In my pre-teens, I chose to ignore the sour tang that had crept into my relationship with my little sister Deanna. I dismissed her suddenly miserable, disdainful attitude towards me like it was nothing more than one of her frequent bouts of carsickness. She’d get over it.
It’s not like I had done something. In fact, from the way she seemed to be angry with me about everything, I deduced that her frustration wasn’t really directed at what I did, but at me. Me personally. And it was baffling. What happened to the kid who crawled into my bed whenever she had a nightmare? The little girl who counted on me to look after her on the playground, and be her voice when she was too shy to speak? Why didn’t she like me anymore?
The answer was obvious to everyone else. “It’s just sibling rivalry,” the adults said. “Don’t take it personally.” But it felt personal, and I was at turns skeptical and angry. I wasn’t competing with my sister, so why should she compete with me?
Now, nearly two decades later and in the thick of Deanna’s wedding planning, we texted the following exchange:
Deanna: Get pregnant! Tell Chris I want to be an aunt! It’s 7 months till my wedding so you will be a cute pregnant belly
Me: We don’t have the means yet. Why do you want me to get prego?
Deanna: So there can be a baby and I can be an auntie! Total selfish reasons!
Me: OK, well, I get that. Totally not prego yet, though.
It was a light-hearted exchange, but still, my sibling senses tingled. Though Deanna’s and my relationship has smoothed out since our adolescence, I’m still sensitive to signs of that dreaded, unconquerable obstacle—sibling rivalry. Was this a sign? Did Deanna feel weird about getting married before me, and was she trying to compensate for that by encouraging me to have children before her? Was this in unspoken reference to her anger towards me from so long ago?
I decided to give her a call to finally get to the bottom of it. This is what she told me:
“I remember a very distinct moment when it all started. You had just graduated from eighth grade and had received that special award for being an exceptional person. And because you were the first student to ever receive that award, it seemed like it was specially made for you. I was in sixth grade at the time, at the same school, and I remember thinking, ‘My sister is such a bad ass.’ But then, when school started back up in September and I went into 7th grade, I was called into the office. At first I thought I was in trouble, but then the teachers said, ‘We want to make sure that you don’t feel like you have to live up to your sister.’ I know they were trying to be supportive, but what they said had the opposite effect on me. It was at that moment that I realized that other people were comparing me to you.
“After that, I constantly compared myself to you. You got better grades in school than me. You were better at soccer. And it made me angry. I felt like, because you were better than me at these kinds of things, people loved you more.
“I felt that way all the way through high school. I felt it right up to when you were imprisoned. On top of everything, you became famous, and I thought, ‘I’m going to be defined as your little sister forever.’ Meanwhile, my whole support system fell apart. Mom and Dad were freaked out and focused on saving you.
“There was too much going on. I had an identity crisis. Deep down, I knew that my insecurities were coming from within me. I had to figure myself out, or else fall into a bad place. I had to make a decision.
“So I did. I thought, ‘No. I’m not just Amanda Knox’s little sister. I’m Deanna Knox.’ And it was such a relief, not to compare myself anymore.”
So why all the baby talk? I asked.
“Well, I realized that a lot of the attention you’ve received hasn’t been good. I want you to have big, positive moments in your life too. And besides that, you and Chris are great together and I can’t wait to be an auntie.”
Thank you, Deanna. I love you too.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 04/10/2017.