What living with my baby sister taught me about womanhood

When my now-ex-boyfriend announced to me that he was moving out of the blue, my heart sank. I was still unsure how we had managed to get to the breakup stage so quickly; we were barely coming round the bend of the one year mark and I was horrified to find myself curled up in a ball watching Everybody Loves Raymond reruns for the better part of three days because of it. But after I emerged out of my heartbreak haze long enough to regain some of my composure and go back to work, I wondered what I would do in order to survive the earthquake my heart had just survived.

My youngest sister, Savon, and I were constantly texting back and forth at the time. She would tell me of the goings on up in Alaska, where she had moved to with my mom and middle sister, and in between my lifeguard shift and my swim lessons shift at the pool I worked at, I would trade rapid fire texts about what was happening with me in Seattle, where I’d just moved back to from New York. Mostly, our exchanges were in the form of me giving big sister advice, but during one of our conversations, it occurred to me that she needed a break from Alaska and I needed someone to weather the storm with me in Seattle. The thought of my now empty apartment remaining that way indefinitely seemed too much to bare, and the idea of having a roommate that I already loved, and who couldn’t break up with me no matter what, was even better.

The day I picked my sister up from the airport, I had just finished watching Ken Griffey Jr. get inducted to the Mariners Hall of Fame after the Mariners had been royally trounced, losing a game by nine home runs. This game, it turns out, was the perfect metaphor to explain the year I had with my sister. I, too, had been badly beaten in terms of where I thought I would be in life. I was unsure of who I was, and why I found myself once again heaving in metaphorical pain at a loss I was still unable to understand. But in the midst of that haze on the way to the airport, I knew that being with my sister would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, much like the culmination of the end of a winning career in baseball. It may be slow to build, but once you make it, you get to revel in the glory of how good all the ups and down truly were.

Having my sister live with me gave me a sense of purpose that I was greatly lacking. It made me focus on who I wanted to be; because if nothing else, I knew I should be a good role model to her. After all, what good was I if I couldn’t show her a positive example of being a 20-something, self-proclaimed strong Black woman if I wasn’t actually doing anything remotely close to that?

So, to that end, the first thing I changed was my job. At the time, I was working two jobs and was constantly exhausted. I had no time for exercise, no time to write, and I was just working to pay bills and essentially nothing else. I knew I wanted to make the most of my time with my sister and be home to help her adjust to city life, so I got what I envisioned to be a grown up job (key word, envisioned) to make it easier to do so.

Once I could sufficiently think of myself as a “real adult” with regular work hours to boot, my confidence was boosted. The idea of having my sister be proud of me, even if it was for something superficial like having a normal work schedule, worked wonders for everything else. But in the process of trying to be a better role model, my sister taught me a few things, too.

My sister is a creative genius, and the way she sees the world is inspiring—full of color and unique ideas. Living with her and seeing her bring those things to life via her paintings and sketches challenged me to think about my own art, because watching her work so vigorously with such great care and detail reminded me of what I should be doing with my writing. Even though she was young, watching her be that focused was one of the most transformational things that her presence brought to my space.

But perhaps the biggest lesson that came from living with Savon was love. Every day, coming home, knowing that someone I loved and had watched grow up was there to root for me, made me braver than I had ever been. That year, I turned 27. And even though my heart was still shattered, I promised myself that I would work towards my dreams, because I had my sister’s encouragement and admiration to keep me going. Her love helped me to see myself, maybe for the first time. I finally saw all my strengths and some of my weaknesses from a place of honesty—through her eyes as well as my own. I ended up doing a lot of things I promised myself I would do, simply because she was right there cheering me on and listening to my dreams. And watching her change into a young woman right before my eyes, seeing the beauty in her as she transformed, empowered me to be bolder, and more secure.

Savon’s youth saved me from the mundane adult ideas that had slowly zapped my creativity since having returned to Seattle. While I used to dream big and freely, I had become bogged down thinking about logistics, instead of envisioning myself as more than a formula of what I should become. Having her there and being able to share every night with her after work reminded me of what I was capable of.

Living with my sister reminded me about the healing power of womanhood, and the incredible power of sisterhood. There is no bond like the bond of sisterly love, because it endures all things. I found myself feeling incredibly lucky to get to know Savon as a person and to explore our family legacy. We often stayed up late discussing why we are the way we are and the power we possess to become more because of our upbringing. It was inspirational, and that exploration also gave me the grounds I needed to fully embrace the woman I was becoming, even as I continued to move through the world, heartbroken. But I learned that heartbreak was not something that had to stop me.

It has always been a habit of mine to write lengthy accounts of the loves I’ve had in my journal. Sometimes I write love letters, sometimes I share things in cards, but this time, my love letter is to my sister. Her love saved my life, made me a better woman, and inspired me to see things differently than I ever had before. For that, I am eternally grateful and overcome with joy. I know that no matter what befalls my romantic life, one of the loves of my life will always be her. She changed the course of my life in one year, and although my heart was in disarray, it never stopped me from being who I was destined to be.

And, as luck would have it, once summer rolled around again I found myself healed, happy, and on the brink of new love. My sister was my guardian angel, and even though I was bound to protect her as older sisters often do, she saved me in return.

Emery Allison Desper is an essay writer from Seattle. She loves literature, music and guzzling lattes. In her spare time she runs a blog called Eat Books For Breakfast and spends time reviewing hip hop music in the emerald city. You can follow her on Twitter @yreme_.

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