My little sister, Jackie, has always been the cooler one in the family. Our parents know it, we know it, and our mutual friends are well aware. It’s tough to pinpoint when this discrepancy in our social-cultural-intellectual-literary-musical-artistic capital emerged, but its existence is not questioned.
Where to start—she’s currently sporting edgy red highlights in her black hair while I try to grow out the bad haircut that I gave myself over winter break. Her music library consists of Ra Ra Riot, Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Rós. And those are the ones I recognize. I am content with being force-fed Top 40 hits from the likes of Selena Gomez and, dare I say it, Taylor Swift. Occasionally, I will indulge in tween pop sensations Big Time Rush or once-tween-“Degrassi”-sensation Drake né Aubrey Graham. But that’s only when I’m feeling adventurous.
On top of all that, she’s an artiste—both a musician (a clarinet player, admittedly not the coolest of instruments) and a filmmaker who became a local YouTube celebrity in our town at age 15—Quentin Tarantino, Yo-Yo Ma, and a hint of Ke$ha rolled into one. I, on the other hand, extend my creative wingspan by doodling and trolling nail art on Pinterest.
They say that siblings exhibit stereotypical attributes determined by birth order. The older one likes to be in control, craves approval, and is a perfectionist to a fault. The younger is more of a free spirit, creative, and always looking to have a good time.
As such, my bullying tactics were comprised of brute force and name-calling. Her response was to lock me out of my room and force me to trade prized Pokemon cards in order to regain entrance. Since we were young, playing hardball has been her means of survival. But, as we grew up, I became straight-edged and she became the troublemaker. I liked to be in charge and she was much more easygoing.
From these instances, it could be observed that we play right into the stereotypes, our respective traits tempered and molded by each other’s behavior. In a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Since then, she’s participated in (and won) rap battles, sewn her own Peter Pan collared tank tops, and won three superlatives in her senior year of high school: “Most likely to be famous,” “Most likely to change the world,” and “Friendliest.” Although we attended different schools—and, granted, mine limited everyone to only one senior superlative—I was awarded the infinitely more square, “Next Einstein.”
I remember the first day I came to Harvard, for move-in, my whole family attended one of those panels focusing on “How to help your son/daughter transition from home to school.” Towards the end, I think it was Dean Dingman who read a letter a younger brother had written to his older sister about how he noticed their father and aunt weren’t that close, and how maybe it started when she went off to college and they no longer spent as much time together. His last line to his sister was, “Is this the beginning? Or the beginning of the end?” I still remember that, up until that point, I had been nervous, excited, eager—embodying all of the expected emotions of an incoming freshman. But I hadn’t yet been sad about the departure from home and family. Upon hearing this speech, a tear rolled down my cheek as I thought about, in addition to what I was gaining from this experience—dorms, roommates, the much-anticipated freedom—what I could be losing.
And while those words expressed an unspoken fear that had been already planted in my mind, I am happy to say that the threat they encapsulated has yet to be realized. Although I’m not as connected to her life as I once was, the distance has only allowed us to find our own worlds that we can share with each other, although they now intersect in surprisingly new ways.
I always find it interesting to hear stories from friends about their relationships with their siblings. Many have become even closer because of the separation that college creates, maybe because it is a time for many to establish unique selves, completely apart from family, so that they rediscover who they are standing alone. And, in doing so, some might find a new perspective on a relationship that serves not only as a tie to loved ones and an embodiment of past experiences, but a discovery of someone completely new in a sister or brother that they’ve known all their lives. When I went off to college, into this new community that I had found, Jackie and I were no longer seen in the context of one another.
We’ve become more alike, although my coolness will never catch up at this point. Ironically, even as we burrow more into our individual interests and personalities, it is in college that I can pinpoint the impact we’ve had on each other. This semester, I’m taking my first ever VES class on film studies, fashion, and architecture, while Jackie has set her sights on leading underground film festivals. I’d like to think I have imparted some of my less abrasive control freak tendencies to contribute to this trajectory, but that might just be wishful thinking.
Either way, as both of us dive into different parts of our lives—she at school in Southern California, reveling in Disneyland trips and ultimate frisbee, and I here in New England, basking in preppiness and erstwhile rays of Cambridge sun—it’s become even more clear that we are who we are because of each other.
—Li S. Zhou ’12, former Magazine Editor-at-Large, is an Economics concentrator in Adams. She only needs one hot freshman.