The Petticoat Wars

I have four siblings. One of whom is adopted. She is actually my first cousin from my Mum’s family and after her father passed away in a car crash, she came to stay with us. I remember that day quite vividly because we went to the hospital and he was the first dead body I had ever seen. It was surreal.  He just lay there, lifeless and I recall feeling scared and anxious.

Maria was about fourteen when she moved in and she was a troubled teenager. Her mother had four children, each from different men and when she was younger, she was passed from one house to another growing up. My mother who was her godmother put an end to that when we took her into our family. I was very young when she came to our home. I didn’t have a problem with it. I thought that it was all very exciting and I loved her very much. Of course I didn’t really understand the dynamics of it all. She was ten years older than me and I already had a sister who was the oldest until Maria entered into the scene. They were only a couple of years apart and so they had more in common or so we thought. The truth is my sister, Talissa, was a bookworm and was very different from Maria. She didn’t care much for attention nor was she bothered about boys at that time. It was only later that I truly understood how annoying my sister found Maria and how her becoming part of the family would have an effect on Talissa for a long time after.

I was just a kid with my own issues and growing pains. I remember how Maria would drive me insane with her antics. It was always one thing or another. Believe it or not, we use to fight about petticoats. I know it sounds pathetic but I was a bit of a control freak as a child and I always had things in order. So much around me was beyond my control so I had to have that much. I was obsessive. I remember every dinner where it was compulsory in our household to sit and eat together at precisely 8.00pm, I would take the plate off the table and go to the sink to wash it and dry it before using it. My mother would always tell me to stop being silly and that it was already clean but I had to do what I had to do and so it became a routine that soon everyone was use to. The only time I couldn’t wash my plate was when we had guests so I would usually identify where I would be sitting and do some preparation before guests arrived. Understanding this, you will realise that the idea of someone coming into my room, rummaging through my drawers and choosing an item she liked to wear without my permission was a nightmare for me. That’s when the petticoat wars began.

It was just silly squabbling over nothing really but because of her heightened sensitivity and her deep insecurities, it was impossible for her to deal with me rationally. Everything was always blown out of proportion and she was ever the victim. This in turn lead to handling her with ‘kit gloves’ which would not help her deal with her demons in the long run. We felt bad for her and we wanted her to feel welcomed so tiptoeing around Maria was something we mastered very well. It was only later on in life that things changed and that happened because nobody can tolerate having to be careful and constantly on guard with their own family. We grew up and she had to catch up or be left behind. I soon realised that although I never had any issues with acknowledging her as my sister and it was never something that I debated on, it was a point of contention for her. She had the problem with that, not us. Even though my parents had done everything to ensure that there was no division or difference in their treatment of all of us, it didn’t matter. Her issues were too deep for her to see just how good she really had it. You couldn’t win with her. It was a constant test.

She was allergic to aspirin and I recall one particular evening when she had taken a pill that contained the ingredient and her whole face looked like it had been through a boxing match. I was hiding in the corner of the room because there was so much commotion and our aunts were all around her, getting her off the bed and rushing her to the hospital and for a child, that whole scene haunted me for a while because I didn’t know what was going on. I was petrified that she was going to die and I would see her lifeless body just lying there like her father did on that operating table years before.

For Maria, anything and everything is always about her trauma and her experience. You will never have it as bad as she has had it. Although we were close as a family, these issues would constantly be apparent and more wars would ensue. She harboured a lot of resentment and jealousy towards me, thinking that I always got what I wanted and things always came easy to me. She felt that any triumph or success that I enjoyed was some sort of negative for her. As if there wasn’t enough for everyone to share. There was always some bitterness involved and I let it get to me for a long time.

Maria taught me so much. I learnt that having everyone’s approval is really overrated and that self-love and recognition is the best kind of acknowledgement I could ever attain. She also taught me so much about unconditional love because til this day, I can say that she is my sister and that I send her the best of vibes and buckets of love. I learnt tolerance and acceptance from her too. Honestly, the list goes on but for the sake of a conclusion, I would say that one of the most priceless lessons I gained from having her in my life, is that I would never compromise my authenticity for anyone ever again. I owe that to myself and to the person involved. I am who I am and if you don’t like it, in the words of my marvelous mother, “You can lump it!”

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