SHEDDING THE SHACKLES
I began to follow in my sister's footsteps, and suddenly I lost myself.
By Meghan Hyland
In elementary school the shackles were inviting. They tempted
me. Being two years older than me, Erin had done everything first. She
knew which bus to take and how to do the hard math problems. She was even
big enough to shop at the Limited and GAP. I mimicked her, pleading to
wear her blue and white shirt (the only one that fit me) and to play Manhunt
with her on Friday nights. When I was upset I'd creep into her room and
beg to sleep beside her. "I'll sleep in the crack (the small space
between the bed and the wall); I won't bother you. I swear." My requests
were rarely granted. When in fact they were, a "fine, but you'd better
keep quiet" was certain to ensue. I accepted the way she treated
me, knowing that I must have been annoying, but I treasured the moments
that she did not tear off the shackles that joined us.
At the age of ten I should have learned that I could not
live my sister's life, but I was stubborn and therefore did not learn
my lesson. I went to Erin's summer camp with its crisp Maine air and icy
water. Among the masses of children stood one unhappy girl. She would
play with a few children, but felt no connection to any of them. Everyone
knew her sister. Voices. "That is Erin's sister." No one wanted
to play with their friend's little sister, especially when Erin, herself,
was eager to get away from "the nuisance." All alone, her heart
ached. Going home day came, and tears flowed from many eyes, but two eyes
remained dry. What was there to cry over?
"Our experience in the moment is always powerfully
influenced by both our past and our projections about our next developmental
steps" (Cohen 4). My middle school experience bridged me from my
past identity as "Meghan the mimic" into my next one as "Erin's
sister Meghan." In middle school I no longer needed to bind myself
to Erin. Others bound us together. Each year on the first day of school,
teachers would learn that I was Erin's sister. Attendance would begin:
Brian Doyle, Julie Gillis, Sarah Hertel, Meghan Hyland." A momentary
pause. "Are you related to Erin?" Thus began my metamorphosis
into "Erin's sister."
At first this change was not apparent to me. In fact, it
took me years to figure out what had happened. I began to follow in my
sister's footsteps, and suddenly I lost myself.
In high school, Erin was the valedictorian of her class,
and as her sister, I felt that I should perform at a level equal to her.
I set standards for myself because no one ever verbally set them for me.
Other children's parents compared their grades to those of their siblings.
My parents never compared me to Erin. I did. They never once complained
about my 90 not being Erin's 95. I did. When our report cards were sitting
on the dining room table for all to see, I always wished mine could somehow
be hers. Inferiority. Jealousy. I worked harder. Work led to frustration,
frustration to tears, and tears to success. I hated it. I loved it. I
was accomplishing what I wanted most. But what was that? At one time I
would have answered, "to be just like my sister" but now it
seemed that there was something more. I wanted to be successful, but I
wanted to be my own person as well. I just was unsure how to break free.
I convinced myself that I was not dependant on Erin. Rafting,
caving, babysitting, and even having a long-term boyfriend were all things
Erin had never done. However, at the same time I joined cross-country
track, ski team, and was inducted into National Honor Society-all of which
Erin had previously been a member. By the time I reached my senior year
of high school, Erin had been at Cornell University for two years, but
her legacy in Cornwall, New York lived on. I ran for Vice President of
NHS that year, and when I won the election, my father said to me, "When
your sister was President she started the blood drive. What tradition
are you going to begin?" This was when it hit me. The years I had
spent shackling myself to Erin had bound me so tightly that now I was
trapped. Because I had followed Erin's path for so long, people now expected
me to continue. I no longer wanted to be "Erin's sister," I
needed to be Meghan again.
It was not until I began looking at colleges that I saw
the opportunity to break free. My parents asked me if I wanted to visit
Cornell and spend a weekend with Erin. I forced myself to avoid the trap.
I told my sister that I was too busy with school and skiing to come for
a visit. In truth, I feared finding comfort in Erin being there. I could
not go to Cornell. I would not go to Cornell. It was time to make my own
way, to choose my own path, and to throw away the shackles.