When Brie was a child, her diet was extremely limited — it consisted of chicken wings, Dunkaroos frosting, cream from Oreos, and Tropicana orange juice. Because she was nonverbal, it was as though her other senses were heightened. She could smell a glass of orange juice and know that it wasn’t Tropicana. (In her opinion, the generic brand just wasn’t as good.) Fortunately, she’s expanded her culinary horizons as she’s grown up — she eats fruits and vegetables now, too.
When you grow up amidst chaos, siblings either stick together or fend for themselves. My siblings and I chose the former. Birthdays, holidays, and weekends were our parents’ potential battlegrounds. Instead of physical aggression (against each other or us), there was constant psychological warfare.
Our parents screamed about each other’s families, parenting techniques, and money. They cursed in English and Tagalog. Mom slashed handbags that Dad gave her and ruined his silk ties into the bathtub. Dad punched walls and drove away, ignoring speed limits and traffic laws.
We retreated to my and Brie’s room to play. Raf read “The Spooky House Old Tree” aloud. Brie smiled, waving her toy ice cream cone in the air. I wrote in my Beauty & the Beast diary. On the few occasions that Raf and I would bicker, our mother protested.
“That is not how good siblings act. You love each other. Hug it out.”
There was rarely ever peace. Raf, Brie, and I relished the quiet moments. The fleeting laughs. We were conditioned to be on our best behavior at all times, lest our mistakes set off one of their fights. By the Christmas of 1993, I had assisted my mother in packing our clothes up three times, each time waiting on those steps by the door with my siblings bundled up in coats.
In spite of the fact that our parents couldn’t follow their own rule (if you love each other, you hug it out), we did. As adults, we’ve become each other’s confidantes and friends. I wouldn’t trade that for the countless days ruined by a volatile couple we begrudgingly called our parents.
July 24, 1991: Matawan, New Jersey
Kicking off my sneakers, I sat cross-legged beside my mother on the hospital bed.
“Sammi, this is your sister Sabrina. Your dad and I decided that we’ll call her Brie.”
“Can I hold her?”
“Just be careful.” Mom warned as Brie squirmed in her swaddle.
I cradled my newborn sister. “Hi Brie. I’m your big sister Sammi.”
My little sister wrinkled her nose.
“When you grow up, both of us can make Raf play Barbies. When you come home, I’ll read you my favorite books — I know you’ll love them, too. And we can share clothes once you’re not a baby!”
Brie promptly fell asleep.
Summer 2004: Birmingham, Alabama
“Brie, no running!”
I sprinted after my thirteen-year-old sister through the Wal-Mart toys section. Brie grabbed a large bouncy ball and galloped toward the cashiers. I caught up to and linked arms with her. Once in line, two white elderly women clucked disapprovingly behind them.
The taller woman shook her head. “It’s a shame when foreigners let their kids run wild.”
Her shorter companion nodded. “Though, it’s not their fault. Where are their parents?”
I rolled her eyes and turned to face the women. “Being brown and speaking English aren’t mutually exclusive.”
The women gasped, poised to insincerely apologize.
“Our parents are at home. My autistic sister wanted to go to Wal-Mart to get a new ball. She has the mental capacity of a toddler. Don’t even think about saying bless her heart, because people like you are full of shit.”
Brie giggled and tugged my arm. “Sammi — play ball?”
“Yes, Brie. We’ll play when we get home.”
Fall 2012: Alpharetta, Georgia
“Sammi’s room!” Brie hugged me and gestured upstairs.
Once in my room, I asked, “Brie, are you okay?”
Brie’s brow furrowed. “Yeah — Sammi’s room is fun. No Mommy.”
I stifled a laugh as we sat beside each other on my bed. Brie turned on her iPad and pulled up a photo of her with a black boy a couple of years younger.
“Who is that, Brie?”
“Dylan from Speech. He is nice and cute.”
As my little sister showed me more photos of her crush, I couldn’t help but laugh. In spite of our differences, we’re sisters. We don’t just share the same DNA; we also share the same taste in men.