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Secrets, Shenanigans and the Sister Code

By Lisa Marlin

When I first laid my newborn daughter in my seven-year-old daughter’s arms in 2001, I told both my girls that they now had all they would ever need to get through the ups and downs of life: a sister.

Nobody will ever have your back like a sister, or steal clothes from your closet or eat the last of the Doritos like a sister. In my defense, I heard Jana say she did not even like that particular pair of cut-off jean shorts and that she wanted to lose weight. I was only helping her.

It’s a sister’s duty, after all, to look out for the other sister even if she does not know she needs looking out for. “Someday you’ll thank me,” one will tell the other and, of course, she will be right. Years later, we’ve both jotted these heartfelt words inside birthday cards to each other: “Thanks for everything you’ve ever done for me!”

My sister deserved that sentiment and more in 2001. She was my assigned labor and delivery nurse because, as luck would have it, I gave birth to my second daughter in the hospital where my sister had a shift that very night. Jana might have manipulated her schedule to make it happen, i.e., begged the nursing supervisor at the last minute, but that’s what we do — we manipulate things for each other — probably more so because we’re twins, sort of.

I was born two years and three days after Jana, but that didn’t keep us from sharing childhood birthday parties with the same homemade cake, or from getting identical Christmas gifts, like the baby dolls with curly hair and blinking eyes that we later mutilated with scissors and red markers for a haunted house in our basement.

We also always shared a bedroom and were fortunately agreeable in its décor during our adolescent years: boy band posters from teen mags hanging over our unmade twin beds with a mix of dirty and clean clothes strewn across a shag carpet.

We shared a room even when home on college breaks until the day our parents and younger brother moved out, not because we had forced them to, but our dad got a job transfer to another city. Reasoning that she was older, Jana took over the master bedroom. That made sense, but this did not: our parents trusted us to keep an eye on their house while it was for sale. Nineteen-year-old me and 21-year-old her, what could go wrong? No matter the mayhem the neighbors might have claimed to see or hear that summer of ’83, to this day we deny everything. Over the years, the details have gotten fuzzy anyway.

We eventually did become somewhat responsible adults, both married with children, only to land far away from each other until her family relocated from our home state of Missouri to my transplant state of Texas and bought a house a few blocks away. That move took a lot of manipulation regarding jobs, finances, and especially husbands, but we sisters succeeded in making it happen.

For five years, we knew each other’s garage door codes, entering at will. I could sneak clothes from her closet as easily as she could forget to mention that her daughter was spending the night at our house and bringing the pet hamster. This sis-bliss lifestyle lasted until I got transferred to Colorado. Not a fan of snowy, icy winters, Jana would not follow me this time except to visit in the summer, or to sit by my side when I recovered from my second mastectomy.

I’d done the same for her a few years earlier because, unfortunately, besides sharing clothes and secrets, we’ve also shared breast cancer diagnoses, with each other and our mother. First it was Mom, then Jana, then me, then Mom, then Jana, then no! Forget that! When one of my implants ruptured ten years ago, I opted to have the remaining breast tissue removed and decrease my risk of a second diagnosis like they’d experienced. So far, so good.

Though 750 miles apart now, our phones make sure we are never too busy to stay in touch. It’s possible that we conjured up something in our 1970s haunted house that now possesses our cell phones. That would explain why I sometimes hear my sister’s voice coming out of my purse or my pockets: “Hello, hello! Are you there?”

“Hey, what’s up?” I say when I retrieve my phone and put it to my ear.

“You called me this time!” she says because sometimes it happens the other way around.

And then in giggling unison, we declare that our phones must miss each other.

We then begin catching up on whatever is happening in our lives. Sometimes we laugh until we cry, and sometimes, we cry until we can laugh again. This gift of carefree communication is something we have bestowed upon our daughters as well.

As young women now, the three of them share advice, recipes and secrets of their own. The latter often leads to longwinded calls trying to figure out what our daughters don’t want us to know.

But in the end, we honor their cousin sisterhood, and move on to other topics, such as the matching pink ribbon tattoos we plan on getting whenever we can get to a beach at the same time. It’s been almost 20 years since we’ve taken a tropical vacation together, so I’m thinking we need to go ahead and book the trip for this summer before another 20 years pass and our daughters tell us we’re too old for such shenanigans. Ha! If only they knew the secrets we share, they’d never deny us such fun, though we’ll always deny rumors of improper behavior. Thank God for the sister code.

— Lisa Marlin

Lisa Marlin is a contributor to Laugh Out Loud, a humor anthology from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and her love story is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Miracle of Love. Her essays have also appeared in She KnowsPurple Clover, HuffPost, The Denver Post and The Dallas Morning News. Once upon a time ago, her confession about being a word addict won her a coveted page in Writer’s Digest MagazineLisa credits her family as her greatest source of joy, worry and writing prompts. She lives in Colorado where she enjoys a spectacular mountain view from her front porch every single sunshiny day.

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