It has been a long time coming to sit down and write this letter to you. It’s a difficult one to write, and I imagine, may be equally difficult to receive. I have had this on my heart for some time, never quite finding the right moment to express my feelings. In our case, expressing our feelings often meant exposing our vulnerability, and for us our vulnerability was a weakness we couldn’t afford. But its time you hear this from me, so here goes.
I need you to give up on the notion that you will ever be the favorite. It’s just not going to happen. Its time to let this one go. I realize that for years, since we were too little to know any different, we have been competing for the title. So much so, that I would wager almost all of our disagreements, at their core, may have been rooted in each of our insecurities about whether or not in that moment, depending on who’s side The Parent would take, would be the victorious owner of the label, even if it was fleeting.
The problem is, we are no longer children, and with children of our own, we can both now see the absurdity of the idea of even having a favorite child. Truth is, I don’t want to be the favorite. I don’t want all that comes with being something that is impossible to live up to. We spent the better part of our childhood bickering and snarling at each other over this and that; most of which I can’t recall now. But what if that word had been taken off the table? Out of the equation? With only two children competing, it seems logical there was always going to be one loser and one winner. Which was which?
I think that question still haunts us today, and is the unspoken strain between us now. Parents do their best to not play favorites, but they have one. We know, deep down they do, right? Who is it? I suppose its vital to a sibling relationship to never know this answer. And yet here we are. In our case, we most certainly do. Its like the world’s mysteries being shown to you and now you have all the answers to life but regret having seen them because with knowledge sometimes comes sadness, and responsibility, and ownership.
If a parent has a favorite, does that mean that child is more like that parent than the other? If so, then the reality grows even scarier in our case. Here I am on one huge iceberg in the sea, you on another, floating farther and farther away from each other as that question rolls around our heads well into adulthood, and it pushes us apart until only a distant speck of the sisterhood we once had can barely be seen.
When a mentally ill parent tries to do their best for their children, things tend to go amiss. I mean, let’s face it. Getting children through the basics is tough enough for any of us parents, but add that to the mix, and its a wonder some children like us make it out of their childhoods alive, let alone loved, emotionally cared for, and in this case, the most enigmatic feeling, simultaneously to be feared and yearned for most of all, to be the favorite. Especially by a parent who created the arena and staged the battle.
We both fought hard, tooth and nail sometimes to position ourselves as the child who, maybe, if we behaved good enough, tested high enough, played quietly enough, or did our chores well enough, we might just have a shot at being the child to overcome what mental illness is in our world; a game, a tool, an excuse for abusive behavior to the most undeserving, the captive audience willing to play the game to earn the prize. We neither triumphantly or half-heartedly gave up on conquering the challenge of never quite being any of those things. We never made our mentally ill parent happy with us. That was the goal. We each set out to be the winner; we both lost.
You are not the favorite, dear sister. Nor am I. Illness has no favorite. Especially an illness fueled with hatred. It will take anyone down in its path, and as you and I both know so hauntingly well, it has. We have both tried and failed at being something never meant to be. But I want to leave you with this: you are my favorite. You are my most favorite sister there ever was. You saved me from torture, you saved me from despair, from the loneliness of enduring a childhood with a mentally ill parent by myself, and you saved me from not having another soul on this earth who so intimately shares those experiences and memories with. You are nothing like her, nor am I. The prize she dangled no longer holds its same shimmer. I don’t want it, and neither do you.
You are my favorite. Without you, I wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t have wanted to. Without you, there would have been no one to compete with, to fight for, with and over. Without you, I wouldn’t have walked out of that childhood stronger for having walked through it with a war buddy like you.
You may never read this. If you do, I hope you know you will always have me. To fight with, hate, blame, and protect. But I hope you know that I love you, and I wouldn’t be able to live the life I do now without you believing that I was worth saving.
I am so glad I can admit to you here and now, that I am not the favorite, and neither are you. We never were. But we are here today, because of that illness. Bonded, whether we asked for it or not. We are strong, we are survivors, we are determined to raise children who know, without a shadow of a doubt, with the core of their being, that they most certainly are, each and every one of them, our favorite. Just the way it should be. Loved for who they are, not how they make us feel. I don’t want my children to end up like we have; distant and barely recognizable from across the sea of bitterness.
Please accept my apology for ever having made you feel like you were anything less in my life than the single most important reason I am standing here today. Long before I was a mother myself, in some of the darkest moments no one else would ever understand, it was you. You were my reason for living, for getting out. My favorite. And somehow, we did it. We’re here. Game over. We both win.
Love always and forever,
Your little sister