My sister is my best friend.
She is a year older than me, loves watching Power Rangers, and is never seen without her favourite colouring book and her fibre tip pens.
When my car pulls up outside the house after a long day’s work and a seemingly longer commute, she runs to the door in her slippers, ready to tell me the great things she’s been up to that day. “I finished my colouring book,” she might say. “Mum dropped her jacket on the floor and it was really funny.” And no matter how difficult my day, no matter how rude the train conductor was, I can’t help but smile.
Some days she’s in the kitchen when I get home, dressed in a bright pink apron that I got last year from my first waiting job. She’s helping with the dinner, she’d tell me. Mashing the potatoes, stirring the beans, and rearranging the bread on the counter in accordance to how much she liked them. Wholemeal always comes last.But amongst these happy evenings and simple conversations, there is also the constant onslaught of memories that our friendship brings.
Theresa sleeps with her eyes open. She lies there, snoring ever so slightly, her covers tucked straight up to her chin. When we were younger, we shared a room for 15 years, and it took a while to learn that she was in fact sleeping, and that I did not need to wake my parents up in tears thinking something had gone terribly wrong during the night.
I remember when I was eight years old: I had just finished a trying day of finger painting and creating my “Knights and Castles” school project. But when my dad came to pick my brother and I up, we didn’t go straight home. Instead, we were going to see the place that Theresa had been staying for the past week and a half.
The hospital smelled bad. Well, not bad. Just a clinical cleanliness that I had only ever experienced once before when I had a particularly nasty fall the year before. The stairs seemed never-ending, but they were in a spiral shape – just like the drawings Theresa and I made when we talked about our dream house. Her room was amazing, I concluded. A comfy bed, a GameCube on her bedside table, and about five other kids to play with all day. It seemed great – I wanted to stay here now. But then the kid next to her, a small boy with blonde hair, started to cry. Suddenly the ward with the toys and the breakfast in bed didn’t seem like such a cool place after all.
I wanted Theresa to come home.
In the years that followed, Theresa and I became more than just sisters.
We would create plays, with costumes and makeshift scenery and lines that neither of us could remember. We would bake together, and serve a rather burnt sponge cake to our favourite teddies. I became so protective over my sister, but as I became more protective, I began to realise the amount of ridicule sent her way. I began to hear words that I had never paid attention to before and soon grew to understand their meaning: mongo, retard, Downy. And I would confront the users, asking why they were calling their friends by this name just because they dropped a pencil. “Because they’re stupid,” they’d reply. But I was confused. My sister wasn’t stupid – she just took a longer time to understand things. Yes, she was older than us, but I had to help her with homework and show her how to brush her teeth.
She is in Australia at the moment, due to come back in just two days. She’s been gone for three weeks so far, helping my mum care for a sick friend. And I miss her like crazy. We Skyped yesterday when it was 10pm my time and she was just waking up in her Australian morning. I was so happy to see her, even though it had only been a few days since we last talked. She held up two stubby fingers, a broad grin stretched across her face. Two days, she was saying. Only two more days. Theresa looked at me excitedly and told me that she couldn’t wait to come home. I thought that was odd – who on earth would be excited to leave Australia just to come home to Scotland? But then she listed a few words to me, ticking off each item on her fingers. Shower, bath, shopping, new clothes, TV. And just from those few short words, I knew exactly what she meant.
She is excited to come home and spend time with me again. For years, I’ve stuck her in the bath, playing music and laughing when she soaks me with bubbles. Then she jumps in the shower, washing her hair to get ready for the next part of our day. We hop on the bus, sitting in her favourite seat at the back where she can sit high up and I can sit across from her. She has to wait until the bus stops before she begins the long walk from the back of the bus to the front. We buy sausage rolls and laugh at the tiny dogs whose bodies are much too large for their tiny heads. We run around shops, trying on hats and heels and forgetting to actually buy anything in our fun.
I used to be embarrassed when she would hug me unannounced, but now I welcome it and find the day strange if it goes without a cuddle.
Because my sister is my best friend. She likes to wear bright stripy socks with her black shoes, and can never be bothered brushing her hair but loves it when I curl it for her. She is more than her disability – she is the one to cradle spiders and set them free in the back garden instead of squishing them with a book.
It’s Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day today – a day that is so special to my heart. She doesn’t know that today is about her, and she doesn’t know I’m writing this post. But I’m hoping that one day she reads this piece, and realises just how much she has impacted my life.