my eldest sister used to be ambitious, career-oriented, and social. she graduated from high school almost a year early and moved out at 22. no college degree needed, she rose up in her company and was a supervisor. she wanted to be radio dj and she launched her own r&b show. she had a great sense of style: angora sweaters, pumps, and a ton of nail polish. she was active in church, read the announcements, assembled the bulletins, and led the youth usher board.
in many ways she was like a second mom. knowing that i like to read, she got me a subscription to ebony jr, which she paid out of her own pocket while i was in grade school. she came to see me play the cowardly lion in my 3rd grade school play. she helped plan and host my birthday parties, let me and my friends have sleepovers at her place, and took me shopping. she even attended parent conferences once because my parents had to work. i had great respect for her and wanted to be like her when i grew up.
then something happened. i don’t know what but she changed. the ambition i remember as a child faded. the fashion sense, independence, and fierceness i saw in her was gone. like a light went out. when she was 30 she had my nephew. i remember feeling very disappointed. i couldn’t understand why she would choose to be a single parent. i guess she saw the look on my face and since then things haven’t been the same. looking back i see the chasm between us began that day and has widened over the past 16 years.
there are times when i feel like i’m taking on the eldest sister role, things i feel she should do or be in a position to do but doesn’t or can’t. and it makes me so damned angry. where is the young woman i watched growing up? what happened to her? then i think, maybe the person who changed was me. perhaps i expected too much of her as the eldest. maybe my expectations were false and misplaced. maybe it was unrealistic to think of her as a role model.
what kills me is watching her son, my nephew, struggle through high school when his own mother graduated early. it pains me that he lacks ambition and drive when she had so much of it. he used to play basketball, used to draw and design his own games but she didn’t reinforce it. yet when i was a kid she saw my passion for reading and bought me books. i just don’t understand the paradox. it tears me up to think that she has lost her mojo, her groove, her passion for whatever it is/was she wanted out of this life.
i’ll never forget the langston hughes poem she hung in her room. it was a varnished piece of cognac-colored driftwood and in gold lettering it read,
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.