I grew up in a red brick house in the suburbs. My parents are married (to each other), with three kids and a little brown dog. We have a minivan. In theory, my family is living that Leave-It-to-Beaver American Dream.
But look closer and you’ll realize how dysfunctional we actually are. In reality, our red brick home houses a veritable hell-circus. Take the dog, for example. Not only does he have the cognitive capacity of a tennis ball, but he often smells bad and has serious problems with gender identity.
Or look at the relationship between my sister and me. Here is love/hate at its finest. We have been terrorizing each other since the day she was born.
Did I mention she’s now a freshman at Yale?
After years of intense sibling rivalry, crowded shared bathrooms and dozens of cat fights, many of us thought we were done when we said good-bye to mom and dad and moved onto Old Campus. But if you have a sibling here, have you really escaped?
Minkus family legend holds that the first sentence spoken by my little sister, Caroline, was “Had it first!” during a particularly heinous battle for a hairbrush. Wild guess as to whom she was fighting with.
Reams of home video footage document the intense ups and downs of our sisterly relationship. In one movie from just a few days after Caroline was born, I — then two years old — stand over her cradle admiringly. Then, all of a sudden, I turn to the camera, exasperated, and mutter, “She’s looking at me and making pig noises.” Barely out of the womb, and Caroline could already piss me off like no one else.
Fast forward 18 years, to last spring. I was enjoying my fourth semester at Yale, and Caroline was deciding between colleges.
She was hesitant to choose Yale, and I was hesitant to have her here. I was frustrated by only being able to do something for a couple of years before she came along, and she was sick of following in somebody’s footsteps and teachers who called her by my name. She agonized until the post office closed on the day of the deadline thinking that — after a lifetime of constant antagonism — coming to the same school as me would extend her tortured existence by four more painful years.
The kinds of struggles Caroline and I went through to preserve our individuality are common among high-achieving siblings. We went to a large high school with plenty of students and teachers, but because we were both good students who took a specific set of classes, we often had the same instructors. And just because she was taking the same courses and navigating the same social traumas I had didn’t mean I was always the benevolent older sister. Most of the commonalities in our interests, activities and experiences were completely negated by our black and white personalities. Caroline is passive aggressive, I’m aggressive like a warrior princess. I’m rash, she over-considers. She pinches, I bite. I can outrun her at short distances, but once we pass the half-mile mark she can get away from me.
Leaving home for college freed us from each other and yet we, like other Yale siblings, somehow ended up in the same place. And just to make things even more ridiculous, I’m annexed to freshman housing, so we actually live in the same building.
There have been some really nice benefits to having her here. My wardrobe has basically doubled, as all of her things which I’ve missed wearing for the past two years are now accessible. Also, since our parents wanted to see their freshman daughter during move-in and Parents’ Weekend, I reaped the benefits of Mommy and Daddy moving us in, taking us out for dinner, and bringing me refills for my Swiffer.
And it turns out that Caroline herself isn’t that bad after all. Despite the pig noises, the hair pulling, the tattling and even the occasional hatred, she is still the little sister who was always willing to play the prince to my princess; the same little sister who cried because she’d miss me when, five years old and angry at our mother, I threatened to run away from home and move into the garage.
But that doesn’t mean that we’ve settled into a harmonious sibling relationship inside these ivy-covered walls. There are still glares exchanged across the Berkeley dining hall, “wait aren’t those MY sweatpants?” in the Vanderbilt courtyard, and most recently a freaky case of boy drama. Turns out, the boy who is playing my onstage boyfriend is for some reason trying to play Caroline’s in real life. Have you and your sister ever kissed the same boy on the same day? This never would have happened if she’d chosen Stanford.
With the exception of our transitory spit-swapping, it turns out that at Yale we can basically travel in our own circles. We will probably never overlap in professors or courses, we aren’t doing any of the same activities, and I have yet to bump up against her at Toad’s.
Being in this college environment with a brother or sister allows us to experience the benefits of the sibling relationship without most of the drawbacks. We won’t have to share a bedroom, we won’t fight over the computer or the piano, her teachers here won’t call her Sarah. And yet, there is somebody on campus who shares my childhood memories, loves me because she has to, and is willing to do favors that I wouldn’t ask of anybody else (retrieving my laundry and carrying it up to my fifth-floor room, for instance). I’m still away from home — which has been the goal ever since my threats of garage residency way back when — but I have a little bit of it just a couple of entryways away.
I think that this explains why so many siblings can end up here together and enjoy it. Well, that and legacy.
Sarah Minkus might be small, but she’s mean with that hairbrush. Seriously, mad skills.