It was seven years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday: I was too annoyed to feel scared as I floated on my back downriver waiting to be rescued. Minutes earlier, our two-person kayak had capsized in the Dart River just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand, and my sister, Maria, is screaming for me from the shoreline. When our young guide’s rope-tossing skills fall short, a brave Japanese father, enjoying the same kayaking tour with his wife and two small girls, stands waist-deep in water and reaches out for me as I cruise by. He grabs ahold of my life-jacket and laboriously yanks me onto the pebbly shore. Frazzled and frozen to the bone, I don’t calm down until Maria comes running to hug me.
“It’s OK, my sister,” she whispers soothingly over and over again. “It’s OK. I love you, I love you.” Though she’s only 17 months older than me, she’s my big sis, my support system, and all the family I have on this two-week trip halfway around the globe from our NYC home. Adding to my neediness is that we are just two days out from our first Christmas away from our parents. The timing for the vacation isn’t ideal, but when I scored a travel assignment in New Zealand that December, I jumped on it and split my sister’s costs so she could join me.
Her warm embrace slowly brings me back to reality, stops my body from shivering, and quiets my racing thoughts. Best of all, it makes me feel closer to her than I had in months.
Our Sisterhood…and Dave
Don’t get me wrong, Maria and I are super close, literally. I moved two floors above her in our apartment building in Brooklyn almost two years ago, after our first-ever sister trip to Argentina. Our two weeks together in South America forced us to set aside our busy, career-obsessed lives and make 24/7 time for each other, which helped us reconnect in a way that we hadn’t since we moved out of our parents’ home after college, nearly a decade earlier. The success of that trip has led us to have more adventures together, including a jaunt in Hawaii and, of course, New Zealand. Having her undivided attention and unconditional love on the cold riverbank that afternoon is exactly what I need from this trip, especially since I had felt that I had recently dropped down a notch on Maria’s priority list.
I’ve always known that sharing my favorite person on this planet—and the only sibling I have—with her partner was going to be difficult. What made matters worse is that her new boyfriend, Dave, was a total sweetheart from day one, wanting nothing more than to adopt me as a sister, too. Grrreat. His kindness and total acceptance of me and my demanding ways (“Can I please have sister-time alone without you? Aka, LEAVE.”) has made it hard to dislike him. Not that I want to. It’s important to be happy for my sister, who has finally found “the man for her,” as she says, but still, I never imagined that her finding “the one” would mean I would no longer be her number one.
I know it sounds like I’m jealous, and that’s probably true since I don’t have my very own lobster yet. But what surprises me most is that I feel so possessive of my Maria, more than ever. What’s different now is that we’re older and lean on each other a lot, especially as our parents are aging and will eventually require more of our collaborative effort to take care of them. Beyond that, Maria is that ever-present hug that squeezes out my sorrows over job changes, break-ups, fights with friends, and more. As often as I hug others, including strangers (I can be very welcoming, too!), nothing feels as protective, loving, accepting, and right as her hold.
And now she’s holding Dave. Like all the time.