Thirty years ago today a telephone rang in a Blackpool bungalow bearing news that would change my world forever. It was my dad calling to announce the birth of Fat Sister (although I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t have used those exact words at the time). To mark the occasion this post is a brief letter to my sibling whose story is so entwined with my own.
Dear Fat Sister,
Happy Birthday! This open letter to you is likely to make you as embarrassed as your tic name did when it first popped out of my mouth. But I imagine not quite as embarrassed as my tics’ repeated insistence for months on end that your husband (then boyfriend) should shout, “I’m with bucket fanny” at every opportunity.
Some of my tics may occasionally make you blush or squirm, but I’ve never, not even for a second, felt that you’re embarrassed by them, or by me.
In fact your understanding and knowledge of my tics runs deeper than anyone else’s. That’s because you’re the only person, other than me, for whom my unusual behaviour has always been a part of life.
You embrace whatever Tourettes throws at you (often quite literally) unquestioningly, without judgement and with humour. Your acceptance of me at every stage of our lives is hugely appreciated and I only hope that I do the same for you.
Of course you’ll never get over the trauma of the ‘banana incident’, and I’ll never tire of seeing the mischievous gleam of satisfaction in your eyes whenever I hit myself on the head with soft, sticky food.
Without your love and common sense I’d almost certainly have floundered. And by that I don’t mean I’d have turned into the yellow and blue cartoon fish from a well-known Disney animated adaptation of a Danish fairy-tale that dominated your early years.
I repeatedly joke that I’m your ‘massive burden’ and I do this with a lightness that comes from knowing with certainty that this is never how you think of me.
I’m immeasurably proud of you, enjoy your company enormously, and feel privileged to call you my sister.
PS: The combination of your 30 years and your long list of intellectual achievements means that I can at last be certain that the cola I accidently (and secretly) spilt in your ear when you were a sleeping two-year-old hasn’t had a long-term detrimental effect.
When the relationships between disabled and non-disabled family members are shown in the media it’s often with ‘tragic’ undertones of loss and sacrifice. We’ve all become conditioned to expect selfless superhuman carers. But life isn’t a cartoon, and as I hope you’ll gather from my letter, my relationship with my sister is far more nuanced. The reason she’s wonderful isn’t that she’s angelic but because she’s my friend and my sister and because I have the practical support I need to make sure it stays that way.