The scars of childhood are ones that remain deeply burrowed in our psyches. Sharing a room with my older sister Linda is one of those scars. I was not only seven years younger, but the youngest of three, which meant I was an underling, an insignificant annoyance. Lindas’ job was to remind of this fact daily. At night when I longed to sleep, she, in all her teenaged glory, spent long hours chatting on Her phone. When I wanted to lie in bed and read a book, she wanted to listen to Natalie Cole, James Brown and Average White Band albums at full volume singing loudly until I finally covered my head with my pillow. I was powerless. But, when I wasn’t seeing red, there were rare moments when I could see glimpses of the sisterhood I idealized from The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough episodes. These were the times when Linda would let me borrow her very cool clothes or teach me dances in the kitchen. As a high school sophomore, she took me to visit colleges and convinced my parents to allow me to study fashion in New York City when they insisted I stay close to home. The one thing we both understood, was even at our worst, we would always have each other’s backs.
As we grew older and away from each other, and I had my own girls, I revisited our sisterhood through watching theirs. Where much of my sisterhood was eye rolling and anger, my girls’ was hand holding, hair braiding, talking into the night joy. I once rushed into their room as I heard the panicked cries of my oldest in the middle of the night.
“What happened,” I shouted?
“Maya won’t speak to me,” my daughter sobbed, gazing forlornly at her little sister’s dark shadow beneath her covers.
“Jaime,” I nearly laughed out loud in relief, “she fell asleep.”
When my youngest daughter was born, the older two watched, and fussed and pampered her with every ounce of affection they had. She grew strong and confident in that love and pushed them away when she’d had enough. I knew what sisters could provide—friendship, support, unflinching honesty, loyalty, and I wanted that for them. Whether nature or nurture, I’ll never know, but the three of them found their way to a kind, compassionate friendship of sorts that has endured it ups and down yet remains intact.
From friends and women I meet, I collect stories of sisterhood like gems to examine and treasure. In these stories I look for patterns, some common denominator that determines the degree of closeness. Is it age difference? Parental involvement? Socioeconomics? Personality types? The stories are all over the map.
I have not lived in the same state as my sister in over three decades which means I’ve had to cultivate a new breed of sisterhood for friendship, support, unflinching honesty and loyalty. It is these relationships that have sustained and strengthened me and have fostered my continued growth and evolution.
I’ve always felt lucky to be a woman. It is as if my entry into the world gained me instant admittance to the most exclusive club on earth. At the risk of overgeneralization, I do love that as women we yearn for connection, that we boost each other up, that we are good listeners and our communication skills are strong.
So out in the world, alone without my sister, I found other sisters, not connected by blood, or parents, or familial ties, linked only by our spirit and our souls.
As a black woman, I do not take the term soul sister lightly, but on a recent Saturday in Washington D.C., my cousin Cheryl and I arrived at the National Mall and fell in step with hundreds of thousands of sisters at the Women’s March. Soul sisters. Many of us with vastly different agendas and priorities but still united, supportive, positive women who were there to uplift and communicate as one to the world that we will stand together. That we will speak for those who can’t or won’t speak for themselves. That we won’t be forgotten or ignored or overlooked or pushed aside. We are sisters after all. We take care of each other. We have each other’s backs.
My sister Linda couldn’t be there with me, but she may as well have been. Strong sisters breed strong sisters and create future generations of sisters who march and fight and wage war and love and make this world great, not just for sisters, but for all the men enriched by the heart and soul of women.
Dedicated to my number one soul sister, Linda Cline.