I should try to be more proactive in resuming communication, as frustrating as it can be, for the sake of maintaining a connection that somehow helps define who I am.

But in some ways it’s easier to bundle up and wait out the freeze.

Happy birthday, big sis.

Leave a Reply