My 18-year-old sister and I recently had our wisdom teeth removed, both of us receiving general anesthesia almost simultaneously. With only three years between us, she and I have shared the majority of our experiences, some of which have not necessarily fostered our relationship. At an early age she played the victim while I remained in a state of constant frustration. Sensitive to the point of being volatile, she controlled our family with her discontent. My mother remembers me asking, “Can we get rid of her?” a question as comical now as it was seriously considered then, or at least within the confines of my young mind. Our clothes, hair and even our friends somehow managed to align, details that only heightened my distemper. Even as we grew older, our personalities failed to discover solace in one another; her aggression could not understand my passivity, and the chaos she seemed to allow disrupted the order I worked to maintain.
Awake from the general anesthesia and existing in a state somewhere outside lucidity, I sat quite anxiously in a room with my mother. Between mention of the numbness in my face and the frantic concern I fostered toward the IV in my arm, I managed a question about my sister. I know this because, as any good parent would, my mother recorded me and my sister following the procedure. The question emerged through a struggle between my bleeding mouth and the bizarre rolls of cotton working to prevent that same bleeding. My eyes opened as if some unseen force of dentistry had allowed me to make my discovery: “Jude?” I asked. And again, louder, “Jude,” adding as many extra syllables as necessary to clarify the issue. Jude is not, in fact, my sister’s name, but rather, a nickname with a long history that excludes anyone outside my immediate family. Regardless, I wanted to know where my sister was; I needed confirmation of her existence. Down the hall, with even less control over her concept of reality, my sister asked the same question, her eyes pleading with my mother. Admittedly, wisdom teeth removal is not life-threatening, nor did it force me to question the health of my sister, but in my most primordial and inarticulate state — one in which I emphatically suggested that undergoing surgery was a “blast” — I needed my sister. I needed to see her, speak with her, laugh with her; I needed her to live our shared experience.
While it has taken me nearly 21 years of existence, some bloody cotton and the lovely effects of modern medicine to fully comprehend the ubiquity of our connection, I do not discredit the often painstaking moments of disconnection we battled to establish the strength of our relationship. The years of fighting, of misunderstanding, of struggle and of impassioned tears have allowed me to know my sister — more so than anyone ever will. She has taught me the value of reciprocity, for not only do I recognize her admiration in me, but I also hope to consistently convey my complete adoration for her. The three years that supposedly grant me wisdom above her do not eliminate my faults, nor do they elevate my own qualities. I see in my sister a charisma, a power and a magnetic vibrance that I can only hope to emulate. It is as though these characteristics, these desired aspects inherent to her, fill the void of my being so as to complete me. And in this way, the script tattooed on my back in the words of E.E. Cummings truly adheres to the purpose of its design: “i carry your heart with me,” as my shoulder blade reads, finds its continuation on the left side of my sister’s back, “i carry it in my heart.”