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After Fights Over Sharing Bathrooms And Dating Battles, Appreciating Sibling Rivalry

Many of us grow up sharing a home with sisters and brothers, but commentator Rawlins Gilliland says it sometimes seems the only thing we have in common is our parents.

When my sister Ann was an only child, she lobbied endlessly for a little boy "baby blother." Eventually she wore them down and I was born.  However, when Mother triumphantly presented me to her five-year old, Ann took one look and said, "Send him back. I changed my mind."  So began our thus-far seven-decade sibling rivalry.

Growing up, Ann and I were absolute opposites. When asked what color we wanted our bedrooms painted, she said soft pastels while I said blood red enamel. I wanted Christmas trees flocked in 1950s turquoise or pink while she lobbied for plain green. Ann whined, "why can’t we live in a beige house like everyone else?" to a mother who painted even the floor, piano and kitchen appliances in vivid jewel tones.

Things went from bad to worse after I began sharing a bathroom with the now teenage princess who famously refused to flee an encroaching tornado because her hair was in curlers. How many times did I lift the lid and knock her shoebox of brush hair rollers into the toilet before she stopped placing that box atop the tank along with all that Maybelline cake mascara and Faberge cologne?

I was hoping the worst was behind us when Ann turned 20; assuming she wouldn’t notice her teenage brother had quietly charged a jet-set weekend in Acapulco on her first credit card. I returned home serenely tan to an outraged sister whose mercenary demands that I pay her back "immediately" struck me as rude. She was unmoved by my protests that the trip had been educational and began garnishing my meager grocery bag boy wages.

When Ann began seriously dating, I enjoyed hurling smoking sulphur grenades into her boyfriend Larry’s ’55 Catalina, watching them shriek and scramble like those cartoon cockroaches in that Raid bug bomb commercial.  When they ultimately married, having learned firsthand how cruel Ann’s culinary experiments could be, I assumed Larry would starve. But he somehow survived for 49 years until his recent death when I delivered the eulogy. And later scattered his Hawaiian shirt collection like ashes to men and women I know and love. 

Many of us don’t appreciate siblings until we’re older, in my case middle-aged, after which a day seldom passes without speaking.  Sisters and brothers are the only ones who know what it was to have that man or woman as parents.  Later in life, this comes to mean something.  You shared a childhood and, whether you talk about it or not, have common memories.

Yes, I’ve accepted that siblings are a mixed blessing however much we differ. Yes I still suspect that, despite Ann being mother’s physical clone, there was an alien baby swap at that hospital. Yes she still favors foodstuffs I consider prison food like Velveeta. But I did live long enough to see Ann take me back to Acapulco for my birthday and this time not demand I pay her back.  Thank god older sisters finally grow up.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.