My first impulse for a sister came when I was 5 years old. It was a strong desire for sisterhood that had me pleading with my mother to give me one. She told me she could not have any more children because the doctors had told her her varicose veins were too bad. So I begged her to adopt my best friend.
I can still see the love and empathy in my mothers face when she gentle said “Her parents would be very sad if she wasn’t there with them.” Somehow my 5 year old self knew that was true and that my longing for a sister couldn’t justify the loss they would feel.
But what exactly is sisterhood? What was it I was longing for?
If I take the moment to revisit that impulse nearly 4 decades later, I recall wanting more of what I experienced when I was in the company of my best friend and other little girls I would make acquaintances with. It was a combination of good feelings; but it was more than just the feelings, it was the Being. It was how I existed when I was around them. Connected. Excited. Adventurous. Supported. Present. Powerful.
It was at that time - and perhaps that was the root of my impulse - when my best friends family moved away.
So I conceded to my lot in life; to be the girl in a boys world. I was the youngest child of four and the only female. I asked Adam Reid to marry me the next year. I chased the boys and kicked them for apples at recess. I still have a scar on my lower lip from the iceball one of my boy friends threw at me on a winters day in grade three. I pinched cats tails and swam in muddy creeks. Boys got my attention and I strived to get theirs.
I am not an expert on sisterhood.
With the departure of my bestfriend and my mothers admission to being unable to provide me with the sister I wanted, I withdrew from the feminine and left the idea of being close to another female alone. In fact, my grade five teacher told my mother at a parent/teacher interview that she was concerned for me and thought it would be beneficial for me to spend more time with girls. So my mother, being a caring mother, encouraged me to make friends and invite them over for playdates.
Girls came out of my peripheral and one became a new best friend. She shared pencils and bracelets and even the same name with me. We convinced a little boy at the local pool that we were actually twins and that our parents thought it would be easier to call us if they gave us the same name.
And then she moved away.
A year into our blossoming friendship and I had to say goodbye to another sister, but my mother being a good mother encouraged us to keep in touch as pen pals and promised summer visits. There was hope for sisterhood.
At the same time I was still encouraged to make friends with girls, but as I looked around my peers I knew that the years of tight connection that they had made it difficult for me to fit in. So it was the outsiders that I belonged to and it was the outsiders who had room for me.
That’s when I decided that as much as a pain-in-the-ass the hellion girl on the bus was, she was at least receptive to my attention and I would try to be friends with her. It was a wild relationship of lies and bruises and secrets and smoking. And then within the year her family moved away.
My mother continued to encourage a connection, but after just one summer visit with my wild child “best friend” I decided it wasn’t a relationship I liked Being in.
I tried a couple more times to establish lasting bonds with other females, but by the end of grade 9 I was convinced my life path did not involve close female relationships. It wasn’t that I excluded girls from my interactions, it was more like I became a butterfly who flitted from group to group, person to person and never lingered long enough for anyone to say goodbye.
It wasn’t until the end of my undergrad that the idea of sisterhood was sparked again, and it came in the form of a picture.
I was visiting the home of a new acquaintance I had made thru a stage managing gig I had in Guelph. The woman was a few decades older than I, a teacher, a lover of music and involved in the local music festivals. Perhaps it was the draw of tapping into the younger generation that drew her to invite me for a drink; perhaps it was just her sociable nature to enjoy the company of people who crossed her path. That night, I was introduced to a cocktail that immediately became one of my all time favourites and I was also introduced to the idea that women could establish friendships that were close and had traditions - commitments even.
There in her living room, on top of the mantel, was a picture of her and two other women smiling with pure joy. Immediately I knew that the delight on their faces was the result of just being in each others company. Yes they were seated in Muskoka chairs on a dock, and that in itself is something to smile about, but the intangible connections between them was vividly present to me.
My host smiled when she saw me captivated by the image and told me how those three women had been getting together every year since the end of their university careers. I was consumed with envy and admiration. A sisterhood of non-blood relations - chosen sisters - could exist. I wanted that.
How to get that, was something I didn’t know; reproducing that drink, was. So I held on to what I did know and left room for discovering what I didn’t.
It seemed to me that forcing friendships to fit into my desired tightnit bond wouldn’t result in the sisterhood I was looking for; although forcing myself on one particular individual had produced results beyond my expectations and a friendship whose roots continue to nourish and sustain me today. It actually began during the last year of high school when I was in full butterfly effect.
She was in the French Immersion program; a small group of students who took all of their courses in French in our predominantly English school. Our high school was like many high schools in that it was an amalgamation of several elementary feeder schools. Her and I were from different towns. I was a decent student in French, but as soon as I was able to drop it from my mandatory course load I did and the small divide within our 750+ student body meant that I had no classes with her until we were cast into the same English class in senior year. She was quiet in the “don’t talk to me” way and smiled never that I can remember, but I would often see her around a group of girls who I considered nice enough in their geeky ways. One of those girls I actually knew since pre-K and was someone who would never hurt a fly. I’ll blame her for my confidence in how I decided to interact with Bonnie. Actually, I don’t think there was any decision made what-so-ever. It was more of a chemical reaction that just naturally took its course and upon reflection I can give it some form of explanation.
I sensed barriers. Blocks. Resistance to affection, emotion and more specifically - me. For some reason, my nervous system responded to Bonnie’s presence with what I would call an ampted-up-compassion-based fight reflex. I refused to be denied.
In our English class I would observe this young woman and admire her intelligence and discipline and self control. She appeared to be an incredibly grounded individual. Her disgust of my flighty, high energy, emotionally robust ways was apparent and her complete contempt for my affection was expressed often during lunch breaks when I would see her in the hallways and let out an exuberant “Boonnniieeee!!!” “Oh GOD.” was soon folllowed by “Don’t FUCKIN Touch me” at which point I used some kind of unconscious genius capability to decipher just exactly how close I could get to her. Sometimes my deciphering skills failed me and I actually hugged her when she was barely holding herself together.
I fought against Bonnies barriers because I knew they were designed to protect her from feeling and I knew that they would only serve to disconnect her from life if she succeeded at keeping them up. I also knew that behind those walls she was as vulnerable as anyone else, had obviously been hurt before and was operating as best as she knew how. I also knew she loved my existence for what it offered her. In the same way that I admired her rooted presence, she saw something in my airy ways to commend. Don’t ask her to confirm that - she’d sooner choke on a stick then praise me in front of others, but trust me - she loves me.
I would never recommend this approach of forced friendship as a tactic, especially these days with conversations of consent being in such high demand. Like I said, it wasn’t even a conscious approach and the only thing I wanted to gain was the opportunity to exist naturally and have someone else feel the freedom to do the same.
Eventually my delightful persistence in the face of Bonnies wrath resulted in a laugh that had failed to be suppressed; followed quickly by denial and further condemnations, but there was a twinkle in her eyes and a growing ...warmth? It may have been the realization that we would both be attending the same university that finally won Bonnie over to receive my affections, or it might have been just an awareness that she couldn’t escape me that soon led to us spending time together outside of hallway harassments. Before I knew it we were smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee together; conspiring on how to live this thing called life, and then one day she made a lasagna and dropped if off at my home.
My love and appreciation for this woman continues to grow. There have been years when we have ventured off and each fallen by the wayside - a shout out to facebook for the last reconnection. If ever you connect with someone where there isn’t a need to re-establish friendship - where you just pick up from where you left off - count the blessing.
It was during the longest period of time when female friendships were absent and I was living the life of a single mother that I came across Iyanla Vanzants book One Day My Soul Just Opened Up. On page 224 I read something that began a germination process of about 10 years. There were two key elements in this process. The first was the idea of a support system; of people in my life who cared about my well being and were there to uplift and encourage me. The second was about celebrating myself as a women; with those who love me and support me, and how it may very well be the women in my life who meet these needs.
It was a return to the spark of sisterhood. I still didn’t know how to achieve it, but I knew that I wanted it and I was going to need to do more than just leave room for it to be discovered. I was going to have to seek it, feed it, act on it and encourage it.
It was for my 40th birthday that I decided the best celebration was one that included the women in my life who loved me and supported me. A weekend in Collingwood was arranged; yoga was booked, conversations were on the table, vision boards were planned and no men were around. I was thrilled to hear some of the females voice how much they appreciated the opportunity to connect and converse, and how they wished for more.
The following year I arranged another girls weekend and this time I decided to bring cocktails to the mix. It was a delightful surprise to myself when I realized that the drink I chose to bring with me was exactly that drink I grew an affection for when the image of chosen sisterhood presented itself to me in post secondary. All these years I’ve been calling it by the name I was introduced to it by: Dark ’n’ Stormy, and a dark and stormy night is a fun fun time with girls!
As it happens, I just discovered that there’s a bit of legal/financial - I would even say political - conflict over the name (https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/youre-probably-drinking-illegal-dark-n-stormys-youre-also-probably-making-the-drink-wrong/).
Wikipedia suggests that because of Gosling Brothers' threats of litigation, some sources use other variations on the name to describe similar drinks, such as a "Safe Harbor".
Safe Harbor, I like that name even more for a cocktail I enjoy with ties to my development in sisterhood.
Which brings me to the research I’m conducting this year for my upcoming book, Cocktails with Chickens; a year long journey into the world of women’s gatherings, with a cocktail in hand to cheer them on!