My best friend and I in Catholic School were both the eldest daughters with younger sisters we were committed to having complete control over. We did this by distorting their perceptions of reality and telling them lies about how the world really works, putting us in total control.
I had one younger sister to torture while Mary had four. I envied her power over so many siblings to keep in line.
My method involved mirrors. Alice in Wonderland was my favorite book and Through the Looking Glass made me very curious about what the world was like around the corners I couldn’t see in the giant mirror behind our living room couch. When no one was looking, I would often climb on the back of the couch and see if there was any way I could actually climb into the world of the mirror.
There was also a mirror on the dresser in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. When I was about nine and she was seven, I decided to tell her one day that the reflections of me and my mother in our bedroom mirror were in fact her real mother and sister trapped there, and that our mother and I were really witches who had taken their places. How did we switch places? Through the electric outlet on the wall.
My sister started crying. “Get away from me. I want my real sister.”
“You can only see her in the mirror,” I said. “In your life you are stuck with me.”
“Mommy, Mommy help me!” my sister cried into the mirror.
My mother ran upstairs and tried to put her arms around her.
“Go away! You aren’t my real mother! You’re a witch! I want my real mother!”
“What did you say to her?” my mother hissed at me.
I told her what I had said and she told my sister that was a stupid lie and of course she was her mother. She made me tell her I was lying. I admitted I had lied in the most unconvincing sarcastic voice I could muster. My sister gradually calmed down, but after that, I continued to hint that she will never know the truth for sure and she never let my mother kiss her after that.
My friend Mary had a larger brood to manage. She had brilliantly convinced all four of her little sisters that if they ever counted the imagined stairs to heaven, they would die when they reached one hundred. This simple tactic gave her total control. Whenever her sister were annoying, all she had to do to keep them in line was to start counting softly under her breath, “One, two, three,” and they would quickly fall in line. This worked for years. Her sisters were so traumatized by it, they swear they don’t remember it, just like my sister doesn’t remember the mirror switch.
One afternoon, I heard my two young daughters talking at the top of the stairs. I caught some of what the older one, about six, was saying to the younger one, about four, something about being a robot who had replaced her older sister who had travelled to a different planet. The younger sister was asking if she could have her real sister back. I of course knew immediately what was going on. Fortunately, the older hadn’t yet gotten to switch me with a fake mother and I made her stop telling the lie and help me reassure her sister that it wasn’t true.
“I know it wasn’t true,” the younger claimed, out of pride. But she seemed extremely relieved.
Of course now that they are grown, neither of them remember this reality distortion conversation.