Sibling rivalry

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.

Deanna: Damn!

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.

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4 Responses to Sibling rivalry

  1. Stephane G says:

    As I grew older, I realized how sibling rivalry, and the way we compare to each other, generally speaking, can sometimes have a deep impact on the way we define ourselves and on our lives. Not only was Deanna the younger one (something an eldest cannot experience or fully understand) who probably more or less unwillingly and unconsciously took you as a model and followed your footsteps at some stage, and then had to distance herself from you to assert her own personality, but she also had to face this strange situation of having a close family connection with a famous person. I have experienced this situation and know that you can decide to reject interesting options only to avoid being “the brother/sister of…” or “the son/daughter of…” for the rest of your life. Actually, the moment I refused to distance myself from my famous relative was when he found himself subjected to public disgrace as you once were.

    Our families, relatives, friends, and our upbringings play a decisive part in the way we perceive ourselves. You’ll realize after you’ll give birth, that our responsibility towards our children is huge here. We unconsciously assign them different roles that they will either accept or reject for the better or for the worse. Their personality often reflects our expectations, our concerns, and what we want them or don’t want them to become. I believe therefore that sibling rivalry is also often a consequence and a reflection of our parental attitude towards them.

    Congratulations to Deanna for overcoming this challenge. And more congratulations on her future wedding 🙂

  2. Banshee says:

    Lovely to stumble find your blog on international siblings day! Was having a “wonder what happened to …” Moments 🙂 good to see you are well! And your space here is wonderful!

  3. Tom Zupancic says:

    Sibling rivalry

    This one I can kind of relate to. Except my experience would put me in Deanna’s position. So setting aside that our experiences have next to nothing in common, except sibling rivalry, I will proceed. I was the 5th of 5 with the genius brother; valedictorian at the Jesuit High School. I was the ‘also ran’. The runt of the litter. But unlike Deanna, being fifth in my family gave me an intangible benefit… I was ‘the baby of the family!’ Turned out, it was huge (being last can be a good thing). It gave me a unique identity that my middle siblings lacked. How that matters here? Heck if I know. Maybe you do.

  4. Tom Mininger says:

    For better and for worse your family was in the news throughout the last decade; videos and pictures. We watched your youngest sisters follow Deanna through airports and down streets like chicks following their mother hen. We watched Deanna so poised in front of TV cameras, unable to comprehend the terror she must be holding at bay. And we saw her tenderly leading you by the hand back out into the world upon your return home, while you were racked with PTSD.

    Deanna is one hell of a sister.

    Sibling rivalry often matures into “In this crazy mixed-up world, we got each other.”

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