Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Sisters, the great conscience

I was coming out of Gibbs’ Shop & Go with my sister and a female neighbor of ours. I was 5 years old at the time, and my sister and the girl were both 7. We had been playing together all day, and got hungry for some candy. Being kids, we had to pool our cash to buy some. On the way home to return to our imaginary crossbred world of Barbies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles living in domestic harmony, an argument broke out between my sister and the neighbor. The neighbor wasn’t happy with the type of candy we decided to purchase. It was something my sister and I liked, but the neighbor didn’t.

What started out as a verbal argument over candy quickly escalated into violence. The neighbor kicked my sister, who was standing next to me, directly in the shin. My sister started crying, and I, seeing her in such agony, couldn’t help but cry too.

The neighbor girl walked away in anger, leaving my sister in physical pain and me carrying the mental burden of her pain. My sister and I made our way home, two weeping children walking the sidewalks of Mandan, and once my sister felt better and stopped crying, I did too.

I’ve never questioned why I started crying, or thought what I was doing was strange. I wasn’t kicked myself, but because it was my sister who was, I too felt the pain. What she felt, I felt.

Since then, I don’t think my feelings toward my sister have ever changed. I’ve always looked out for her, and did everything I could to make sure she was doing well in life.

She, on the other hand, has always done the same for me – only on a substantially larger scale. My sister, Steph, over the years, has become my biggest critic. I have quite a ways to go before I strike mental and spiritual gold in life, and she takes it upon herself to point out my faults, without guilt or hesitation. I’d stop her from doing this to me all the time, if she wasn’t always right.

I always know when she’s about to criticize me, because she starts off her stream of insults with the same opening line – “Brian, you suck…”

She constantly scrutinizes me, telling me what’s wrong with me and what I need to better about myself. “Brian, you suck… you need to quit smoking… you swear too much… trim your nose hairs… you smell, take a shower… stop hitting on my friends… you need a social life… quit being a moron…”

The insults haven’t stopped since grade school, and have continued on a regular basis. She always finds things about me that aren’t up to her standards, and shamelessly lets me know about them with pinpoint accuracy.

Even when she’s not around, I hear her voice in my head. It’s a voice that has, over time, become my mental Jiminy Cricket of sorts. “Brian, you suck…”

My sister has always been the kind of person who is driven to improve her immediate surroundings. Among all of my siblings – one sister and two brothers – it was my sister who was given the boundless energy gene. Where me and my bros are generally laid back and cool with the status quo, it’s my sister who resists the way things are and is more focused on the way things could be, as she pushes to change things for the better.

It’s in her nature to improve things. And that’s part of the reason why she’s joined the Peace Corps. She’s doing her service in Azerbaijan, where she’ll be for the next two years. It’s okay. I’d never heard of it either.

Steph has done a great job so far in helping to make me be a better person through the years, and now the time has come for her to share her extraordinary talent for making things better. This is her opportunity to help others become better people, and improve their overall quality of life. And I couldn’t be more proud of her.

I can hear it already – “Hey (insert Azerbaijani citizen’s name here), you suck…”

I know I’ll always be a better person as long as my sister’s around. It’s going to be hard not having her close by to criticize me, as she has been not just family to me but a close friend. But I’ll take that feeling for two years if it means she’s doing something that’s important to her, and something she’s so good at doing. As it was since we were children, if it’s important to her, it’s important to me.

So I suppose I’ll learn to get by without my sister around. I’ll manage without her.

No I won’t.

Someone, please… tell me that I suck…