My siblings are my world. When I first found out my stepmother at the time was pregnant, I was filled with a flurry of emotions. Having been my father’s only child for nine years, I didn’t know what a sibling would be like for our relationship. They told me that I would have to get rid of the family cat, since she might hurt the baby. I remember feeling sad and anxious. From the moment my brother was born, though, it was easy to love him. I adored him, I marveled at everything he did, he couldn’t possibly disappoint me. One of the proudest moments of my life is when he learned how to say jie jie, sister in Mandarin. When my sister followed a year later, I was apprehensive again. I was the only girl in the family…how would her birth change that? Things actually didn’t change much once she was born. While my brother was a goofy, outgoing toddler, she was just a blob. She was always crying, and she didn’t seem to like anyone very much. It took me much longer to bond with her than with my brother. Even as she grew older, she wasn’t fun the way my brother was. While my brother and I threw coconuts at the house, trying to dislodge the boomerang that was stuck 20 feet high, my sister was crying a dozen times a day. I didn’t really know my sister until we both grew up a bit.
Let’s call my sister Billy Bob. That’s my nickname for her. She calls me Bear. Billy Bob is my best friend, and she has been for years, even though she’s only 14. We understand each other in a way that I’ve yet to find in anyone else. Somehow, despite growing up in completely different families, we have the same morals, values, likes and dislikes. We both enjoy painting, knitting, and mocking hipster trends despite secretly liking them. She is a lot like me when I was 14 — she has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life, and she doesn’t listen to anybody. In other ways, she is different. She is more stubborn than me, which I didn’t think was possible. She is so stubborn that peer pressure doesn’t seem to have any effect on her, which I find admirable. Billy Bob wears what she wants, eats what she wants, listens to what she wants. The only way to get her to do anything at all is to convince her that it’s what she wants for herself. I love that about her, her independence.
She is also different in that she’s a child. When I was 14, I had retired from a competitive individual skating career only to get into a competitive synchronized skating career. I had helped raise my siblings and served as my father’s therapist. What I wanted most was to grow up, so that nobody could tell me what to do ever again. Billy Bob, on the other hand, wants to be a kid for as long as society will let her. Just a few years ago, she was still crawling into my lap. She’s had a tough transition into puberty. She doesn’t know what to make of this world that places so much emphasis on a girl’s looks. Why do I have to cover up my shoulders in school? she says to me. There is nothing sexual about my shoulders. She is naïvely and genuinely unaware that she could become someone else’s sex object. At 14, I wanted to become someone else’s sex object. I wanted to be wanted, and I didn’t care who it was that did the wanting. It’s a miracle that I came out of my teenage years and early 20s relatively unscathed.
Since Billy Bob became a teenager, I’ve seen changes in her. Some of them have scared me. I’ve seen that innocence fall away from her, and I’ve seen anger replace some of her naïveté. I’ve seen her struggle with society’s expectations, and I want nothing more than to be a role model for her. To show her that you can be a woman who likes to be sexy for herself, and nobody else. Being a role model for my siblings is something that I’ve always taken very seriously. Until recently, though, there was only so much I could do. I flew down to Florida every Christmas, and I tried to bring Christmas with me. I flew to China every summer, and I tried to entertain my siblings while my dad was at work. As their parents went through a messy divorce, I tried to explain to them what was going on and to shield them from it. Through the years, though, I often questioned my role in their lives and whether I was making a difference. I loved that every time I asked my brother about his favorite memories, he always picked a time when I was there. I know that he did it unknowingly, because that boy is dead honest.
Last month, I had the chance to make more of a difference than I ever have before. And I took it. I fought for it with everything that I had. I’ve never wanted anything so badly. Next week, I have a court date. It’s just a formality, since both parents have already signed the consent forms. As of next Friday, I will be my sister’s legal guardian. As of today, I’m already a full-time mom to a teenager. In the past week, I’ve taken my “daughter” to the dentist, cooked a dozen pescatarian dinners, helped her with her math homework. I’m doing her summer reading for Honors English with her, so we can discuss the novels together. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Last night, Billy Bob already had to remind me: “I’m not going to be here forever, you know?” I know. But four years is enough memories to last a lifetime.