Going through formal sorority rush, what drew me to the exclusivity that lay behind the chapter doors wasn’t what they were selling.
As I sipped punch the night of preference parties, the final event when it gets all serious with lit candles illuminating members crying through songs dripping with sentiment, the word the members used over and over, sisterhood, fell by the wayside on me. It wasn’t because I wasn’t sentimental. I went to an all-girls high school. I understood the treasure of meaningful female friendships and knew that I longed for more in college. And while I used the word “sister,” that night as I tearfully told the member who would become my “Big Sister” that I wanted to be her sister too, looking back, I didn’t even know the weight of what I said. When I was on the other side of rush, selling it to incoming freshmen, I faked it. My sorority sisters were just my really, really good friends, right? Even 20 years later as a sorority advisor, I still didn’t quite get it.
Deep down I never saw what the big deal was because I’d had three real sisters since birth.
Anyone looking from the outside in can see how close we are. We constantly tag each other in pictures and share ridiculous posts with one another. We have inside jokes, silly rituals on holidays like painting our lips with Cadbury eggs on Easter or singing Captain and Tennille to the chagrin of our nephews each Halloween, and a lifetime of hilarities and secrets that only we know about. One might say that we are our own sorority. And in spite of almost four decades in the role of sister, I wonder if I’m just so used to it that I take it for granted. Just how big a deal is the word “sister” not just to me but to all women?
Mom says that one of her favorite things about having four daughters is how different we relate to one another, our subtle adaption from sister to sister. For example, my oldest sister is a second mother to me, having inherited Mom’s trait for dishing out wisdom without pressure. Another sister is the Statler to my Waldorf. We’re a cheeky duo who can commentate and crack jokes on any sideline anywhere. My last sister is my go-to when I need a good cry as her tender heart just wants to make everything better. Put us all together, and we gel instantaneously. Subconsciously our chemistry travels from one to the next and you know without question, these girls are sisters.
When raised right and I believe Mom and Pop did it quite right, sisters are free to be vulnerable with one another. Whether I’m right or wrong, an ass or Superwoman, my sisters are my safe space where we share our joys and sorrows. We know when to lighten the mood with a stupid joke and when to just let the other be. Long ago through endless girl talk late into the night, we figured out that perfect potion that tells us how to reassure that we won’t ever let each other slip by.
And while all of that is beautiful and precious, it lacks a piece to the puzzle as I consider sisterhood’s presence in my life—an element I couldn’t have understood until I got older.
My sisters are the link to my past.
One day they will be my only connection to my early days: Christmases that were magical, vacations that were grand disasters, grandparents’ smiles, and Mom and Pop when they were young. My brother could do this for me too, though. So, again, what’s the big deal?
I suppose the answer lies in what the goal was behind those tightly sealed sorority chapter doors: some same sex friendships have such heart that it’s like you share something binding, something like blood. This must be why my brother took to his fraternity so quickly and why he couldn’t wait for us to get married. He needed a brother, just like I need my sisters because some sisters are so bonded that they grow from sibling to best friend. I didn’t choose my sisters. They were chosen for me. They are consoler, comic relief, and confidante in one. They ground me and they lift me. Most importantly, they’re stuck with me. Sisterhood doesn’t just sell. It ensures we will never be alone.
I wasn’t able to understand this with such clarity at 18, but I do now.
I know enough to know that not every girl has a sister, but every girl needs someone to call sister. My daughter is an only girl and likely to never have a real sister. But she does have a cousin the same age with whom she shares secrets and giggles and manages to keep us wrapped around their precocious little fingers. Undoubtedly they have years of girl talks ahead, shenanigans to ensue, and shoulders they’ll share when the other needs to lean. Their crazy aunts will have taught them well.
I actually don’t think I take sisterhood for granted after all. I think I just never stopped to consider its impact, the way we overlook something as vital as oxygen. Like oxygen, imagine life without sisters.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.