On this Valentine’s Day weekend it’s good to remind ourselves of one simple thing… life’s about love. Pure and simple. But we get distracted and sometimes our journey through life makes us forget to think and feel this undeniable fact.
Sometimes our mind speaks to us much louder than our heart does. Yet most times it should be the other way around, when you have a choice between your head and your heart, listen to your heart. It somehow knows the way and wants to be part of your story.
After all, everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (138): Me Too
A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life. ~Isadora James
The tears still flow when she thinks about that day. For Julie Bondroff missing her sister’s wedding was a painful experience, despite it being just one day after one of the happiest days of her own life, the day Julie gave birth to her first child.
Less than 24 hours after Alexa’s birth, there sat Julie sat alone in her hospital room, while the world continued to rotate. “I remember looking up at the clock,” says Julie. “It was 7pm and I thought my god I’m here all by myself and everyone is at my sister’s wedding. I was hysterically crying. My best friend is getting married and I’m not there.”
Julie will gladly tell you her best friend in life is her sister Melanie, no doubt. Except it wasn’t always that way, and sometimes in life it takes a while to figure things out.
Let’s face it being an only child has its advantages. All the attention, all the focus, all the care. For Julie this was the first two years of her existence. Not only was she the only child of Betty and Norman Cohen, she was a world traveler to boot. Not long after the birth of his first daughter Norman had taken the family overseas in Japan. A master of languages, Norman was drafted, sent to Syracuse for an intense program learning Russian and was then sent to Japan to be a Russian linguist, for all intents and purposes a spy! So for the first two years of her life Julie knew only her mom and dad, (and rice and fish), while the family lived in a poor fishing village in that country.
When it’s just you, life is easy. But while in Japan the Cohen’s conceived a second child and not long after returning to the states, Melanie was born. “My mom said I was out of sorts”, says Julie. “At two-and-a-half I was just getting back to the U.S., really meeting my grandparents for the first time, learning about life in the states… things as simple as riding on an escalator or an elevator, all the things we didn’t have or I didn’t experience while living in a poor part of Japan. I was just getting to know my life here.”
Then Melanie came along.
Melanie says Julie was jealous of sharing her time and her attention, and especially jealous of Melanie’s hair. “When I was like two I had white hair with little curls,” says Melanie. “Julie was like 4-and-a-half and she took cuticle scissors and cut my curls off. When I walked out I looked like a boy. She was definitely jealous, but meticulous too. She carefully picked up all the curls and tossed them in the trash. Our mom picked the curls up out of the garbage put them in an envelope and saved them.”
“Melanie definitely looked up to me,” says Julie, “but I didn’t pay her much mind. She was a late talker and even her first word was Julie, (or “goolie” as it sounded back then), but I was very independent and I wasn’t really into her. I knew she was really into me but it wasn’t reciprocal. I didn’t like dealing with her, I didn’t like her touching my stuff. I really wouldn’t let her be in my room or be friends with my friends. She was like a nuisance, she was my little sister, you know what I mean.”
Any first child reading this probably understands exactly what Julie means… in fact you might be thinking, me too.
You’re thinking it, Melanie was constantly saying it. Despite the somewhat physical distance Julie kept between her and her younger sibling, from Melanie’s side it was all about Julie. “I did whatever Julie told me to do”, Melanie remembers. “Whatever Julie would say I would say ‘me too’. In fact I said it so much my mom bought me a Golden Book titled, Me Too.”
While Melanie says Julie wasn’t into her at all, what Julie didn’t know is that every time she wasn’t at home Melanie and her friends were into her big sister’s stuff. “When Julie was out my girlfriends and I would go in her room and investigate and touch every little thing. We loved to play with her Barbie Dream House, the one with the elevator. Julie would never let me touch or much less breathe on. When Julie was out on a sleepover I was in her room, playing with everything, trying on Julie’s jewelry, trying on her clothes. The minute she walked out of the house I or my friends were in her closet and all over her stuff. Everything she had in that room I touched. But I made sure I put everything back to perfection, exactly where I found it. Julie never knew.”
Their life experience in high school was not much different. “I kept her friends separate from mine,” says Julie. “I even had a house party and I didn’t let her invite anyone because she had no idea it was happening. Melanie only found out I was having a party from a friend. We were really distant for a while. In high school we were disconnected, under the same roof, but the only time we really talked was in the morning when we fought over the bathroom. We really didn’t have a friendship. I went away to school, (college), and Melanie went away to school.
Then as it does so often along this journey, life happens.
As luck or life would have it when Melanie graduated from college and decided to go after her Master’s degree in public administration, she got accepted to NYU. Since graduating from college her big sister Julie had been living and working in New York. Julie’s roommate was moving out, so their father suggested Julie and Melanie live together. The girls were now back under the same roof, but with years of maturity behind them and no Barbie Dream House to battle over, this time things were different. Learning about life in the big city created a bond between them.
“We lived in a 3-story walk-up railroad apartment,” says Julie. “We couldn’t escape each other even if we wanted to it was so tight. And when you live in New York it’s not so much about where you are working or where you are going to school, it’s about the city, we were experiencing the city together, whether it was the drudgery of where we were living, or doing our laundry at the laundromat, or trying different restaurants, theater, shopping… all these cultural and amazing things our parents had exposed us to and encouraged us to try. Suddenly it was me and Melanie and I couldn’t help but think, ‘WOW, my sister is awesome.”
Some might say it’s chance, some might say it’s fate, some might say it’s the simple realization as you move through life that those closest in your life matter, maybe much more than you ever appreciated. Or just maybe, consciously or unconsciously, you have remembered the simple fact of life… life’s about love.
The two girls even ended up working for the same company. They were now living and working together. The distance which had existed before, was now morphing into an unbreakable bond. Life had new meaning and purpose, as did Julie and Melanie.
“I realized Melanie and I were more alike than different,” says Julie. “Maybe I had not been so into her, but at the end of the day she looked up to me as her big sister and she was very easy to get along with, just smooth and easy. Our parents really raised us the same. I still remember when we were growing up and we would fight our parents would say you need to love each other, because one day we’ll be gone and all you will have is each other. We don’t have a big extended family, we really just have each other.”
When it was time to get married to her husband Shawn, Julie decided she didn’t need or want a big bridal party, she only needed to have one person by her side, her little sister Melanie. So when it was Melanie’s time and she was to marry Jason, she said me too, and returned the favor – it would be only Julie standing by her side at the wedding ceremony.
Then life happened… again.
Julie and Shawn learned they were expecting their first child. The due date was May 5th, Melanie and Jason’s wedding was planned for April 29th.
You never forget your first, especially when it arrives 25 minutes before midnight on the day your sister is going to be married. Melanie still remembers the morning on that same fateful day: “the morning before my big day I’m going to the salon to get my nails done and Julie calls me to tell me she can’t go. She says, “I’m in labor’. I remember walking into my mom’s room crying, telling her she’d have to come get her nails done with me, because Julie is having her baby. I was in disbelief, this had to be a joke. The only person I wanted and had in my wedding party, my big sister, wouldn’t be able to make it.”
The next night it was Julie sitting in her hospital room, watching the clock as it turned to 7pm, and crying. She was excited about being a new mom, but also facing the very real pain of not being there at the wedding for the person, who just years before, Julie had finally realized was one of the great loves of her life, her little sister Melanie. For all the things she never allowed Melanie to touch when they were younger, now it was Julie who only wanted to be there to touch her sister’s heart… she couldn’t be and it hurt.
Julie says it was her mom who helped put in all in perspective: “I was so upset, but before the wedding my mom said to me you are simply missing a 4-hour party. It’s just a party. You have been there to witness Melanie and Jason as they got to know each other, how he romanced her and you got to see their relationship blossom. Everyone will leave the party, but you will still be there with Melanie, you got to see the before and you’ll be there after.”
Julie now says she feels like she won the lottery when it comes to having a sister. “Melanie and I talk several times a day,” says Julie. “And it’s just about every day life, not even the big moments. Life can be hard and you are just trying to get through it. It’s so meaningful to have someone who cares and respects you and loves you – I just think how lucky I am and I appreciate it.”
Melanie feels the same. “It’s unconditional love,” she says. “Sisterhood is a bond that nobody, even the best of friends can know. There’s something so special about sisters. And I still look up to Julie for everything. I still value her opinion, I still go with what she tells me to do. When Julie says she wants to do something, or sees something a certain way, I still catch myself saying, me too.”
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
(Happy Valentine’s Day)
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