The genetic connection

“We were born of the same parents, raised in the same environment, but if you put us in the same room, we simply couldn’t be any more different…”

A paraphrased comment about four siblings, uttered by a friend as we drank some beer, plotted organizational anarchy, and reflected on The Trailer Park Experience*. 

I’ve occasionally wondered how my three siblings and i could have been from the same genes, let alone species.  There is one obvious variable – my oldest sister and brother have different paternal genes.  Although i didn’t know this for many years, Mom had been married before, and the older siblings were, in fact, my half-brother and half-sister.

To apply controls to my observations, i should only look at my sister with the full compliment of shared genetics.  She is two years older, and left town after earning her PhD in Business – escaping to not only a warmer climate, but one that is about 2 hours by commercial air travel away from our hometown.  Smart.  She always was very smart…

T, my sister and fellow Trailer Park Refugee, is of my genes, but different.  She is accomplished – being a senior professional at a major university in the U.S. She demonstrated good instincts with her move 1,000 miles away to “escape the long arms of The Park”.  A diagnosed bipolar lesbian**, she is generally level for 75% of the time, but about once every 4 years, i am called upon to “deal with” nonlinear issues***.

When we were children, we would pass ourselves off as twins – she’s older, but i was bigger, so we were roughly the same size – with brown hair, dark skin, brown eyes… to the casual observer, we could have been the same age. 

Not so much these days – although our voices are quite similar, and we both have what has been politely called “an unusual degree of intensity”.  We have been known to clear a room of polite citizens when we engage in debate.  There are notable similarities.

The most striking difference?  I can trace this back to an occurrence during our teen years.  In an attempt to get me to stop farting around in high school, focus on academics (and stop killing my brain cells) my father once told me “You need to get a good education. It’s not likely you’re going to snag a rich husband, so you need to be in a position to take care of yourself”.

This rattled me – but in a good way.  A gentle wake up call that it wouldn’t hurt me to crack a book, show up for all of my classes, and lift a finger…  It was my intention to pursue engineering from a fairly young age, and to do that, i realized i’d need to stop fucking off at some point.

Fast forward a few years…  T has just finished her PhD, and is in the midst of a substantial bipolar moment.  As part of this, she came to visit me, less than a year after the birth of The Girl.  She had been recently diagnosed, and was in the throes of “seeking reasons” for her illness.  At that point in time, she was convinced that our parents had been abusive.

To make her case:

T:  “Dad said i was ugly!”

daisyfae:  “What?”

T:  He told me that I’d never catch a rich husband, so I better get a good education.

daisyfae: T, he said the same thing to me – it was a way to encourage us to become more independent, stronger…

T: But you married well in spite of your looks!****

I threw her out of my house about a half hour later.  It was for a variety of other reasons – primarily the implication that our parents had physically and sexually abused us.  But i was pretty pissed off. 

My sister said i was ugly!


* Soon to become a major attraction at Universal Studios, Orlando

** It was the “bipolar” part that requrired a diagnosis…. the “lesbian” part was obvious (at least to me) as early as high school.

*** While on sabbatical in Hong Kong, she called our parents and was obviously en route to a breakdown.  As the only member of the clan with a passport, i was on a plane 2 weeks later.  There have been others, but that one cost the most… so far…

****She was convinced that the only reason i majored in engineering was to find a suitable husband.  It turned out that way – as i met my ex-husband in the laser laboratory.  Ah, romance!  i can assure you that it was not part of a grand plan to find isolated, socially awkward, lonely men in a female-deficient environment.

18 thoughts on “The genetic connection

  1. This got me thinking….. I didn’t major in engineering to find a wife (although there was this cute little blonde who liked to show a lot of cleavage); but why did I major in engineering? I can’t remember, its been so damn long ago! I do remember why I minored in Theater Arts, it was because I hated math. When others were studying for finals and memorizing mathematical equations, I was working on getting blue and red make-up to mix properly to look like a purple bruise.

    Does that make me a geek of some sort?

  2. “But you married well in spite of your looks”
    My sister said (virtually) the same thing to me. And people wonder why I prefer us to live in different hemispheres.

  3. well, at least she doesn’t think you’re the devil, which is what my mother thinks of me.

    also, as one who is afflicted with bipolar affective disorder, i can tell you that manic depressives are born, not made.

  4. umdalum – going into engineering to meet women? bad plan… and it’s the “engineer” part that makes you a geek. the “theater” part just makes you crazy. i picked a school that had both majors, and had i flunked out of engineering, planned to major in tech theater… just forgot to flunk out.

    uncle keith – maybe it’s a chick thing?

    kyknoord – the distance is good for both of us. if she were any closer, i’m sure we’d have our moments.

    nm – we’re fine. she’s frustrated with The Park, and keeps them at arms length, and it’s part of her ‘adaptation’ plan for managing her illness. i visit once a year or so, we are closely connected (she knows more about me than anyone else in the family) – but there’s some distance in that i’m sometimes on eggshells. and ultimately, i will take care of her for the rest of our lives…

    toby – it is born. i have absolutely no doubt about that. she has developed phenomenal coping mechanisms, manages her body chemistry well through medication, and at the moment has a tremendous woman as her partner. but it is a lifelong challenge…

  5. it’s always amazing to me the things we will say to those close to us that are so hurtful, but would never dream of saying to those not as close so as not to hurt them etc.,

  6. I’ve taken a lot of the less positive traits from my dad’s side of the family – depression, for a start, oily, acne prone skin, and a tendency towards gynaelogical problems. From my mum’s, I have inherited really bad eyesight.

    My brother’s skipped all of these things (obviously on the gynae stuff, but luckily on the rest!) but I am happy to report that he started going bald in his early 20s.

  7. you’re right about it being a lifelong challenge, df. your sister is incredibly fortunate to have you as part of her support system.

    we should all be so fortunate.

  8. tony – true. but i hope it was clear that i was amused by my sister’s comment – not hurt!

    cat – some good news on the ‘oily, acne prone skin’ front! my dermatologist assures me that the level of moisture in our skin will delay the onset of wrinkles. i asked ‘so, i’m going from zits to wrinkles?’

    toby – this was part of the promise to my father. and it’s pretty likely that the genetic tendency came from his side…

    az – oh, if it were only true! then i wouldn’t be out here spanking my geneological monkey in the ether!

  9. An unusual degree of intensity. Explains a lot. I live 10,000 miles from my family, it still not far enough some times! You don’t pick em and there is a high degree of randomness in the same gene pool! P.S. I am adopting non-linear into day to day usage!

  10. BB – i can be mellow (as can she) but when we ratchet up the thrusters, i’m told we can be intense. i suspect that after mom dies, i won’t be around any of them much. dogs are easier. when i clean up dog shit, it is gone. Trailer Park Shit? not so much… And yes, ‘non-linear’ is a great term (i stole it from ‘non-linear optics’ back when i was an electro-optics geek).

  11. uw – i was a pretty homely kid, and probably look as good now as i ever have. didn’t bother me much – struck me as more funny than anything! but i’ll keep your offer in mind if she gets out of hand any more!

  12. I wish all my sister had said to me is that I was ugly. The bitch carries a knife for my heart in her mouth and keyboard. I wish I could blame it on genetics. And your sister sounds amazing, having a PhD and bipolar disorder. Wow! It’s possible, but not usual.
    I have struggled with depression most of my life, even as a child. I cried my way through seven years of school. I am probably cyclothymic, or mildly bipolar. My boyfriend and I can see the swings, other people have a hard time seeing them, even my health care professionals. I spend too much money, and overdraw my accounts when I am feeling good. Not so much the rest of the time. The one who takes care of me is my boyfriend, the rest of my family is clueless. Your sister is lucky to have you.

  13. silverstar – there are no people who know the soft, Achilles heels that we carry like our close family. clearly, she knows how to hurt you, and unfortunately, does so. i often wonder if i have a mild version – never being treated for clinical depression, but dealing with ‘very dark’ and ‘slightly manic’ from time to time. That you can ‘self manage’, and that your boyfriend helps you do so is wonderful!

  14. Pingback: Big Noise From The Southlands* « Trailer Park Refugee

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