Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 25, 2020

Reflecting on my experiences as a younger sister

By GABI SWISTARA | October 10, 2019

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COURTESY OF GABI SWISTARA

Swistara explains why she won’t take her brother’s love for granted.

This is for my older brother. It is a life-changing experience to be a little sister, and it was a surprisingly emotional moment for me to see him get married. I shut down. I got defensive to hide the feeling of losing my big brother. 

Growing up, Michael would read to me. Michael threatened to punch my first boyfriend when he cheated on me in high school. Michael got embarrassed when, in eighth grade, I finally graduated to move to his high school. Two months in and I seemed to him the perfect, “cool” little sister; unbeknownst to me, he even told his friends that so far, I hadn’t embarrassed him at all! But the very next day I ran up and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. I can’t remember what I said, but I remember his look of pure embarrassment — he went crimson. 

I may have gotten an MP3 player and flip-phone at a younger age, but I also had the major disadvantage of not being old enough to remember his awkward phases. He, on the other hand, has all the dirt on me (which he threatens to recite at my own wedding someday).

What I do remember is that he threw up everywhere when he was young. Outside the SBB downtown, on an overnight train (on two of our three beds), on airplanes and on our Omi’s carpet. He didn’t make it to the toilet that time. I also remember his shaggy hair and Austin Powers Halloween costume. I was a salsa dancer that year. We always loved my mom’s Halloween parties and, to this day, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. But being the little sister also meant playing the Bratz Space Angelz theme song on repeat my entire half of the car ride. My brother and I would take turns farting in the car right before my dad dropped the two of us off at school. 

Growing up, I cherished his hand-me-down cheetah costume, which my first “big girl” bedroom was themed off of. And although I hate admitting that I followed in his lead, Michael is the reason that my mom and I have been vegan for the past three and a half years. 

It was my brother’s moped that my mom drove into the neighbor’s flower-bed. It was Michael and I that would tango up and down the hill we lived on while we waited outside for our Dad to pick us up. It was Michael and I that got chewed out by the neighbor when we would yell down the valley to hear our voices echo — “hello, hello.” It was Michael who was patiently waiting at the bottom of the piste both times I got run over on my skis. 

Traveling between my parents’ two houses growing up, my brother was the one constant. He was always down the hall from me. Every basic pizza-and-movie Friday night and every major milestone in my life thus far, I have shared with Michael. My older brother has really shaped more of my life than I had realized. He was even the first person in the world to ever make me laugh! (I’ve been told that he was bouncing a ball against the wall.)

Despite having his head jumped on as an infant, Michael balances his second and third graduate degrees with phone calls home to me like a pro. When I was assaulted and going through an uncertain period in my life, I could always count on texting or calling Michael. I still can, I know. It’s just scary to see Michael commit to spending the rest of his life with someone I am still getting to know — someone who wasn’t there for these formative memories. But he’ll always mean the world to me.

More than anything, I want Michael to be happy. And his new bride seems to bring him joy and comfort and support. So I hope, more than anything, that the Mayor of Tea Town treats him well, because Michael is a part of me and, although I am just his little sister, I am now old enough to support and protect Michael too.

I will always make time for my brother because I think very few people in the world know me like he does. That’s the beauty of having a sibling; receiving the unconditional love and support of someone whom you know, utterly and intimately, for their humanness. 

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