Mea Culpa: Confessions of a Baby Sister

A fancy, edited version is featured on Salon.
No bride expects her maid of honor to be high on drugs on the big day – especially when it’s her younger sister in the supporting role.
After church, photographs, and the limousine ride, we arrived at the reception. Between greeting the guests, gift giving and more photo sessions, I found a pocket of time to slip away to meet my dealer in the hotel lobby.
Armed with a half gram of cocaine, I locked myself in the bathroom stall. Lifting my strapless, floor-length bridesmaid dress, I straddled the back of the toilet with my dyed-to-match pastel pumps. I held my over-teased, Aquanet sprayed hair with one hand, and snorted through a rolled up dollar bill with the other.
Within seconds, my heartbeat kicked up a notch, and the music echoing through the hall began to thump a little louder. The subtle vibration of the metal stall reminded me where I was, but I wasn’t in a hurry. As long as I heard music, I knew I had time.
A couple more lines, pantyhose adjustment, and lip-gloss reapplication later, and I was ready to head back. Before reaching the door, I cursed the fluorescent lighting framing the mirror, surveyed my nostrils, and wiped away any evidence of my secret.
Stepping closer toward the ballroom, I couldn’t escape thoughts of my upcoming toast.  I was brewing with cocaine confidence, but still had no idea what I was going to say. I just knew I had to say something.
At 18, I had little life experience, so mom served up a crash course in maid of honor etiquette the night before the wedding. My toast was to be light-hearted and personal – a trip down relationship lane about my sister and new brother-in-law.
“Just share a nice story about them.”
The problem was, I didn’t really have any stories, nice or otherwise. Short of all the pre-wedding hullabaloo, my sister and I barely spoke.
“Okay” I agreed.
The ballroom was packed. When my time came to toast the happy couple, my eyes wrestled with the spotlight, and landed on my mom sitting in front, who was smiling and nodding with nervous encouragement. I took a beat, cleared my throat, and spoke.
“Well mom, you always wanted me in the spotlight, and now I’m here.”
What the…shit…just keep talking.
I looked over at my sister, who was just as confused as I was. In an attempt to undo my coked-up narcissism, I babbled about how happy I was they found each other, how I wished them well, and blah, blah, blah, get me off this stage.
I didn’t expect or receive congratulatory remarks from anyone after that speech, especially from my sister.  The night carried on, and I continued my bathroom liaisons, chalking up my maid of dishonor toast as just another feather in my overstuffed, Disappointing Sister cap.


“Oh my, you two could be twins!”

As kids, my sister and I were greeted with compliments and talk about how we looked like twins.  Laurie was nearly two years older than me, but our features were damn near identical. It didn’t help that mom dressed us in matching polyester get-ups, straight from the McCall patterns she cranked out on her trusty sewing machine.

I never cared about the assumptions. Being considered my sister’s twin in the fourth grade was a compliment. She was smart, pretty, and popular – who wouldn’t hitch their wagon to that star?

When high school rolled around, our differences were quickly unveiled; I was the awkward, insecure little sister, while Laurie effortlessly found her clique of popular friends. She was the free-flowing water to my clingy, goopy oil.

Puberty kicked my ass, in the form of grade four acne vulgaris, a serious skin disease that left my face covered in purple and red blood-filled cysts, followed by deep-seated “crater” scars. Laurie was spared this inherited trait passed on by our absentee father, and I didn’t understand why I was the only one affected.

At 14, my nickname in school was Freddy Kruger, and Laurie held a place in the Junior Prom homecoming court.

I tried so hard to fit in. There was my Goth semester, where I styled my hair with egg whites, used heavy eyeliner, and dressed only in black. The grueling cheerleading tryouts, where I was taunted, just for showing up.  I forced my way in to countless social events where I wasn’t invited: parties, bonfires on the beach, and sleepovers. All with the hopes of feeling normal.

I envied my sister. While my desperation served as social repellant, her effortless sense of self drew people closer to her. Each of my failed attempts to fit in was another ingredient in my self-induced pity-pot, where I marinated in a recipe of anguish and uncertainty.

“Your sister is so pretty, what happened?” One of my classmates shouted from the hallway, as I was walking to class. An audience of her friends hollered with laughter. “Kruuuger! Kruuuger! Kruuuger!”  They were merciless.

By my junior year, I began to unravel. I started skipping school and drinking alone at home.  Erica Kane was my faithful companion, and thanks to heavily played re-runs, so were June Cleaver and Hazel.  They kept me and my tumbler of apple juice and mom’s Chablis company, while I zoned out in front of the television all day.

I (barely) graduated high school in 1986, but not without a stash of cocaine tucked in my bra. My sister was away at college, so she had no idea how much of a mess I was by then.

I moved away from home before the ink on my diploma dried. In unpacking my things, I came across my sister’s old checkbook and immediately called my best friend.

“We’re going shopping.”

“What? Where?”

“Contempo Casuals, anything you want.”

Using my sister’s driver’s license that I managed to swipe a year earlier, I wrote a half-dozen checks from her closed bank account, and gifted my friend and I with a new wardrobe.  I knew it was wrong, but not once did it ever occur to me, I’d get caught.

A couple of months later, I received a phone call.

“What were you thinking?” My moms voice was shaking with anger. “Your sister wants to press charges. Do you know what they do to women in jail?”

Scared shitless, I begged and pleaded for her to help me pay back the money, in-between wiping my tears, apologizing over and over.

“Don’t tell me, tell your sister.”

Laurie eventually forgave me, but my little checkbook scheme only widened the space between us.

I was floored when Laurie asked me to be her maid of honor, but happily accepted, not realizing exactly what that meant.

I knew I was supposed to throw her a bachelorette party, and assumed everyone hired a male stripper for the occasion. When Laurie answered the door, her hunk-for-hire was dressed as a cop, and pretended to arrest her for check fraud. By far, one of the worst ideas of my life.

“That would be her.” My sister was not amused.

Shortly after her wedding, Laurie graduated college, began work as a middle-school teacher and learned she was pregnant. I was go-go dancing at a topless bar.

While she was stocking up on booties and burp cloths, I was collecting tips on stage, saving up to go backpacking through the south of France with Guy, a one-night stand who moved to London. Before making it to France, Gypsy kids in Madrid ambushed us, and they took off with everything in our pockets.

Three years later, my sister called after opening her mail. “Why do I have a letter from the American Embassy in Spain?”

One of the Gypsy kids, who took my wallet, was using my sister’s driver’s license.

Once again, I found myself trying to clean up the awful mess I made, begging my sister for forgiveness.

It’s been decades since I’ve thrown Laurie on the chopping block, but we’re still navigating our way through sisterhood. We connect mostly through emails and texts, and frankly, I’m amazed we communicate at all.

I never meant to hurt Laurie, and looking back, am floored by my unfathomable behavior. I’m sure all the psychology books will say I acted out of revenge for the seemly unfair card I was dealt. Whatever the reasons, I can’t take any of it back.

My sister isn’t the type who speaks about the past, and part of me is grateful. But when it comes to us being closer, I wonder if we ever should.

13 thoughts on “Mea Culpa: Confessions of a Baby Sister

  1. WOW!!
    Erica Kane was one of my favorite people, every summer for YEARS!!

    Me and my sister are not close AT ALL. We are completely different, we see the world differently, we have totally different views about EVERYTHING. I am emotional, and she is very cool and distant. I argue with passion and feelings, and she argues with calculation and facts.

    I almost wish there were specific actions that could be blamed for our distance, because then there would be a reason, and maybe a way to fix things…….
    but there is not action, and there are no reasons….we are just two strangers from the same womb.

    At least she asked you to be her maid of honor…my sister, my only sibling, asked someone else to be her maid of honor….slap in the face.


  2. Your story makes my heart ache a bit, I have lived some of it. My sisters (I am the middle) are both quite distant from me–the elder more so. There are a thousand reasons that seem unable to change or be forgotton. I believe who you are NOW defines you more that who you were–your actions now build a relationship. Or tear it down. Sometimes though, by the time you realize whats happening, everyone has built their own world…there’s no more room.


    1. There are many more reasons – as adults – my sister and I aren’t close. I respect her beliefs, but they are night and day to mine. I’ve tried to connect with her as an adult – but after my last trip home, just resigned myself to respect our differences, and leave it be. I still love her very much, but I don’t see us as ever being close. We’re just too different.


  3. Wow…this is one of those posts that no one ever wants to write but from my own experience, I suspect you will benefit greatly from having done so. This is a very difficult, honest and yes, BRAVE piece of work on your part C. I have never doubted your commitment to the TRUTH but I am astounded by the lengths that you have gone to get there…Bravo.

    I must say that it is encouraging to see how other people like yourself have used your blog and your writing to free yourself (to some extent, anyway) from the wreckage of your past. You know me well enough to know that is exactly what I strive for in my own work. This BIG, BAD world is a little less scary out there knowing one has friends who are working as hard as they are to change their lives.

    I cannot help but wonder how your sister would or will (not sure if she reads your blog or not) respond to this remarkably honest and humble post…

    Peace Always…T


    1. Thanks Thomas. My sister doesn’t talk about anything – anything about the past, our relationships, least of all, my blog, or writing in general. Our communication is really only about our mom, or her kids, which is fine with me. The last time I tried to discuss something beyond that, it turned in to raised voices. Not doing that again!


    1. Honestly C, it is their loss. They would get to truly know you, probably for the first time, I suppose I was like that once but now much like you I have discovered the power in writing the past, per say out of my system.


  4. How did I miss this one? Awesome post. Family relationships are so complicated. I don’t feel close to my brothers at all and really don’t even know what to do about it. I totally hear you.


    1. Not sure there’s anything we can do, except for reach out, and see where it goes. We can’t force feelings, right?
      Then again, perhaps the feelings are there, but the want or ability to show them is a challenge. Thanks for the comment and compliment!


  5. This is really very touching. I am close to some people who have used drugs in the past, and their biggest regret often times is the effect it had on their relationships, since things cannot be undone. Even though it is impossible to take things back or to make them see your writing and appreciate it, I am happy that you have writing as a tool. It seems that with it, you can create other interactions and relationships that are based on healing, since so many people are going to relate with your battles and your healing process. You have probably helped so many hundreds of people that you are not even aware of, and that is how the weird scale of reality seems to work sometimes. I’m excited to read more of your writing!


  6. There is a saying about Hawaii: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Oahu weather conditions often change drastically not only from minute to minute, but also from one area to another. For hikers, this is an important consideration, because how enjoyable a hike is depends at least as much on weather conditions as it does on the attractions of the trail itself. A classic example is hiking to the summit of the Koolaus only to find it’s socked in at the top so you have no view at all. Other trails can be too hot to be enjoyable on a sunny day, while with others there is a serious danger of being caught in a flash flood if it rains hard. On most trails it’s obviously no fun hiking in a downpour, which can also make conditions very muddy, but in some cases hiking in rainy conditions can even be desirable. For example, on a trail like the Maunawaili Demonstration Trail, if you hike in the rain you can see numerous waterfalls that disappear shortly after the rain stops. foakleys


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