News & Politics

First Person: A Sister to the Rescue

She wasn’t always my biggest cheerleader. Then I moved 3,600 miles away and she surprised me.

My twin sister is the person who cried in frustration when she couldn’t do her math homework. Who called my mother in tears most nights during her first semester at George Washington University, wanting to come home. Who said things to me like “Grandma says you’ve gotten as big as a house.”

For six years in our twenties, we lived in the same Dupont Circle apartment building, and I don’t think we even gave each other keys. Now I live 3,600 miles away and suddenly she has all the answers.

It happened slowly. Several years ago when I was working for People magazine in Europe, I found myself calling her from Italy at 3 am, unable to file a story. I couldn’t reach the IT department, and my sister had worked for Internet start-ups. Diana to the rescue.

A few years later, I was musing aloud about a work problem—not the sort of thing I was in the habit of sharing with her. “This is what you do,” she said with a calm confidence. And she was right.

It’s happened again and again. Who is this person who knows so much about budgets and pie crusts and people?

Diana and I have a long history of arguing that we treat our friends better than we do each other. The fights can be set off by almost nothing. There seem to be a lot of people for whom my sister will go to extremes to make happy, but I never felt I was one of them.

She recently visited me in England, and we lay in bed one morning talking. Normally I’d have gone for an early run, but it seemed important to vacuum up every moment with my sister. I listened to her breathe and had an image of the last time we’d shared a bed: six years ago when our mother was dying and we fell asleep holding hands.

“Everything seems dark to you now,” she said as we lay in my London flat. “All these areas of your life you’re so unhappy with.”

I could feel her gauging my reaction; she knew she was heading into sensitive territory. “You think your relationship”—with a man one friend referred to as a “dementor,” like the Harry Potter characters—“is the only thing you’ve got, but all these other areas of your life would open up if you just did something about that. It’s in your control.”

She told me—in a nice way—that I hadn’t been myself almost since I’d met this guy. She described me in glowing terms I’d never heard from her before. Then she said, “I just worry he’s going to propose and you’ll be miserable the rest of your life. Can’t I come with you and get your stuff from his house?”

I remembered when Diana and I visited our mother one weekend in the last year of her life. She slept nearly the whole time while we paced the apartment, opening cabinets and shuffling papers, desperately looking for some way to make things better. When we left, I realized the only really useful thing we’d done was to set the clock on her VCR.

When Diana left London to go back home to DC, I cried saying goodbye, a first for me. I heard my mother’s voice as we left her after a visit: “I wish you could just stay and stay.”

A couple of weeks later, when it finally became impossible to remain in my relationship, the first phone call I made—standing outside his front door—was to my sister.

“What do I do?” I said.

“You get home,” she answered. “And then you call me.”