Sometimes I like to throw myself little pity parties when things aren’t going my way, forgetting at times the myriad ways I am so damn lucky and letting the nonsense make me blue. Then I think of my sister, the struggles she has endured and triumphed over, and I snap myself out of it even more.
A little history to start: Amie isn’t my biological sister, but you would never know that to be around us. Oddly, she and I are more like my dad, who is not either of our biological father, than my two younger siblings, who are his blood kin. Nature vs. nurture, we have an answer for you! Amie came into our lives over a decade ago as one of my little brother’s best friends when they were in junior high. Amie’s mom, Janie, was sick, and as the next few years wore on, her illness grew worse and worse. Mama Janie passed away when Amie was 15. Even though her sickness had been taking such a tremendous toll on her for so long, nothing could prepare any of us for the eventual loss of a truly loving, caring, and beautiful woman, a woman who used every bit of energy she had to give Amie the support and love she needed, who always had a smile on her face and a funny quip on the tip of her tongue. I didn’t know what to say to Amie when she died, had no words or ability to comprehend what she was feeling, so I went to her house and took her shopping. Perhaps if shopping wasn’t always my answer to every question life throws at me, I wouldn’t be dealing with the amount of debt I currently have, but whatever, it’s what I do. Losing your mom is one of the shittiest things that can happen in one’s life; then three years later, Amie’s dad died in a motorcycle accident. By the time she was barely out of her childhood, she had lost both her parents. See now why my pity parties make me feel pathetic?
As if all that isn’t disheartening enough, her remaining family sucks. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but her mom’s sister, the one appointed trustee and guardian to her, is a horrible, horrible woman. She is the kind of religious zealot that gives others of her faith a bad name, passing erroneous, hateful judgments on things she knows nothing about and spreading lies and hurt to anyone who will listen. So Amie became ours, and we became hers. I don’t even remember how it started, how the integration occurred, but over the next few years, it became complete. Our parents introduce her as their daughter, the grandmas send her her own holiday grand-kid cards, and even our oldest brother, the most curmudgeonly and resistant to change of the lot of us, calls her “Sister” instead of by name, as we are wont to do. She is as much my family as any other member, whether she likes it or not. Those who seek to challenge our definition of “family” have been informed that their opinions on the situation are not necessary, warranted, or asked for.
With the troubles life threw at her, I doubt anyone would blame or begrudge her feeling or acting like a victim; none would denounce her for bouts of rage or unhappiness, and no one would fault her for a short temper or lack of patience with the inconsequential whininess of others. The thing is, she isn’t and doesn’t do any of those things. My sister is one of the most positive people I know, much more so than my cranky ass. She seeks out and finds pleasure in the simplest and most random of things and places. She is unapologetic in her love for Justin Beiber and the Jonas Brothers, even though she is a grown-ass woman (as the husband and I are often reminding her). Her perfect man would bring her Taco Bell and daffodils. She loves karaoke and beer; she hates wearing pants. She is goofy and ridiculous, quick to laugh and first in line for anything with the hope of being fun. She inspires me every single day, whether it is to take more joy in little pleasures, or to not wallow in my own self-pity, or to just wear pants less often; it is something all the time.
I love that my family tree looks more like a huge, overgrown, tangled-up bougainvillea bush than a tidy little oak or whatever they typically use to illustrate them. Half-siblings, adopted siblings, step-parent adoptions, the random dude down the street – who is anyone else to tell us what defines our family? Blood is not thicker than water, and we do ourselves a disservice if we can’t see a bigger picture than the one we were born into. While you are dealt a certain hand at birth, I don’t believe that you don’t get to chose your family. Family is what you make it, family is what brings you joy, family is what supports you when the world seems to have left you behind. I am very, very lucky in that the family I was born into is an amazing one (minus my biological father, but only him), and the family that has been created around me as I have grown older gets richer and more fulfilling everyday.
How about you, dear readers? Who do you consider your family? When someone says “family,” who pops into your head? Maybe it’s your mom, or your aunt, or your best friend, maybe your partner. I would love to hear more about the families we create on top of the families we are given from you all.
NKOTB concert a few years ago. Our outfits were EPIC.