By Hayley Doyle
I remember asking my mum for a brother.
Specifically, an older brother.
Obviously I was too little to understand that this was an impossible wish, unless we randomly received a knock on the door one day from a teenage boy claiming to be my dad’s long lost son. (This didn’t - or has yet to - happen…) I am the oldest of two sisters. And what was clear, even at such a young age, was that I wasn’t asking for a replacement sibling. I was trying my luck, as all kids do, at getting something different. Something other people had. My next desire was likely to be a Fashion Wheel or a Cabbage Patch Doll. But I didn’t want another sister. That was never on my wish list. I had one. And she was - and is - more than enough.
The build-up to her arrival was a damn good start to say the least; my mum’s work all clubbed together and bought me toys when she went on maternity leave. One of my earliest memories is arriving at her office to find wrapped up gifts on her desk - for me - including a Day-to-Night Barbie and a Glo Worm. I mean!! Then, I got to spend some quality one-on-one time with my auntie, who although couldn’t plait my hair (and for her sake, it’s a blessing she had a son), dressed me up as Wonder Woman, let me sleep in a double bed and patiently allowed me to answer her landline as her secretary. It was my auntie - my mum’s sister, in fact - who woke me in the middle of the night to whisper in my ear that my baby sister had been born.
My sister was the first person I learnt to worry about. As a newborn, I remember her screaming in the bath and I felt utterly helpless whilst deeply concerned (note: she was perfectly fine!). As a toddler, she put up with my make-believe and without argument would play all the side characters, including toads, chickens and a pea (for the princess to lie on, obvs). She rocked an 80s tracksuit and ripped frilly dresses “accidentally” whereas I remained immaculately clean and looked odd in trousers. As bestselling author and journalist Elizabeth Fishel said, ‘Your sister is both your mirror and your opposite.’ We invented bonkers games that involved squashing each other’s faces with our legs and pressing our chins together. We watched videos with Quavers and a mini Milky Way, all taped from the TV around Christmas-time. In our back garden, we reenacted all the routines from Oliver! We have joint anxiety from obsessing over Return to Oz and we can quote every line of dialogue from Three Men and a Little Lady. I call her “mushroom” and honestly not sure why!
My sister also embarrassed me in front of my first major crush; Mike, the boy who came to collect the milk money every Tuesday. She made me sleep in her room for a year, weeks after we’d just moved into separate rooms after sharing for so long, because was traumatised from watching Stephen King’s IT after gatecrashing my birthday sleepover. She can snap at me and put a ball of frustration into my stomach; but she’s always coming from a good - and usually the right - place. We totally have those awkward times. We have hurt each other without meaning to and in words more commonly used by a parent, we have disappointed one another. But we rarely lose it or get mad. Nobody knows me like she knows me. She listened - without choice - as I learnt every word to the Miss Saigon soundtrack. She’s witnessed my mistakes more than any other human on the planet. We say the same things at the exact same time - which still freaks us out - and we keel over laughing at stuff that nobody else finds amusing.
A quick google will give you endless reasons as to why having a sister is important or scientifically proven to have a positive effect on your wellbeing. Apparently, you’re less likely to get a divorce because you have a sister (according to the internet..?). But not all biological sisters see eye to eye. They disagree without agreeing to disagree. For whatever reason, they don’t have each other’s back. Sisters might be described as different flowers grown from the same tree, but those two flowers can be wild opposites. Family feuds can last a lifetime, and I grow increasingly aware of this, the more I witness it happen to others around us. Not all sisters are best friends.
But can your best friends become your sisters?
Of course, you can’t completely match that bond between siblings. Not only does a deep-rooted understanding come from sharing a bath for years on end, but also from sharing a relationship with your parents, figuring out how your dynamic was different to theirs, and why. Still, there will be people you can relate to as a sister, even if you’re not related.
Look across your colourful spectrum of friends. Some you trust with intimate secrets. Some listen and give great advice. Those you party with. The one you still talk to on the phone for an hour (or perhaps don’t mind their 27 minute WhatsApp voice notes). Some friends might be really similar to you, and that’s why you click. Or, some might be alternative, allowing you new perspectives. But then, there’s the friend who gets you. And it’s not just about music or fashion or banter, or work-talk or mum-talk or knowledge-of-IMDb-talk. This friend might not have eaten spaghetti hoops on toast in your nan’s kitchen or been the one to shout, “He’s BEEN,” in your face every Christmas morning, but they are so like you in very specific ways…
Your upbringing wasn’t the same, and yet, it was. In fact, so similar, that when you see an old photo of them in a Benetton sweatshirt and hair scrunchie, you practically remember their memory. You watched the same films as a kid on repeat; perhaps, obscure ones. But, sweet nostalgia aside, it’s your values that align. You see the world through each other’s specs. They have the same expectations. The same boundaries. Even if they don’t entirely agree with everything you do, they understand you, as if they’ve know you since birth. So in that sense, they always know when to push and challenge you, too.
You’ve seen each other ugly cry and act like complete idiots. You’ve had to give them a good shake, more than once, and it’s never easy. You feel guilty about the same stuff and it’s such a joy to offload on each other because a problem shared is truly a problem halved when you’re together. You’re fiercely proud of one another. You cheer them on loudly. You want everybody else to cheer them on and know how proud you are, too. You fight. You bicker. You’re that kind of super comfortable that you do treat ‘em a bit mean. Then you’re sorry. Really sorry. And if anybody else DARES to hurt them, you will not stand for it. On a big night out, you might not be side-by-side or locked in deep conversation, but you know where each other are at all times and the eye contact is like a secret laser. You’ll debrief later. And you’ll be on the exact same page.
It’s important to recognise these relationships in our lives. Bonds can be strong, whether you’re blood-related or not. In a world where human connection is overwhelmed by constant digital connection, the knowledge that there are people out there who understand your foundations - what makes you, you - is worth keying into. I bumped into one of my “sisters” at the park the other day. We’re on different paths currently and although we live pretty close, it’s been a while. Seeing her in passing was so grounding, so reassuring; the glances, the giggle, the silly comment, the quick check-in on each other’s families. We called each other, Sis. It was a beautiful reminder to embrace your sisters…
…and remember with pride, how bizarre you are!