The funny thing about siblings is that you live your whole lives (in a lot of cases) parallel to one another. It’s like 200 meter hurdles, but you don’t know when the hurdles are coming. One of you might be a faster runner, but the other might have better ups. If you’re older, you might have had a head start off the line but less stamina than your younger brother or sister. As the hurdles come, they aren’t in the steady, measured out increments like you’d have hoped. They’re erratic, some higher than others, with others seemingly popping out of nowhere to block your path. We all like to say it’s not a competition, but when you’re always running in the same direction, shoulder to shoulder with your siblings, it can start to feel like one.
As kids, Jack and I couldn’t really get too competitive in the literal sense. He was naturally stronger and had many skills, like the gift of hand-eye coordination that I’m still searching for. Shea and Kaely, two and four years my junior respectively, were like Pebbles and Bam Bam just trying to keep up with us as we ran towards a finish line we couldn’t yet see. Even as teenagers, when the competition could have started to simmer, our lives and interests differed just enough to offer a buffer and kept us blissfully unaware of the race we were running. It wasn’t until we were older and the hurdles were given names that we started taking stock in how the race was unfolding each day.
As we all cleared the benchmarks together from high school, graduating and applying to college, my editorial scissor kicks honed those of my siblings. Competition? No way. Even if my technique was the best, Kaely could jump higher—it would all even out in the end. As we got older, though, the hurdles changed—no longer the lightweight aluminum obstacles of our youth, these were heavier and seemed to be bolted in place.
To this day, we run and jump, run and jump. This is longer than our training runs, I think to myself, but if anyone can surprise us, it’s Shea. I squint, scanning the perimeter of our course. The coaches and family members that were once cheering from the side of the track have become increasingly blurry as the years have passed. Mom and Dad must be watching us from the sidelines, I hope, and I use the thought to get over the next hurdle. The once flat race track has been worn by our steps, and the race lanes start to more closely resemble trenches. Can they even see us?
With each forward step, the surrounding bleachers rise. More and more people I hadn’t anticipated are showing up to see who is winning. Guys, are you all okay? I think of my brother and sisters with each treacherous step forward. The murmur of the crowd lets me know they’re all still in the race, but I can’t see them next to me. I wanted my brother to be right out in front as always. How will I know the way without the soles of his shoes to guide me?
Night and day we continue the race, and I curse the hurdles as they come. I silently pray my sisters can see my path through. I fall. Two bloody hands and a skinned knee. Don’t do what I did, girls, I think to myself, knowing Jack surely didn’t make my mistake. I call out their names one by one. They shout back. I hear the crowd cheering Shea and I assume she’s cleared the hurdle I couldn’t. Follow Shea, I think to myself, envisioning Kaely in my mind. Suddenly I hear my brother’s whistle, so loud I can almost see it. I hope my sisters can hear it, too. I see the four of us in my mind. In parallel trenches, we dig deep. We may be running separately towards hurdles we can’t yet see, but this is a race we can only win together.