Growing apart, breaking-up, getting dumped by a friend: as humans we’ve mastered the art of causing – and enduring – heartbreak. We tell ourselves they weren't right for us, they didn't truly know us. But what happens when the person wanting to remove themselves from your life is flesh and blood – your own sister? Here, journalist Cara Helene, 31, writes an open letter to her estranged sister of eight years, and tells how the experience has left a permanent scar.
Eight years. A quarter of my lifetime. That is how long it has been since we last saw each other. Last hugged as sisters do and smiled at each other’s eyes. Last listened to people inquire as to whether we were twins. Last introduced each other as ‘my sister’ - something I was always very proud to do.
Eight years since the day you decided you didn’t want to be part of our family. That you informed us that you would no longer be seeing us- without an explanation.
I remember it very clearly - the day blood ceased being thicker than water for you.
I was 20 years old. You, two years my elder. It was our brother’s graduation. We’d all made plans to meet up, though we didn’t know if you would come. It was during a period of time where you’d flutter in and out of our lives, sometimes haphazardly, often deliberately. But there you were.
You sat between me and mum during the awards, distant and vague, but there nonetheless. To my surprise you joined in for a family photo afterwards and sat at the table for the celebratory lunch. We kept the chitchat as light as the butter we spread on the artisan bread.
After we all boarded the tube heading home, heads full of bubbles, you made your announcement. You said you had decided that you no longer wanted to be part of our family. You were very composed, gave no further explanation. Then the tube stopped, you got off and the doors closed.
You once told me that a breakup was harder to deal with than a death as the other person had made a choice to cut you out of their life. It feels like you lose a limb, you said, and you have to learn to adapt to life that way.
But what do you lose when your sister does the cutting?
I’ll tell you. Part of your identity. You end up half the person you used to be, and it’s hard to adapt to life like that.
You are gone but the memories aren’t. Past times of a shared childhood under the African sun. My big sister and I, climbing trees to pick mangoes, reviving lizards that had half-drowned in the pool, freeing hobbled donkeys in the bushveld. We had our own language, created our own worlds and caused immense mischief together.
I was your partner in crime, but also the pain in your neck. I remember when you’d shake with rage when I tried to dress the same as you or follow you and your friends around. But when you let me into your world, I felt a king.
I spent all my school years nameless- I was known as ’your sister’. I wore that adjective like a badge of honour and accepted the conditions from the very first day in the playground. All the expectations placed on me were the bars you had set. You excelled in sports, came top of the class and had all the boys’ attention. You broke many hearts.
I watched from the sidelines, always your biggest fan.
We were more than sisters. We had to be, after being sent to boarding school at 12. You taught me how to dance the night before my first high school disco, caught me at the finish line when I won my first school run, explained how to react the first time a boy kissed me and dried my tears when I had my heart broken for the first time.
At 17, when I came to live with you in London, both small town girls trying to find their way in the big city, we took on the fight together. At least for a while, until it got the best of us and suddenly it was all ‘too late’ to try to uncomplicate everything that got in the way.
‘Too late’, those two little words that held so much fear for the two little girls that we had grown up from.
A mother’s warning that would bring tears to our innocent eyes. As soon as they’d rolled out of her mouth, we knew it was over. We’d missed the boat destined for the land of another chance. Fallen in troubled waters too deeply and now had to dwell in the sea of loss. We had lost the opportunity and there would never be another.
But I believe it is never too late. I don’t consider life to be so black and white. As long as there is regret, pain, desire, longing or a need to rectify, to undo, to correct, to reaffirm, to try again, then there is always time. And I would like to have my sister back.
I don’t think it is ever too late for that.
Love - always,