You Look Like Me

My sister Margaret was born within a few weeks of my second birthday. She came into the world at a difficult time in America. Born at the end of September only a few weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October of 1962, she was barely six weeks old when our family life blew apart in a way that could never be repaired. While the rest of the world was still catching its breath after the compromise between Kennedy and Khrushchev, our lives were spinning off in terrible directions that we would not be able to control.

A year ago today when I wrote the post Peanut Butter & Jelly for her, I offered a bit of insight into the challenges we faced as children. If you take a moment to read that post, found below the baby bracelet, the rest of this will make more sense.

Margaret was blond to my brunette with blue/grey/green eyes to my brown ones. Growing up no one ever questioned that I was our mother’s child having her hair and eye coloring in addition to a bit of her overall look. Margaret however, took after our father’s side of the family with her fair coloring and light eyes.

It must have been so obvious to our mother who still maintained throughout Margaret’s early years, ” I don’t know who you look like ”  saying it in a way intended to keep her at arms length even more than she did with her other behaviors. Never a warm or loving woman, it was one more way she found to inflict pain on someone she should have loved and protected.

I wish I could have stated what was so obvious back then, but we barely knew our father’s family and they were all but strangers to us when we finally had a opportunity to spend time with them in the summer of 1970. Children don’t always see things as clearly as adults and we certainly don’t always know the right thing to say.

As Margaret and I age, the physical differences are shrinking, I can’t look at my hands without seeing hers and although our mouths have a slightly different shape, the laugh lines around them look the same and we share a worry line right between our eyes that is always there when we’re trying to solve a problem. We both are short waisted although she has me on height and if you were to hear us laughing together you might have trouble telling us apart.

Margaret is and always has been, courageous and talented. She is a woman of many skills with an attitude that defies the possibility that what she wants is not within her reach. As someone who can design and build just about anything, if I were ever trapped on an island, she’d be someone I’d want there to help me sort things out. A tender message of love and affection has more value to her than any material possession and the welfare of her family is foremost in all of her decisions. We’ve struggled through some difficult times together and apart, but I hope she can hear me when I say, you are my family Margaret, and you look like me.

Happy Birthday Margaret

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Kansas 1984

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Alaska – December 2008

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Peanut Butter And Jelly

September 28, 2008

We were warriors together from our earliest days, standing together in defense as children against things too terrible to speak of even to those closest to us.

Born two years after me, she is part of my earliest memories. She was my first audience, listening as I created elaborate eulogies for the roly-poly bugs we found belly up in the back yard when we were six and eight. Seated among the stuffed animals who made up the mourners at these morbid dramas, her face was the gauge by which I measured my ability to connect with the heart of my audience. It was through her that I first learned the power of my own words and awakened my love of storytelling. Shy and outgoing, blond and brunette, quiet and chatty, we have been opposites, but so alike in different ways.

For years we were always,“ Elizabeth and Margaret,” said in the same mouthful like peanut butter and jelly or cake and ice cream. Never just Elizabeth or Margaret, until one day, thinking only of my own salvation, I fled from the daily war-zone of our lives and I lost my sister. Her name was changed and she was taken away to a state where I couldn’t find her. Suddenly, I was no longer one of two, no more Elizabeth and Margaret, just Elizabeth with no peanut butter for my jelly. Not knowing where she was or more importantly how she was, was an open wound to my young heart.

At fifteen, I convinced an older boy with a car to drive me 636 miles round-trip back to the last house I’d lived in with her. I told my dad and step-mom a bodacious lie and jumped into the car that covered the distance like it had wings attached to the roof rack. She was already gone but I didn’t know it then. I was too afraid to venture down the rocky driveway to get close enough to look for her, but I stood at the end of the road wringing my hands and thinking of escape plans that had no place in a mind that should have been focused on teen worries.

I wondered for years if I would recognize her if she passed me on the street and I felt her missing presence during all the times you’d like to share with a sister. Our father suffered terribly in his quiet way and sometimes in an unguarded moment our normally stoic dad would drop his calm demeanor and his sadness would leak out through his eyes.

At 23, after a tip from a young cousin, I made a few phone calls to a college in the middle of nowhere and told a couple of lies so big even I wouldn’t have believed them to an unsuspecting soul in the registrars office. It worked somehow and she confirmed my sister was enrolled that semester before giving me her home phone number. I was scared as I called the number and I held my breath waiting as I said, “Margaret…this is Elizabeth, don’t hang up.”

We saw each other for first time in ten years a few months later on my 24th birthday when I flew in to surprise her. She said later that she had a feeling she was going to see me that day. Sister connections and DNA …she knew I was coming. I wish I made it back to her sooner. I wish I could have gotten her to a safe place before she found it on her own. I wish I could have explained 34 years ago that I wasn’t trying to leave her, but trying desperately to save myself. There are a lot of things I’d change if I had the power, but there’s one thing she can count on now. I’m not going anywhere….anymore.

Today is a special day for me. It’s the 46th anniversary of the day my sister was born.

I’ve missed a lot of her birthdays in the past and it feels really good to be able to say that I hope today will be a happy day to the peanut butter to my jelly.

Happy Birthday Margaret.

Margaret Turns Six-1968

11 thoughts on “You Look Like Me

  1. You have made me weep.

    Two beautifully written birthday wishes.

    I was separated from my sister for 3 years when I was very young, it was not until I became an adult that I realised how much we missed out on. Like you and Margaret we live thousands of miles apart and may not ever live near each other again, but I know she is there for me as I am for her. She is forever my best friend.

    Sisters are the Best!!!!!

  2. Wow, so beautiful, and so sad. I can’t imagine my girls losing each other, they are such a part of each other. I’ve always envied sisters, now even more so.

    Happy Birthday to Margaret 🙂

  3. That is such a moving post. My sister is so important to me. For my birthday Suzanne (my sister) bought me a beautiful heart engraved with the legend – Sib. It’s what we call each other on mails and cards, short for sibling but shorthand for always there, forever loved. To all the Sibs out there x

  4. Elizabeth,

    I am sitting here with tears rolling down my face-they are happy tears now but as I was reading they were sad tears, thinking of all the ‘unknown’ years & what should have been.

    I was ‘separated’ from Sarah when we moved to the states. When we moved back to the UK she took her revenge & moved to Switzerland! But there were days during those years that were very hard to get through. I’d like to take the opportunity of saying that I too am thankful/eternally grateful/relieved/very fortunate to have my own special Sib.

    How wonderful that, through the gift you have, you are able to share with your sister on this, her special day.

    Happy Birthday Margaret

    Love Suzanne

  5. Well, at least I’m not in my birthday suit! Happy Birthday John. Thank you Elizabeth for the moving words and birthday wishes.

  6. This post leaves me feeling grateful for the restoration of your sisterhood and hopeful for all the other yins missing their yang. xo

  7. I’m crying as I read this. There’s so much to you that I don’t know. How did you turn out so normal? I have never noticed any bitterness in you, but you have every reason in the world to be bitter. I’m glad you chose not to be bitter. I’m sure your upbringing has a lot to do with your love of journaling. That has probably helped with your healing.

  8. This blog choked me up real good. What a touching memory of your sister and heartfelt reconciliation. May you have many wonderful years forward with your sister!

  9. Elizabeth, this is beautiful. I miss my sister very much while I’ve been away and can empathise with the bond you and your sister share. I’m looking forward to reading through more of your old blogs as well as the new stuff. Best wishes. Ax

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