My sister Kara was only one year younger than me, so for much of our life we were treated like twins. But we got along like cats and dogs — specifically, like a Siamese and a Rotweiller, both with attitude, both determined to be the boss of the place. Our sibling rivalry began when I was barely old enough to toddle around, and I decided her bottle looked good to me. So I took it away. She screamed like a banshee, our mother came running, and I threw a fit when she tried to remedy the situation.
That was just the first time.
It was easy enough to keep us under control when we were small children, but then two things happened: We reached the age where we were too big for our separate cribs, and our parents moved us into a house that had two bedrooms. One for them, one for us girls.
Can you imagine how that particular situation turned out?
Our parents installed a beautiful set of bunk beds in that room. It was understood that since I was older, I would have the choice of which one I wanted, and I chose the top. That meant I could lord it over my sister anytime I pleased, looking down on her like some queen of the room. My sister didn’t much care, as long as I didn’t bother her when she was sleeping.
“Work it out!”
The first thing I did was figure out how to lean over the edge of the bed just enough to snatch at her hair as she lay peacefully on her pillow underneath my bunk.
Our parents scolded us — okay, scolded me — and said that we had to get along. Period. “Work it out,” my father insisted, giving me that evil glare that meant business. Then he closed the door just firmly enough to let me know that the business was serious.
Late night discussions
We tormented each other so much that we had taken it for granted that we would never get along. But then came the teenage years, and I came home one day to find my sister on her bed, holding onto a teddy bear and crying. I ignored her for a while, but then finally asked her what all the fuss was about. She yelled at me, but she looked so heartbroken that I couldn’t take offense.
“What happened?” I asked again, and this time I sat down on the floor beside the bed.
She eventually began to talk. She told me about the boy who had rejected her. Her voice was filled with a growing sense of awe at the fact that I was actually listening. I was filled with a sense of awe that she was actually talking.
After that day, our bunk beds made for good late-night discussion platforms. I would lean over the edge and we would talk to each other in whispers. By the time we were in high school, we had come to count on those late-night talks.
Bunk beds made us friends
By the time we were ready to leave for college — hers in California, mine in Texas — we were homesick before we actually left.
Years later, those bunk beds sat in the same room at our parent’s house. It’s where our own children eventually slept when we came home for a visit, while my sister and I sat at the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and talked for hours.
In the even later years, my sister and I would talk every day. We discussed gardening, our husbands, our jobs, our heartbreaks and our joys.
Today we talk every morning to say hello, and every night to say goodnight. Even though over a thousand miles separates us and there is almost sixty years between then and now, when I pick up the phone and hear Kara’s voice I can almost see the nightlight in our bedroom, and hear her voice whispering from the bunk bed below: “Hey, are you awake?” And it makes me smile every time.
Life might have made us sisters, but those bunk beds made us friends.