I've spent my whole life justifying your absence. I make out that one is far better, far superior to two, and oh my god, don't get me started on three or four. Sure, it works for you, I say flippantly to my friends with sisters, friends with brothers. But think of all the advantages I had--my parents and I like a unit, the absence of you led to the three of us being a family very different from other people's families. I had pets---pets are better than you. I told myself stories on lonely afternoons---if you had been born, I never would have been a writer.
But maybe I would have told you stories. I can imagine you, you'd be younger, of course, even in my wildest imaginings, there's no room for an older sibling. You'd be younger, and you'd be a girl, and during our summer holidays, when it would be the period between lunch and Outside, as our parents napped, I'd make up stories for you. I'd pretend to be annoyed that you were always there, but I'd secretly sort of like it.
But maybe you would have been a boy. Can you imagine? I can't. Maybe you would have been active and running around and not interested in my stories. You might not have been a dreamy eyed quiet voiced boy, you might have been the sort who burped after lunch and cut the ears off my teddy bears and eaten all the chocolate in the refrigerator. When I imagine that you, I'm really happy you weren't born. You sound quite awful.
For the most part I miss you for selfish reasons:
I. It pisses me off that I will never be able to honestly write about sibling-love. I have no idea what it's meant to feel like, and as a result, I go over everything I write about siblings with a fine tooth comb looking for any stench of the maudlin hanging over it. If you were alive, I'd have one more experience.
II. I think I might be a more interesting person with five younger siblings. I'd be older--not age wise, but maybe in my brain?--and responsible-r, and many other things that you have denied me by not being born. I'm pretty sure I was an accident, why weren't you, lazy?
III. I don't want to be alone at the end of my life. I'd have liked for you to be around then, not just be adrift, without a family. You would have been a comfort--maybe not if we were estranged because you stole my boyfriend when you were 22, but maybe we'd make it up, and I'd be your daughter's favourite aunt.
IV. If I needed a donation of some kind, bone marrow or kidney, your being alive would have increased my chances.
I missed you more as a child than I think the generation of onlies today will miss their unborn siblings. I missed you at dinner time when we were all called home from the park, and everyone went home two-by-two and I lingered in the solitary gloam. I missed you when I fought with my parents--who could have been our parents--I missed having someone to roll my eyes at and be sympathetic to me.
But as I grew older and the fact of you grew less and less, the truth is, darling, I stopped thinking about you. I made up a twin when I was thirteen, not a real, true make-up, I knew I was kidding, and my friends knew I was kidding. I called you Shreyashri, and said that the reason you weren't around is because we didn't get along and so my parents had shipped you off to America. Even then, I couldn't think of a world where I'd be shipped off, I was too important in my little family, and so you had to go. Some people might have even believed me.
Today, I'm thinking about you. I'm thirty one years old, and I will never have a sibling. That time is gone, and being an Only is now a fact of my life. I know the things I've missed--shared holidays and one more person in my corner and a sort of best-friend-meets-family thing that I'm never going to have. I know the things I've gained--apart from material conveniences, a strange sure footedness around the world, the ability to amuse myself without external help, the love of solitude, a personality that makes friends easily. You could've gone either way, you could have been the person I couldn't bear to give up, you could have been the person I only spoke to once a year on your birthday, you could have been lovely, you could have been an asshole. I might have hated you and felt guilty about it, I might have loved you and loved loving you.
"Do you miss having a sibling?" is a question I get asked. Still get asked.
And the only honest answer is: "I don't know."