When I was five, my mother gave birth to a little girl who, according to everyone who laid eyes on her, was my twin. For nine months I tip-toed around my mother’s belly, hoping not to make too much noise or fuss. I rubbed her stomach whenever I could, which was all the time since I was SUCH a mama’s girl.

From the time my parents found out, I knew I was going to get a little sister. At five, I had been the princess of the house (which probably drove my older brother crazy), but I was looking forward to a baby, a little girl like me, and definitely someone closer to my age to hang with (and boss around) than my big brother who was nearly in his teens.

So when August rolled around, and our whole family was in LA for our bi-annual reunion, it was only fitting that my sister would pick that weekend to make her grand entrance.

Except, things didn’t go according to plan.

My mother, so used to premature labor, ignored the nagging pain until she couldn’t stand it anymore. My father raced her to the hospital, only to find out that two of the women he loved most in the world were struggling to stay alive. My mother’s womb ruptured, leaving my sister suffocating inside her and my mother nearly bleeding to death. Two weeks later, my sister’s little body was taken off of life support, and my chance for a sister evaporated into thin air.

I’ve always wondered how my life would have been different had my baby sister survived. Would we be rivals? Would be thick as thieves? Would we do each other’s hair? Would I school her on dealing with boys, hold her hand through our parents’ divorce, teach her about this dude named Nas and how his music changed my life? I’ve always wondered how life would have changed had Charise been able to make it past those first two weeks. But she didn’t.

Since I didn’t grow up with sisters, and despite my mother’s best efforts to mold me into the perfect little lady, I slipped easily into tomboyhood. With an older brother and a father who coached high school basketball, it was bound to happen. I grew up being able to spit sports facts like a pro and trade rap quotes with all of the boys around my way. Because of this, I always had tons of male friends, which made being friends with other girls in my neighborhood somewhat dicey. Never mind that I was too shy to even look at boys like that, being accepted in the male inner-circle made me suspicious or (somehow) a threat to other girls, so I stayed in my cipher—building with dudes, but always, always longing for sisters.

Ironically, I found my first group of girlfriends in high school, which is typically a time when kids splinter into warring cliques, hell-bent on being cooler than everyone else. But it was then that I found my girls. The girls I could share everything with—secrets, M.A.C. lipstick, Spanish notes. I found them and, for the first time, I felt whole.

That feeling of wholeness has repeated itself over and over again throughout my life. Even though most of my crew from high school has split and splintered due to jobs, husbands, and life dragging us all over the country, I have continued to experience the healing balm of sisters.

In college, my roommates and sorors sustained me—offering laughs, advice, and Top Ramen when times were hard. And in grad school, my sister circle held me down when—less than a semester away from completing my Master’s—I was downsized from my job, found out I was pregnant, and was three thousand miles away from home.

Sonia Sanchez summed it up best when she said, “You can’t put splinters back together, but that’s what we did as sisters. Sisterhood is very important. That hood is a covering. Sisters make everything possible on this earth.”

I have been blessed. Even though I don’t have my own biological sisters, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and befriend some of the most beautiful, giving, and intelligent sisters on this planet.

Too often the media focuses on the negatives. Women are often seen as rivals—catty, and jealous of each other, but, really . . . we have been supporting each other since the beginning of time.

It was our sisters who helped us to sing songs, cook meals, and piece together our families when slavery threatened to strip our humanity. It was our sisters who prayed for us, cooked for us, worked in our places when our men were murdered or lynched or hauled off to jail simply for being Black. It was our sisters who we ran to when our partners left us, heartbroken and seemingly unable to move on. And today, it is our sisters to whom we run when we need advice, or to vent, or to get told like it really is.

This is my praise song for all of my sisters. Black and White, Latina and Asian—I thank you. Thank you for seeing past the bullshit and divisive rhetoric and loving each other in spite of what we are constantly told.

How have your sisters held you down? Shout them out.

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