Sometimes I wonder if you have ever been jealous of the attention that I, our mother’s second child, received. I have learned from television shows and movies the nature of sibling rivalry and how gravely it can affect one of the most precious relationships a person can have. Also, I occasionally hear my friends’ own frustrations over the silent competitions between them and their own brother or sister. And do you remember our two baby cousins? Whenever the newborn would cry, her two-year-old Ate would tell her: “Stop crying! It’s my turn to cry!”
From these situations, I can understand that the panganay, the firstborn who once had the privilege of being the baby of the family, may feel that the privilege was robbed from her/him by a sibling, and may then be burdened by an attitude bordering on envy. But frankly, you have disabused me of this idea. Not once in my whole 17 years have I heard you utter at least one bitter word about my existence, nor have I seen you roll your eyes whenever I took your toys or stole flower candies from your cake. Because of your passive attitude, I suppose you just did not consider me a threat. Whatever it was that set you apart from other Ates, it touched me to the bone.
Early on in life, the blessing, or rather curse, of being the second child became evident to me. My clothes would mostly be hand-me-downs from you, and I was made to wear even those that had your name embroidered on them. My “blanky” and my stroller—though I realized this only recently—were pre-loved, or more accurately, pre-pissed on by you.
Every time I would welcome a new school year, my textbooks, compared to those owned by other kids, would have more major creases and browner pages, with erasures everywhere, because you once owned them. The cell phones that I have owned usually had scratches from your own handling before I could damage them myself.
In academics, although I do not directly point my finger at you for my shortcomings, I sighed at the fact that I would always just barely reach the margin defined by the best that you have achieved. In the end, I never brought home the same bacon. You left grade school with a diploma and a salutatorian’s medal, while I graduated with only a diploma that indicated to me that I am among the “others.” In high school, we both joined the civil advancement training course where you acquired the highest possible position, while I only achieved a position belonging to the lower ones due to the circumstance of relocating homes, and thereafter, transferring schools. You graduated from high school again as a salutatorian, while I, for the second time, was among the others who finished with no honors.
Life after high school remains consistent with my string of seconds. You enrolled in the No. 1 (and “only,” as we would usually joke over dinner) university in the country, while I… well, you know where I am. “Second” has become my middle name. In fact, now that we are both on the verge of banking into where we really want our lives to lead, the chains of “the curse of the second” are gripping me tighter than they ever did before.
Since high school I have set my mind to taking up law simply because the role that the good and humble lawyers perform for the mistreated sector of society is what I have long wanted to assume. I wanted a law career to be the foundation of my lifestyle. And then just recently, now that we’re both in college, you finally and wholeheartedly decided to take the track of law as well.
I rejoiced over this decision of yours because it made me dream of the tandem that we could be someday. But, alas, my relishing of the idea of us working side by side in the future lasted only until Mommy started introducing me to the idea of medical school. She did so because she considered the idea most practical for the family: One lawyer is enough.
And I understood that reality that crushed my ultimate dream. I knew in my heart that in this one, I was supposed to be first. Still, although the option of medical school has been brought up more than several times at home, not once did my decision to go to law school falter. I constantly jammed into my head the image of myself sporting a lab coat and performing medical protocols, but the effort was just not worth it. I thought that if I ever become a doctor, every day, following the attainment of the degree, I would include in my prayers before I sleep the question of why I let myself surrender to a profession for which I have no passion.
It may be against what could be best for us, but my selfishness stood its ground. With this, I reassessed my persistence, and at the end of the day, I realized, Ate, that this kind of determination is what completely frees me from the manipulative curse of being second.
Do not get me wrong. I do not blame you for the goals that I was unable to reach; rather, I blame myself for making you the focus of my life. I boxed my potentials within the borders of average because I intimidated myself with an overachiever such as you. And now as I look back, I admit I have been one spoiled kid for making my views revolve around shallow grievances. Now, I think maybe not one of those grievances was really supposed to exist. And maybe those grievances, in themselves, were what made me No. 2, and your submissive standpoint on the supposed competition between us was what has made you the better person.
At last, I can detach myself from the calibrations of your standards (or from any other standard, for that matter), and I will grant myself the liberty of having to achieve and willingly do things without the constraining condition of being second.
Setting you as the ultimate quantifier of what I can do with my life has been my biggest mistake. But I do not regret it, Ate. I would not have wanted to learn the value of my potential in any other way. You have taught me unconsciously that I am my own person. Thank you. Nonetheless, I will not forget that you are still my one and only Ate, and more or less, from some perspective, you are No. 1.
Your growing up sister, Madel
Madelaine Callanta, 17, is an incoming English literature sophomore at Ateneo de Manila University.