Such Devoted Sisters (#46)


One of my sisters is a year older than I am. One of my sisters is a year younger. Older Sister is petite. I am not. By the time she was four and I was three, we were frequently mistaken for twins. I loved it. She hated it.

Older Sister immediately – and sternly – corrected even the nicest little old ladies: “We are not twins. She is a year younger.”

“Ooooo,” they would laugh. “Aren’t you an adorable little spitfire!”

By the time I was five, I was taller, and mistaken for the eldest by outsiders. Which was a bummer. I adored Older Sister. I’d beg, “Let’s wear the same outfit! I’ll bend my knees and we’ll see how many people think we’re twins!”

Older Sister was having none of it. “I am a year, a month, and eleven days older than you are! I’m not your twin and I’m not playing with a baby like you!” She would run off to play with anyone else.  Older Sister would only play with me to cut my hair, cut up my clothes, or get me to do something stupid. I’d get in trouble. She’d laugh.

At the time, I was emotionally crushed. Looking back, I am merely grateful that I was too big to chuck out a window (thereby getting physically crushed).   Older Sister already had Big Brother to compete with – what child wouldn’t be angry and resentful over losing her mother’s attention to a newborn at age 1 (plus a month and eleven days)? Most pediatricians and child development experts recommend at least two years between children. Properly parenting four kids within five years is asking too much of two parents.

Again, people. FAMILY PLANNING.

I craved Older Sister’s approval just as much as I did parental approval. I’d run up to her after a solo in chorus like an annoying puppy, desperate for a scrap of affection: “How did I do? Didja like it? Was it okay?”

Even though I was five inches taller than Older Sister, she managed to look down her nose at me: “You were flat on ‘do.’”

I scuttled away with my tail between my legs that day, and on any other day I made the mistake of asking for validation. At school, Older Sister regularly pretended not to see me. If I approached her, she would make fun of me to the other upperclassmen. “God, Autumn, which hooker did you mug for those earrings?!”

I would then avoid her until Older Sister unexpectedly offered to do something nice, like arrange my hair for Homecoming. (The fine motor skills that make her a brilliant surgeon today began with French braiding.) I’d immediately revert to excited puppy state: “Thank you! You’re awesome! Do you like my dress? Do these shoes look okay?”

Older Sister: “I guess.  But you’re going to dwarf your date.”

Eventually, I gave up. I competed with Older Sister instead. I couldn’t catch her in math or chemistry, but I bested her biology test papers and fought hard to match her in AP English and AP History. I’m not sure Older Sister noticed. She was busy winning Faculty Award, being a National Merit Scholar, and getting a full ride to a prestigious university. I merely got to stand up and be recognized at my graduation. I also got a scholarship, but mine didn’t cover room and board, darn it.

But a funny thing happened when I went to visit Older Sister at college. She smiled when she saw me. She even HUGGED me. Then Older Sister dragged me around her dorm and sorority and introduced me to everyone: “This is my little sister, Autumn. She’s a freshman, but not here, blah, blah…” She even linked arms with me, like we were best buds. Her classmates exclaimed over how similar we looked and sounded. One even asked if we were fraternal twins. I nervously awaited an explosive denial. Older Sister just laughed and said, “Yeah, we got that all the time when we were kids.” She smiled, like it was a fond memory.

It took me five minutes to recover from the shock and realize Older Sister was bragging about me. I was no longer an annoying little mutt, yipping at her heels. Now, I was a goddamned PUREBRED SHOW DOG!

Older Sister took me drinking at an Irish bar. She dragged me along to frat parties – insisting all the while that I could NEVER say “frat” (which is apparently insulting) and had to say “fraternity.” She even asked if I wanted to go see a movie, just the two of us.  I hyperventilated, sucked a mint into my lungs, and went to the movie anyway.  My lungs ached, but it was a good pain.

Part of me gloried in my change of status. The suspicious part waited to be kicked. I called Younger Sister to report on this sisterly miracle.

“I know!’ she gushed back. “I went to visit and it was the same thing! So weird!”

We pondered and decided that Older Sister must have a) missed us and realized our true worth or, b) realized that everyone else at college openly loved their families and she was trying hard to fit in.

We were pretty sure it was B, but Younger Sis and I enjoyed those college years nonetheless. We sent each other gifts, care packages, and cards. Like real sisters.

And then came graduation. I graduated in three years, because even just paying for college room and board is a financial killer.  This meant that Older Sister and I graduated the same week, and I actually graduated several days ahead of her.  There I was, horning in on her special time, once again. But she had matured, and she took it well. It probably helped that our father’s parents opted to go to her graduation instead of mine. (They gave me a really nice sapphire ring as a consolation prize. Younger Sister opined, “I hope they skip mine and send a ring.”)

Older Sister and I both attempted to graduate with highest honors. We shared nail-biting phone calls as we awaited results. Her major was Pre-Med, and her project was undoubtedly much harder that my 120 pages of liberal arts whatever. Mine sailed through committee.

Older Sis was the first person I called with the news. “I did it! I got summa cum laude!”

Older Sister managed an almost cheerful, “Congratulations!”

I knew right away. “Oh, no. They didn’t give you honors?”

Older Sister said, “Not highest.  I only got manga cum laude.”

I couldn’t believe it. Genius Judgmental Older Sister hadn’t gotten highest honors? This was a travesty and I told her so. I wanted to go punch her committee in the face. All of them.

But Older Sister admitted that maybe she hadn’t worked quite as hard as she could have. Maybe she’d spent a little too much time being Sigma Chi Sweetheart, or perfecting an inward 2½ pike on the diving team. (Amazing, isn’t it? Older Sister even kicked ass in being well-rounded.)

Still, she was a little bitter: “I guess I’ll be sitting with all the other losers who got magna at graduation.”

Yeah. She really said that.

Sitting in the “loser” section, though, while her little sister pranced around with highest honors must’ve lit a fire under Older Sister.

Four years later, I sat in the audience for her medical school graduation, watching Older Sister officially morph into Genius Judgmental Doctor Sister.

She was Medical School President.

She won the Surgery Award.

She won the Research Award.

She won the Academic Award.

Seriously, no one else in the Very Prestigious Medical School’s graduating class won anything except for my sister. When she got her diploma, the Dean STOPPED THE CEREMONY and made the other graduates wait while he gave a speech about how brilliant and amazing my sister truly was.

Afterwards, her future husband gave Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister a huge hug and said, “There, woman! Are you happy now? You WON graduation!”

Doctor Sis went onto win her residency and her cancer fellowship. She now saves lives with both her research and her surgical skills.

Sometimes – okay, every time I think about it – I enjoy thinking that me and my highest honors had a tiny little something to do with all that greatness.


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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

36 thoughts on “Such Devoted Sisters (#46)”

  1. Aren’t sisters great! My sister is four years younger, so the competition between us wasn’t fierce–at least not from my point of view. My three daughters are much closer together. “Daughter #1” adopted that Chinese terminology and convinced her younger sisters that #1 meant she was always first and best and always got to sit in the front seat. They all did equally well in school, but #2 and #3 still think #1 is the smartest.

    1. Oh, that is funny about Daughter #1! No, we all fought over the front seat when it was available. We had some complicated equation involving ages and durations of trips, I think.

      Same thing for the hump seat in the back of the Pinto. No one wanted to sit there.

  2. Your sis sounds like a very interesting person. Is she married now? Does she have kids? I would be interested in knowing more about her! (I am not a stalker)

    Having a sister truly is the best thing life can give you. I really believe so. Without my sister my life would be pretty miserable and lonely, even though we live around 9000 km from each other. She is the one who will always be there for me in a way no friend or boyfriend could ever do.

    1. Yep, she’s the one who was married to her boyfriend of ten years by the Junkyard Justice of the Peace. She has two darling kids. I’m in awe of the work that she does — and keeps doing — for her patients. I think the mortality rate is about 75% for the cancers she fights. I don’t know how she doesn’t dissolve into tears hourly. I would.

    1. Mabel, I am so sorry. Apparently Word Press sometimes eats comments and refuses to let people register to follow my blog via email. It makes me cross.

      But it is good at weeding out racist trolls, at least.

      1. Your older sister seriously owned her second graduation. What a moment it must be for her. Its sounds like she is superwoman…or more than superwoman 😀 It sounds like she has become more humble over time, or realised what is most important and what matters to her. Did you ever hear from her why she took you under her wing while you went to university? Could it truly be sisterly love…

        I have a younger brother who always teases me. Like most siblings do. Every time he talks to me, he will call me names like “old lady” in different languages. Currently he’s finishing off his last year of dentistry at uni. I often wonder what it’s like to have a sister – if that were the case, maybe I would come to know what sibling love is.

        1. I think the amount of death my sister has seen would humble anyone. But for her change of heart in college…I’m not sure. If I mention it now, she always looks surprised: “What are you talking about? I was always like that!” We remember things very differently. I think she was never fully aware of the impact she had on me…perhaps because my impact on her was so much less.

          Obviously, your brother loves you. Just as much as mine does when he calls me “turtle” nowadays. They express it differently, and yet…gosh, would an “I love you” once a year really kill them?

          Yes. Yes, it probably would. 😉

          1. People change over time…sometimes memories fade and maybe we choose to remember the good ones because the not-so-happy ones are painful. Death is always a hard time in a person’s life and sometimes to move on we have to stop thinking about it and try to forget…at least for a while.

            I don’t know if my brother really loves me. He tried to chop off my pinky finger once at the dining table once. Lots of blood everywhere.

            1. Holy cow, Mabel! Your brother will make an excellent dentist — did you see “Little Shop of Horrors?” We beat up on each other plenty — thrown off bunk beds, thrown down stairs, fist fights, tossed into walls, etc., but I cannot remember gore on that level. Nope, wait never mind, I hit my head on the radiator in on of the bunk bed episodes. That was gory. I still have the bump. But I was 3. How old were you guys and what did your parents do? Also, how the heck could he feel that entitled? Were you stealing his food? Doesn’t seem like you were starving.

              I know blood and gore is not your style, but I think that story and the exploration of sibling relations would make an awesome post. Or it could give you flashbacks and make you miserable. Never mind.

              1. Little Shop of Horrors, I haven’t seen that but it sounds like a film for my brother! When my brother cut my hand, I was about eight, and he’s two years younger than me. Don’t remember stealing his food and I had no idea why he had a scissors with him at the dining table. My mum was in the shower when it happened.

                Sibling relations. Sibling rivalry. It IS a very good topic to right about…very personal too 😀

                1. Does he still remember this? I wonder what excuse he might have now… Given the emphasis put on sons, do you think you and your brother were raised differently? Was he allowed to get away with murder? Or merely attempted amputation?

                  I have noticed that in some Persian and Japanese households, the mothers seem reluctant to discipline the boys in the family. (Not so much with Chinese families, but my sampling is limited.) Some of these boys are TERRORS. They don’t have consequences for bad behavior and they run amok without boundaries when their fathers aren’t around. I wonder if the moms don’t feel they have the right to tell any male what to do?

                  1. My brother certainly remembers all the evil things he has done to me. When my mum found out he sliced me, she screamed at the two of us like it was both our fault.

                    A while back I think I touched briefly about the meaning of success in Asian cultures. Maybe time to revisit the topic in terms of Asian guys versus Asian girl…look what you’ve done…got me thinking 😀

                    1. I’m not always sure the revisiting of childhood trauma is a good thing. But if you get a great post out of it, then, yeah, I totally did that. All credit to me. 😉

  3. Wonderful story! I don’t have a sister and my brothers are 16 and 18 years older. Really I was raised as an only child. I wish I would have had a sister to brutalize…I mean adore! As I got older (in adulthood) I became very close with the younger of my brothers and his wife was like a much older sister. I do have some side effects of not growing up with siblings. I don’t share well.

    1. I think brutalize is the correct verb. As soon as I was bigger than Older Sister and could take her in a fight, she went for mental torture. Not sure which is worse.

      Of course, I also chased her out of the house and then locked her out once in high school. Yeah, it was winter. Good times.

  4. And to think, all these years, I missed having sisters. Though I suppose it would have been at least somewhat different as a brother.

  5. Haha Loved it!! Sisters!! I think you’re right… All that competition really did push your sister right out of the “Magnas”. Lol! I think of my two daughters who are competitive with each other. Yes… one getting honor roll is very frustrating for one who does not. I’d love it, if either of them WON graduation, but double honor roll is just fine…. or double Magnas. 🙂

  6. My sister is 8 years older than me and once she realized that the new baby was no longer a cute doll she loshat ling tblit interest. Sad to say she still has no interest in me. We have not seen each other in 7 years. I wish I had a sister that loved me.

    1. Now who is making who cry? Let’s see, I was 9, 10, 11, and 12 years older than the second crop of kids in my family. I love them all. We older sibs tried hard to make up for our lousy parents, but I’m not sure we ever could. But I am sad that your sister is lame. Maybe she secretly reads your blog and worships you from afar?

  7. Oh don’t worry my older sister and I were two years apart. Let’s just say she did all those horrible things and some. She liked to lure me out to places like the forest and desert me there lol. She came around in high school actually rather then college. Like you I also outshined in college and now career.

    1. Well, there’s no outshining Doc Sis, not career-wise. She’s pretty amazing, you know, saving lives, etc. Until, of course, we have kids in college. And then I am sure the competition will begin again.

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