The Artful Kitchen: Sisters, Sisters…

By Judyth Hill

Judyth deviates from food this month to tell us about the heartbreak (and joy) of "psisterness."
-by Judyth Hill
artfulkitchen.jpgWhen she was good
she was very very good
and when she was bad….

All I know is Mother Goose must have been talking about me when I am around my sister.

With no one else, ever, do I see red, go ballistic and start swinging a barbed cudgel of words and recriminations, including bringing up an arsenal of 30-year-old grievances as fresh as if they happened that morning, all the while weeping bitterly as if she were doing it to me.

I go from calm to Caligula, from Namaste to Miss Nasty in a nano-


Of course, it is all her fault. It must be – she is my sister.

Does this make a single iota of sense to you? If not, your years of therapy and kergillion sesshins have paid off. If, however, your behavior can zoom into the certifiable over one innocuous remark about your weight, your shade of eyeliner, or (oh no, not this) your children…then you too are one of the million suffers of the Heartbreak of Psisterness.

What is it with us and our family members, anyway? We should be careful and tender with the ones that love us, instead, it's the no-holds-barred, all-bets-off version of love. We are kinder to perfect strangers, and even better to people who hate us.

OK, here's the story.

I went Back East. And back it is, emotionally atavistic more like; I'm amazed I didn't end up grunting and pointing, dragging my knuckles on the ground and craving huge gobbets of wooly mammoth tartare, or more to the point, a diary with a key, Clearasil and a subscription to Seventeen.

Have you been back in the Other America lately? No need to really go; just call there. Everyone is on the phone. Every minute. I was shocked at what looked like hundreds of outpatients muttering and gesturing, until I realized they were all plugged, ear- and mouthwise, into their pocketed phones.

Go out for dinner with friends, and everyone at the table, phone set on vibrate, is text-messaging other people they would probably prefer to be with, but because they are with you, they must settle for E-contact with everyone else in their circle.

It's as if every moment of the present must be charged with the exciting potential for a brighter future, or at least, a better date. That makes for intriguingly weird dinner atmospheres and a sort of partially scintillating conversations that are not actually occurring with you.

This revision of every rule of pre-existent mealtime etiquette would have Miss Post spinning – though her great-granddaughter Miss Manners might prescribe leaving the table to "take your calls" – in which case restaurants would have to set up tables for the sole purpose of enabling you to not be at yours.

What did I just say? Who knows? But I swear it's true.

Being really good friends with, or related by blood to, today's modern person means that an at-home evening hanging out together includes emailing, IMing, SKIFING, taking calls on cell and landlines, and checking messages on both, with the dispassionate fervor of diabetics monitoring blood sugar. If you can understand all the communijargon in that sentence, you probably have either been there or done that.

So I'll shut up right now, which is what I should have done then.

The mortifying truth is, besides my sister having the audacity to continue to live her own life while I was there, I Didn't Get My Way.

Following an evening when my sister took a call from a guy she hadn't met instead of watching "Memoirs of a Geisha" and drinking martinis with me (the nerve of her), we didn't get to go to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore because there would be too much traffic, and we could get dressed up to look extremely hot and go do Karaoke instead.

So, there you have it. That was my cue to go incendiary. I went insane. I do not exaggerate.

In a state of righteous indignation, a tantrum tornado, I packed my bags and marched them out to her driveway. Despite being two hours from anyone else I know, and from any form of even vaguely possible transport to the airport, not to mention that my ticket was for two days later, I went storming off in a huff, in a snit; I was leaving and no one can't make me…. Remind you of anything? Ever seen a five-year-old run away from home?

Ms. Demento slamming around and almost – almost – saying every awful thing that came to mind. While basically a raving maniac, I was also a good houseguest – I stripped my bed, put my sheets and used towels in her washer. Did I think I would later be evaluated on my ability to remain polite while utterly out of my mind? Was I worried my mother, rest her soul, would peer down from Death and see what I was doing to my Little Sister?  Well, wouldn't she?

So are you getting this? There was no Incident.

I could easily decide there was – that is the whole point –  because then I could be deliciously and thrillingly right, as only the Older Sister can be, and also, create a year, maybe two, where we don't speak, necessitating the inevitable sobbing, groveling middle-of-the-night phone call begging forgiveness, because I need her. Because she is, well, she is my sister.

And she was there for so many truly awful times growing up, the ones only we know, the times we had only each other to hold on to. We developed our dark Jewish humor to laugh and live through it, and it's the weight of all that history, isn't it? We share the unfathomable, intricate depths of our family mythos: We know, we were there; we love each other dearly. Damn, I hate when that happens.

 We are privy to each other's secrets and stories, and it's not her fault she had a speaking part in my personal drama. And still does.

The question is how to find a way to, well, not exactly start fresh, because much of what is so precious is the density that is always between us. And do I behave unforgivably, just to prove I will be forgiven, to test again the temper of the metal that is our love?

So, maybe it's to learn to be at least semi-here and now, without the semi being the Mack truck of emotional baggage I'm still trying to hit her with…while simultaneously needing the EMT people myself.

This time I stopped myself. Before saying the terrible stuff, the "You Always…", and the "I Never…", the unforgivable that is part of the bedrock of sisterness. I walked down to the creek by her house, where we had gone for Tashlik on Rosh Hashanah, to toss our past failures and our gratitude into the moving waters, and I stayed quiet and breathing until the Blame and Shame storm had passed. Then I went back and made my bed and dragged my stuff back inside. What else?

Siblinghood is the triathlon of love. Just when you think you swam your fastest and jumped your highest, you now need to race a 30-geared bicycle along a course that ascends mystically up a crazy grade in 200% humidity.

In the end, we know we will be there; we will go the distance. We always have. That is what being a sister means. This is the short, and I hope, the very, very long of it.

So we got totally dolled up, and she did my makeup and let me borrow her Prescriptives Magic and gave me her eyelash curler and I gave her my honest and of course, correct, sisterly opinion on half an hour of wardrobe decisions, until she looked utterly fabulous, and we were both entirely cute.

We met her friends at the Karaoke bar, which turned out to be very wild and a major blast, and we downed huge cheeseburgers and thick, perfect fries, and drank big very pink Cosmos, and it was divine.

There was a 'way cool troupe of gay women, and one talk/crooned a quirky, sooo sexy version of "I Feel Pretty" to her girlfriend, and then my sister stood up and sang a throaty, heartstopping version of "Someone to Watch Over Me."

I was so glad, and relieved, to know I would.

Judyth Hill is a stand-up poet, living at Rockmirth, her 111 acre Eco-Arts Atelier in Northern New Mexico. She is the author of six books and the internationally acclaimed poem, "Wage Peace.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2007.