In July, I traveled to St. Louis for my friend Ariel’s wedding. I met her shortly after I moved to California 15 years ago in an Orange County Meetup group for 20-something women. I knew that other women from the group would also be at the wedding, and I was nervous. Relationships change. I’d unintentionally fallen out of touch with some of the women. Marriage, children, moves—it’s just what happens across space and time. And with others, conflict had driven us apart.
When I joined the Meetup group, I was mostly looking to make new friends, because not long after I moved to Orange County, my boyfriend and I broke up. But the women in that group became more than friends to me; we were like a sisterhood. Most of us were new to the area, so we looked out for one another, from making sure each girl got home safe at the end of the night to gathering for holiday dinners. We were there through graduations, breakups, and engagements. We argued and we made up. For years, we kept coming back together for no other obligation than that we cared.
Fortunately, when I arrived at the venue, I was greeted warmly by the other women. It was as if we’d all accepted Ariel’s wedding dress as a white flag. We caught up on one another’s lives, talked about old times, and smiled big in every photo. The next morning, the bride and bride held a postnuptials brunch at the hotel. I arrived early, and when two sisters I knew from my time on the West Coast entered the room, I waved them over to my table.
Angie and Crystal sat side by side. The large white sunglasses perched atop Crystal’s head imbued the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis with beachy vibes. She asked me if I was considering moving back to California. No, I said quickly. The home prices were too high and the natural disasters too frequent. I wasn’t wrong, but the sisters looked at each other, then looked at me, and agreed, “We just can’t picture you in … Kentucky.”
I wondered if they’d forgotten that when they met me in 2008, I’d lived in Orange County for less than six months. I was fresh from Kentucky. I’d felt much less cool than the women who surrounded me. Eventually, I too had a hard time picturing myself ever returning to Louisville. But as time went on, the Bluegrass State began calling me home; like a card in a deck shuffled to the top of the stack, my time had simply arrived, and I moved back in 2016.
At brunch, I continued to rattle off the list of reasons for my return: my little niece, how the low cost of living allowed me to live as a writer. Angie and Crystal had always been close, and as I looked at them, a new reason came to mind: my two younger sisters.
After moving back to Kentucky, I complained to my brother-in-law about the family conflicts I kept finding myself in—some of them petty, like unreturned phone calls, and some of them more important. “Yeah,” he said. “Everyone moves home to have less drama with their family.” I was learning that home is about more than physical proximity. It’s about navigating emotional proximity too.
As you age, your role in the family shifts, even if your title doesn’t. Finding your new place among the people you love feels like you’re that dog rising, rotating, and resettling on the same patch of rug over and over, trying to get comfortable.
I was 12 when our parents divorced, and my sisters and I started splitting our time between households. I was the constant under each roof. With parents beholden to inconvenient work schedules, overtime pay, and chronic illness, I was a supplemental authority figure. I was my sisters’ keeper—not one of their little friends.
When I moved out for college, and eventually to the West Coast, I abandoned my post; it wasn’t possible for me to return after almost a decade and for us to resume our childhood roles. We were adults now. My sisters no longer needed my supervision. My unsolicited commentary on their choices—their relationships, their fashion sense, their major life decisions—was entirely unwelcome. And although I’m the oldest, I was the one in her 30s living with our mother and working nonstop hours attempting to launch my writing career. I was broke. And stressed. I could no longer be the big sister who swoops in and saves the day with money or constant guidance. And we had to sit in the disappointment of that.
The thing about siblings is that you don’t owe them the same debt you might feel you owe your parents. Once you’re grown up and no longer living under the same roof, the bond becomes what you make it. My sisters and I were searching for family ties knotted by something other than obligation. There are so many books about how to handle your changing relationship with your parents, but less is said about growing up with siblings without growing apart. How much of the past can remain there? And how much must be hauled into the present, rehashed, reframed, and apologized for?
I’m not sure I know the answer to these questions, but I do know that if I hadn’t moved back to Kentucky and we hadn’t had a willingness to be in that uncertainty together, I would not have had the kind of relationship with my sisters that I’d envied in my friends. Instead of relying on preformed ideas of what a sister should be or the roles we’d played in our past, we had to look directly at each other, learn each other, and let that determine the relationship.
My love for Ryeshia and Jasmine isn’t owed to the randomness of chance that is sharing the same set of parents. I would love them just as deeply if we’d met working third shift at a call center together, cracking one another up on our 15-minute breaks. Or if we’d met at a New York City nightclub in line for the bathroom, one of them doing me the kindness of wiping away my smudged eyeliner and the other holding the stall door with the broken lock closed while I peed. Or if we’d met online in a Meetup group, at a time when I was heartbroken and needed friends the most.
Last fall, the three of us were on a dance floor in Detroit. We took pride in the DJ being a Black woman and danced right up front. The drinks were weak, but our bond felt strong. We snapped album-cover-worthy group pics in an alcove decked out in DayGlo paint and rotated turns between playing photographer and striking sexy poses while we were washed in red light. Later, my baby sister posted a photo to Instagram with the caption “There is no place more fun or safe in the entire world than with my sisters.”
I may have moved back to Kentucky, but it is with my sisters—wherever we are—that I am at home.
Minda Honey is the author of The Heartbreak Years: A Memoir, published by Little A.