Live Through This

The Sibling Ring

My sisters are at once a mystery and everything I need to know.

Illustration by Ana

Illustration by Ana

I have two sisters: Laura and Madeline. Anytime any one of us talks to our dad on the phone, we’ll be called some variation on “Laur-Am-Mad-Am-Laur…,” because he can never keep track of which one of us he has on the line. This is probably the only time we’re ever mistaken for one another, and I don’t think it even really counts, since it’s more a product of my dad’s having followed the Grateful Dead around when he was a teenager than it is a reflection of any similarities among his three daughters.

Although we were born within three years of one another, my sisters and I couldn’t be more different. Maddy, the youngest, is a super-fit gym enthusiast; one of her recent aspirations in life is to model, possibly for Maxim (“It’s way classier than Playboy,” she says). She could do it, too: she looks so immaculate that on any given day you’d think she’d stepped off the pages of any panting, XY-chromosomed publication you can name. After modeling gets boring, Maddy would ideally like to be a stay-at-home mom, raising a little set of siblings of her very own while her husband, whoever he is, works to support them (aka my literal nightmare life). Meanwhile she keeps busy in part by maintaining the greatest Twitter account of all time. It mostly comprises lists of her likes and dislikes, which will probably come in handy later in life when she has to recount them Q&A-style next to underwear shots in a magazine–she hates players, but loooooves chocolate! What I’m trying to say is that my little sister is clearly exactly like your girl here (a person who literally fell face first onto a moving treadmill during her one excursion to the gym and who also thinks players are just the absolute tops).

Our older sister, Laura, is probably the most adventurous of of the three of us. She’s always wanted to live on the West Coast, so just this month she up and moved out of our mom’s New Jersey home and across the country to California, with no job and no idea if her boyfriend was going to join her. She just jumped into her Jeep Wrangler one day and drove 3,000 miles with her cat, Olive, on her lap, and now she lives next to the beach and routinely goes on challenging, scenic hikes. (I, meanwhile, sometimes order delivery twice a day so that I don’t have to leave my bedroom for longer than a minute. I know, I’m pretty much a fearless pioneer, but I put my pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else. [This is a metaphor, I’m too lazy to bother with actual pants–like, ew, zippers? No thanks].) Lately, Laura’s also gotten really into aerial silks and hanging out with Burners and, both of which make me cringe on a whole-body level. The other day she sent me and Maddy a video of herself twirling glow-in-the-dark balls on leashes around her body, which is apparently some raver thing. (I try not to ask too many questions.)

In telling you all the ways Maddy and Laura are very, very different from me, I’ve also told you some of the main things I find delightful and interesting about them. I am obsessed with them. When someone who doesn’t know them asks me what they’re like, I pull out my iPhone so I can show off pictures of them beaming at my mom’s wedding or pulling faces on a hotel balcony while on vacation with our dad. I gush, I brag, I won’t shut up about how honored I feel to be related to them. It’s kind of intense.

Laura and Maddy seem to maintain a similar mix of mystification and appreciation for my own, let’s say, idiosyncrasies, and for that I am eternally grateful. If you asked them what I’m like, they might tell you how disproportionately defensive and hurt I get when I think they’re making fun of me–which, of course, they often were when we were younger. (I once left a restaurant crying inconsolably after a prank involving a pat of butter and the business end of my Diet Coke.) Nowadays, as adults, they’re more inclined to indulge my sensitivity than they are to capitalize on it for laughs, thank god.

Our pride in one another feels more parental than sororal, which is strange considering that we’re pretty much as close in age as you can be to a full sibling without being a twin. If I had to guess why, I’d say I think it might be because we grew up in what some guidance counselors grimly called an “unstable home environment.” Until we were teenagers, our parents were addicted to the kinds of substances that can make it hard enough to focus your eyes on one spot for longer than three seconds, let alone pay attention to raising your kids, so my sisters and I had to pay attention to one another, and to everything else. When my dad split and my mom started crying for long stretches out of seemingly nowhere, it was Laura who somehow knew that it was in part because she (and, by extension, we) had become dangerously poor, and filled me and Maddy in on this information by gently telling us that we shouldn’t ask our mom to buy us frivolous things anymore. Laura has always seemed to intuit the root causes of emotional situations like that, even when she was really small.

One thing Laura and I have in common is that from time to time we struggle with self-doubt. Then again, who doesn’t? I’ll tell you who: Maddy. Since she was a toddler, Maddy has always been completely self-assured and resolute in her convictions—even when our home life was disjointed and fairly torturous, she never allowed circumstance to sway her belief in herself. She had a lot of trouble with anger back then and was easily upset, but never seemed to direct that rage at herself, unlike Laura and me. Maddy was the most outwardly angry at our parents; she never hesitated to call my mom out for her drinking, and never played nice with our parents’ significant others if she didn’t like them. She showed me what it’s like to be uncompromising in your trust of your own version of the truth (which is maybe part of why I’m able to write this story about her and Laura today).

Lacking proper adult supervision, Laura, Maddy, and I raised one another. We were like wild animals who managed to become women together. None of us could have done that alone, but we learned early to lean on one another, to draw on our sisters’ strengths to bolster our own weaknesses. I have learned so much from my sisters. Laura taught me how to be funny and how to shred through life adventurously and without hesitation in order to pursue the most happiness available to you. Absorbing Maddy in all of her ironclad confidence taught me that as long as you at least pretend to know that you’re right, people will believe you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her seem insecure about anything in her entire life. (Maxim better watch out for her, if it’s what she really wants for herself. And if it is, I’ll frame every picture and hang them proudly in my house because I love her and will support her until my heart stops, even though I’m not exactly crazy about the magazine on the whole. That’s what it’s like to really love a sister, I think.)

Loving someone means, among so many things, learning how little matters of opinion and taste really matter in the long run.I might not ever understand Maddy’s predilections for incredibly dark bronzer or flavored vodka, but I know what her face looks like when she’s at her very bravest. When I think about how Laura brought home a spread of Cheetos and candy and plastic bottles of Coke that she had stolen from the supermarket so I could have a nice 12th birthday, I’m like, who fucking cares if she’s into glow sticks or whatever?

Laura and Madeline were the country in which I grew up, a place familiar only to us three. Whenever we’re together now, we quiz one another on that country’s micro-history: “Remember when Maddy used to drape a blanket across her back and march around the backyard insisting she was the president?” “Remember when we had to put Rocko up for adoption and we took pictures hugging his neck outside of the shelter?” “Remember when the police shined flashlights through the glass door to the backyard and we had to keep the lights off?” We are the only people on earth who know the answers to any of those questions and the meanings behind those answers, and in some inexplicable, nationalistic way that makes me feel proud and strong and vicious in my love for them.

This past Christmas, we all cried hard at separate moments, but for the same general reason. We had started the day at my mom and her husband’s house, then visited my dad, his wife, and our one-year-old brother, Charlie, and finished the evening with more relatives at my paternal grandparents’ home. Everyone in our immediate family is healthy now, and involved in a life they at least 75% profoundly like, and so we had a beautiful and love-stuffed holiday. Maddy was the best at explaining our tears: “Think about what it was like for us a couple years ago. This is insane and unbelievable.” Yes, that was right. That is what Laura and I were feeling too. We had made it through the wilderness of our childhoods together and were now, finally, adult women getting to create a new kind of memory together: an unambiguously happy one.

There’s some wisdom in our dad’s amalgamation of our three names. We are “Laur-Am-Mad-Am-Laur,” one entity that mixes our three personalities to become greater than the sum of us. Alone, we don’t always make sense to one another, but we fit together in a way that I understand on a cellular level. Laura and Madeline Spiegel are not only their own wonderful women, but also living proof of my first self. They’re the human evidence that corroborates the story of the life that I had before I was an adult living away from my family, enjoying unrestrained freedom to choose the people that I love and want to have near me. But you know what? I still pick my sisters over everyone, every time. The way they know me, and I them, is more honest, profound, hard-earned, fulfilling, and beautiful than any other relationship I’ve had. Though there are aspects of my sisters that will always be mysterious to me, that fact is perfectly clear. ♦

54 Comments

  • Pollyana March 27th, 2013 3:02 PM

    I know this is really random, but does anyone know a good name for a cat, I’m getting one for my birthday but I havent decided on a name.

    Its could be male or female doesnt matter.

    Names of dead poets and food products are welcome. :)

    • whatever March 27th, 2013 3:21 PM

      EZRA. EZRA IS A GOOD NAME.

      Or Oreo.

      Or Edgar (Edgar Allan and Poe if you get 3).

      Or Ziggy, Stardust, Ari, Zazzles, Oscar, or Dani.

      I have a lot of potential cat name ideas, I just need a cat now :3

      rabbitandthewomp.blogspot.com

      • goma March 27th, 2013 4:22 PM

        OMIGOSH my mom had a cat named ziggy

    • Mia Bergmann March 27th, 2013 4:00 PM

      I always thought that Adelphia was a cool cat name…

    • rivahgirl March 27th, 2013 5:16 PM

      If I could get a cat (I love them, but my mom is allergic :( ), I have decided I would name her Daria.

      • diniada13 March 28th, 2013 5:49 AM

        Same here, my mom is allergic to cats too :( but I really want to name my cat Bast (Egyptian cat goddess), or Dumbledore, or John Green it just seems cute

    • birdy March 27th, 2013 5:29 PM

      Female: Sweet Lara, Scout, Satchel, Sage
      Male: Abel, Tin Tin, Harlow, Mouse

      • dottie March 27th, 2013 5:46 PM

        Sammy

        • dottie March 27th, 2013 5:48 PM

          Or Timbob. Or Sprinkles. Or Popcorn.

      • Lillypod March 28th, 2013 4:27 AM

        my name is lara! please name it lara. xx

        • Lillypod March 28th, 2013 4:28 AM

          oh, and my friend’s cat is called Shrodinger, which is the coolest name EVER.

        • whatever March 29th, 2013 4:18 AM

          Schrodinger is the best name for a cat ever (◡‿◡✿)

    • roselikesclothes March 27th, 2013 5:56 PM

      My mom’s cat was Eldridge Cleaver, named after one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, if that gives you any inspiration

    • sophiethewitch March 27th, 2013 7:00 PM

      Someone told me if he got a cat he would name him Meta, which I think is pretty awesome.

      Also, Edward and Gorey. I don’t think Edward Gorey is dead, but most of his characters are so it’s okay. And he’s amazing.

      I think Elektra is one of the coolest names ever, though she’s the hero (victim?) of a tragedy, so I’m not sure you’d want to name your cat that.

      I also think outer-space related names are always good. Things like Redshift or Eclipse.

    • sophiethewitch March 27th, 2013 7:07 PM

      Or Pandora? Because it’s a pretty name, and Pandora was pretty incredible, and because she was curious and a trouble maker, which cats are.

      And her curiosity led to the existence of both love and suffering on Earth, just like cats… never mind.

      Oh, or Chaos. Chaos is a good name.

    • Sadhbh O' Donovan March 27th, 2013 9:39 PM

      schrodinger perhaps? :L
      if you’re in anyway interested in physics I hope I just made you laugh :)

    • Pollyana March 27th, 2013 9:55 PM

      THANKS SO MUCH GUYS! The suggestions have been awesome but its a three-way tie between

      Neruda

      Daria and…

      Chupacabra.

      I feel kind of insensitive for not addressing this post but I think the relationships between you guys as sisters is so strong that I started to feel so happy when you said that today your whole family is healthy, coming from an atypical family myself I know that any form of normalcy is such a odd but amazing thing.

    • Molly Kerkham March 28th, 2013 4:13 PM

      Electra, Sylvie, Ophelie, Sappho… These were the names I really wanted to call our cat but my mum and sister overruled my judgement so now her names Minky (which suits her super well, though)

    • GigiCricket13 March 30th, 2013 2:52 PM

      How about Malarky?
      Melody?
      Butterbean?
      Ebony?
      Ivory?
      Rosa?
      Luna?
      Name it after a superhero?
      Perhaps a lesser known one?
      Midnight?
      Feather?
      Penelope (Penny)?
      Ophelia?
      Monarch?
      Viola?
      Eglantine?
      Clifford?
      Josephine (Jojo)?
      Theodora?

      Just a few ideas. :)

  • whatever March 27th, 2013 3:35 PM

    Me and my sister are very different too, and while getting through my parents splitting last year, I feel like I’m a cross between Laura and Madeleine. Like, I’ll tell my sister to stop asking for so much from my mum but them become angry at my mum for not giving us the choice of asking for so much. ~sighz~. I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy… (She doesn’t even go here!!) (I just have a lot of feelings…)

  • soviet_kitsch March 27th, 2013 4:32 PM

    this is really lovely. also, it’s very comforting to read about somebody who is incredibly sensitive and tear-prone because i am too haha ;___;

  • birdy March 27th, 2013 5:22 PM

    My three siblings and I were born within three years of each other too (my brother and I being twins), and we also had to learn how to grow in an unhealthy family environment. This piece hits pretty close to home but isn’t exactly a bullseye, in the sense that I think words are tools too weak to explain the relationship I have with my siblings.

  • alex stoller March 27th, 2013 5:42 PM

    i think this is very intresting and reflective on alot of siblings. my mother was an alchoholic growing up, so i responded by trying to get attention for anything but that. crazy clothes, hair, personality, anything to be noticed for the “right” reasons. my sister responded by becoming completely invisible by popularity. she wears the right clothes, says the right thing, and never says incriminating amongst friends. it makes me sad she can’t be herself, but also amazed at 17 she can so savily manage the social waters.

  • MaddieMae March 27th, 2013 5:51 PM

    Love this article! My sister and I are only a year apart, and we’re close in a similar way but with a lot of arguments. In the end though, I still love her!

  • Maryse89 March 27th, 2013 6:09 PM

    I love this so so so much
    I just had my little sister come to visit me at school for a week and was amazed how I can be best friends with someone I’m so different from. She’s really into Christianity and cooking and being a domestic goddess and I’m into…pretty much the opposite of all those things haha. But we still understand each other better than anyone else in the world…

  • Samantha March 27th, 2013 6:28 PM

    Thank you, Amy Rose! I needed this today. My sister and I have lived 2000 miles apart since I moved to LA four years ago, but she left for Spain yesterday (she’s in the Navy), and it’s really hard to fathom how far that is.

    But then I remember, we are sisters, and three years from now we will still be sisters, and all those Facetime chats and emails in between won’t change that awesome history we have or our bond as family.

  • missblack March 27th, 2013 6:46 PM

    I love this to the end of the earth and back. My siblings and and I are all very different from each other but they are definitely my best thing.

    Litle&Trivial

  • hanalady March 27th, 2013 7:02 PM

    I love the way you describe being so in love with your sisters despite being so different from them. My sister is the most wonderful human being on the planet and my best friend. She’s older, so it makes sense that I always looked up to her, but in a strange way she looked up to me too. When we were little we used to get into normal kid fights and when our parents would try to intervene we would immediately start defending each other. Now we’re both off living in the world and sometimes don’t talk for weeks at a time, but it doesn’t matter because we will always have that sister thing.

  • Taylor WM March 27th, 2013 7:15 PM

    This is honestly such a great piece :)
    + can I just ask… I’ve been watching Twin Peaks all week, and is it just my overtired brain playing tricks on me, or is the background of the website today a Twin Peaks collage?? :)

    • allyishere March 28th, 2013 10:13 PM

      pretty sure the background are some pictures of Tavi taken by Petra influenced by Twin Peaks :)

  • Stephanie March 27th, 2013 7:33 PM

    Ahh, I love this! I only have brothers so I’ve always wanted a sister and hearing sister stories make me so happy. Thanks for sharing yours!

  • abby111039 March 27th, 2013 10:08 PM

    I loved this! It was so moving and beautifully written. :)

  • eremiomania March 27th, 2013 10:58 PM

    Things like this article are what make me wish I had a sibling.

  • Milala March 27th, 2013 11:01 PM

    this was so cute, i love my little sister, we’re great friends even though she’s 7 years younger than me
    she’s turning 15 in july (it’s a big deal here in latin america) and i get emotional sometimes just thinking about the letter im gonna write her

  • diana94 March 27th, 2013 11:24 PM

    this made me cry i have two beautiful intelligent sisters we were born 4 years apart from each other but we have the greatest relationship , they are my best friends and will ever be no matter how many friends i can have no one can beat them ever! the oldest is getting married soon and im a little sad but also happy because that is her dream being a wife and a mother.

    i cant wait to see my family tomorrow

  • paige.xo March 28th, 2013 1:03 AM

    wow wow wow. i don’t have sisters but me and my brothers are all a year apart and we’ve always been really close. and i steal their clothes so no difference really (hahaha)
    anyway, the whole thing feels very relevant. love

  • putonstars March 28th, 2013 1:07 AM

    oh so beautiful

  • wallflower152 March 28th, 2013 10:09 AM

    What a beautiful article! My sister is six years younger than me and we’re very different people but we have always gotten along so well and she’s probably my favorite person in the whole world. I’m the shy bookish type and she’s super friendly and sporty. But when we hang out it’s effortless and so much fun. I also have a little brother who’s in the middle and he’s way different than us too, we don’t hang out with him as much as we hang out with each other but I feel like we all love each other unconditionally. They have taught me to not really judge people cuz if I met them I would probably think ugh here’s some popular girl and a cowboy dude, we have nothing in common and they’re probably jerks. But when you actually talk to them you realize that they’re awesome people even though you may have little to nothing in common. PS I am an awesome big sister. I used to take my little sister and her friends to the movies with boys before they were allowed to do that sort of thing and now I help them get away with the kind of parties I only dreamed of when I was their age. ; )

  • Julliettes Blog March 28th, 2013 10:42 AM

    This entry is soooo good!
    It’s so pretty!

    I dont have any siblings, but i have a dog who is exactly like a sister to me…
    I am gonna start a new blog, julliettesblog.wordpress.com, so check it out if you want (though I only have like 1 post so far!)

  • SamanthaL.Jackson March 28th, 2013 7:58 PM

    I have three sisters, two of them are seven years older than me and they are twins. They have always been each other’s best friends. At first I was so much younger than them that it was them taking are of me. But in the end, I guess we all have taken care of each other. My other sister is 12 years older than me, but in the case where my sisters that are twins always had each other, my older sister of 12 years and I have always understood each other. Seriously, this article is beautiful, and it honestly displays certain type of sisterhoods amazingly.

  • Esme March 28th, 2013 8:35 PM

    this was so beautiful n sweet

  • ___ellarose March 28th, 2013 10:01 PM

    My sisters are quite a bit older than I am and we live in different states but when we get to be together, all three of us, their isn’t another place in the world I would rather be :) <3 There isn't a single person who understands me like my sisters do.

  • allyishere March 28th, 2013 10:12 PM

    this really resonates with me because my sister is three years older than me and while we’re incredibly close and share so much we have incredibly different values and interests. she likes Justin Bieber and wants to marry her current boyfriend by the age of 25 and have kids where as I want a successful career and I’m not sure whether I want to get married. it’s so crazy how our parents divorce affected the both of us and yet our parents still can’t tell us apart on the phone. thank you Amy Rose for writing this article <3

  • loonylizzy March 29th, 2013 10:29 AM

    Omg I do aerial silks! And poi! And also flying trapeze and other forms of aerial dance. So awesome!

  • Bas Raad March 29th, 2013 3:10 PM

    Beautiful :)

  • Bas Raad March 29th, 2013 3:12 PM

    Beautiful :)

    anythingbas.blogspot.com

  • farawayfaerie March 29th, 2013 6:55 PM

    sisters are the best. I am also the middle one of three, and while we are all very different, i feel like essentially we are an extension of each other and our shared history. I love them to death and wouldn’t trade them for the world.

  • izzibel March 29th, 2013 11:31 PM

    i love this! i’m an only child (something i’ve always hated) but when i was younger my cousins were pretty much like siblings to me. the boy was in my class in school growing up and his sister was a few years behind us. we’re very different–he’s the athlete and she’s the little social butterfly and i’m the weird art girl, but i love them to death even though i don’t really show it. especially because 15-year-old-boys aren’t really much for reminiscing about our shared memories!

    and-so-we-begin.tumblr.com

  • Jenny April 3rd, 2013 9:33 AM

    Amy Rose & the Spiegel family is a treasure <3

  • meels April 8th, 2013 1:55 PM

    i totally get this. me and my sister are best friends. my mum says we’d kill eachother but we’d die for eachother too. sibling relationships can only be extreme haha

  • blueolivia April 10th, 2013 9:45 AM

    this article brought me to tears!

    i have two younger brothers (6 and 10) and a younger sister (14) & i’m about to turn 17. my siblings and i are all fiercely protective of each other. we’re mostly shy, but when someone messes with another? we’ll fight them. i love my siblings, even if they are a handful.

  • rachelisms May 17th, 2013 7:12 PM

    I couldn’t stop smiling throughout reading this, Amy! I’m the eldest of seven and in an eerily similar position. I recognise the complete contrast in character as something that is striking amongst the females of our clan, too. Not so much the boys. It’s a curious thing but it keeps things interesting… right? What you said about Laura and the way she dealt with things definitely resonated with me as something I do, myself. Being the eldest certainly keeps you busy!

    This was a really beautiful post, Amy. And it’s nice to hear your family are all well and healthy :)

  • RandomRabbit July 17th, 2013 10:49 PM

    Great read. I have only brothers & a sister was my dream growing up. Mad crazy about my brothers, they’re two of my all-time favorite people. We are very different but at our cores also share a lot of the same values likes and thoughts.

    Best name for a cat: Muse