Ares and Athena

Milo’s sister was 3 and 1/2 when he was born. She was utterly disappointed with him, as she should have been. He couldn’t play, he couldn’t applaud, he couldn’t conspire. He cried and he nursed and he slept.

As he grew she went from disinterest to disgust, considering his whole existence an imposition at best, an insult at worst. When his illness first manifested, she was incredulous. “What do you mean he’s special?”

She was force-marched down the same road of acceptance that we were.  But she has not kept pace. Partly because she was 10 years old when the trek began, and partly because she is ill suited for the journey.  B, as I will call her here, is a world champion athlete.  Her coach once told us that her level of fierceness is rare. “She doesn’t just want to vanquish her opponents, she wants to step over their dead bodies on her way to the winner’s platform.”

B is a ferocious competitor in all things. She learned to play the trumpet at school in 6th grade without any outside lessons (there’s no time because of her sport.) By the middle of 7th grade she worked her way up to first chair out of 12. Why? Because getting there was a series of contests.  The teacher didn’t decide the chair placements.  She had to play her way to first chair, moreover, she had to win her way to first chair.

Everything is a competition. And every competition must be won. She gets straight As. Her room is neat. Her trophies and medals are lined up evenly, according to place (there are way more 1sts than 2nds or 3rds.) She lives for the Olympics and the college basketball season, but she’ll watch any sporting event anywhere, any time. Her favorite TV shows are America’s Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars, for obvious reasons.  She’s tough. She kicks ass, and takes names. She will go far in life.

But she is not a compassionate or empathetic person. She was born like this. I have accepted it because my life is all about acceptance. But what Milo needs from his sister (and from his father, his mother, his friends and teachers) is compassion. And sometimes he needs utter and complete surrender. He is an open wound, and she has no salve. None. It’s heartbreaking for him and torture for her. She knows, intellectually, exactly what is going on with him, and yet she wants him to heal himself and get on with becoming a winner. It’s as if the smell of him makes her sick, as if he smells like a loser.

And yet she loves him. She tries. Last night they were sitting across the kitchen table from each other talking about a character from a book they have both read (I missed the character’s name as well as the book’s title because by dinner time I am only half paying attention to my family.)

B says, “Oh no, not that guy, that guy is crazy.”


Milo responds, with one eyebrow raised, “What do you mean, crazy?”

B: “I mean, he’s mentally unstable. . .”


Milo, in a knowing tone: “You mean. . .like me???”

B: “No, no. . .well, kinda, I mean. . .oh God Milo. . . ” and she hangs her head.

Milo explodes into uproarious, exaggerated villainous laughter .

Good for them. Because they are stuck with each other and stuck with the fact that he is indeed mentally unstable and she can’t quite accept it.

She is much easier than Milo for me to love, but harder for me to know. I am nothing like her.  I admire all of the things about her that are strange to me, even as I worry that these things will keep her from some important relationships (like, say, with her brother) and experiences, (like say, utter and total surrender.)

Milo is my sometimes stormy, sometimes moonlit night. B is my taut, bright star. An incorrigible winner, a juggernaut of triumph. Tomorrow she turns 13. Tomorrow she leaves for Florida to compete in the world championships.

I made her too.