I think in our culture, nouns with the hyphenated words ‘in-law,’ conjure up some negative feelings. Many times such emotions are warranted, as per the mother-in-law jokes that everyone seems to know and often relate to. But, what about the experiences where an ‘in-law’ is so special and so important in your life, that to call someone your sister-in-law (as in my case) seems to do a disservice to the same woman I love and honor?
Marilyn is my brother’s wife. She came into my life when I was 14 and she was 18. She was a high school graduate (or close) and so worldly (or so it seemed to a 9th grader). She knew how to put on make-up and fix her hair. She seemed so cool and if she had my brother’s attention and love (which she did, hugely), then she had to be the coolest. She didn’t ignore me, as one would expect of a brother’s girlfriend or even a future in-law. She immediately showed me friendship. She showed me how to put on eyeliner. She listened to me, not just as a kid sister, but as someone worthy of having my own thoughts.
I was somewhat sad on the day of my brother’s wedding because I thought I was losing my older brother. He reminded me that he had enough love for both of us in his world. That made me feel better. I wasn’t expecting ever to gain a sister, but that is what I have done over the 47+ years that Marilyn has been my sister. While she initially helped me with clothing and make-up, she began doing more sisterly things that no other older female in my life could do–and she always did them lovingly.
At 16, when I flunked my behind-the-wheel driving test three times, Marilyn was there to ease the pain. In fact, she took me out on the streets, over and over, retracing the entire testing route until I felt comfortable and was a better driver. She was calm, loving, and reassuring, both to me and my quite nervous mother who wouldn’t continue to teach me (I can’t blame her).
Our friendship has evolved through the life cycles of our lives. Marilyn was the first to have her babies and I remember sitting with her as she nursed my nephew. She would describe to me how it felt and how amazing having a baby was (she didn’t at all provide me with the painful details of labor–a true act of love on her part). She was there for me through my college years and my ups and downs of loves and losses. We didn’t live in the same city and once I left for college, I never returned home, but that didn’t stop the growth and development of our friendship and sisterhood.
Marilyn was the one female constant in my family life. She listened to me vent, cry, laugh, and scream. She was non-judgmental but provided suggestions and advice when I was ready to listen. Each time I gave birth, there was Marilyn, taking a week off of her job to help me. She offered, with love, to get up in the middle of the night to feed the babies so I could sleep. She did so willingly and with joy. She never complained the next morning of being tired even though I knew she was. She marketed, cleaned, cooked, played with the kids, played with me. Long past deliveries, she was there for the difficult parenting issues. She was there for me when I lost my way, so many times; when I lost my parents, when I lost myself. She always helped me pick up the pieces of what I had left behind and find myself anew. When I lost friendships, the void was eased because I had my sister, my friend. I can call and say, “Can I vent?” She will always listen. She knows how I am before I say much, as she knows the tone of my voice. “What’s wrong?” she asks and she always knows.
I’d like to think I have been there for her the same amount of times as she has been there for me, but from my perspective, I fall short. But, Marilyn is the type of person who doesn’t count tit for tat nor does she even think about what someone didn’t do. Marilyn welcomes everyone in her house to celebrate, to veg, to rest, to restore. She was an incredible daughter-in-law (removing the ‘in-law’) to my parents, doing more for them than many daughters do for their own mothers and fathers. She provides love and support to her husband–my brother, her own children, grandchildren, and nephews (all 5 of them), her ‘real’ sister, and her friends.
Sometimes, I actually forget we aren’t related by blood. I forget because our history is woven so tightly and our memory banks are so completely entwined that no explanation is needed between us. It’s as if our DNA has merged through the osmosis from our closeness. I have a brother and a sister. Marilyn has always been there for me, even when ‘there’ isn’t the easiest place to be.