How Fantasy Became a Bridge Between Sisters

Syntrell (right) and her sister (left).

Syntrell (right) and her sister (left).

“I think that pig herder might be Denna’s patron,” my sister tells me with no additional context. Through the phone, I hear her children clanging in the background of her home and give her time to quiet them before we continue. “The way he was communicating with Denna, like he was waiting for her responses…” It’s a conversation we’ve had off and on again for the past decade about the frustratingly amazing world of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. I imagine it’s not a conversation people would typically expect of two Black millennial women from lower Alabama, but luckily, we’ve learned not to care about things like that. I tell anyone that asks, without a hint of sarcasm, that my sister is the coolest person I know.

When I was a baby, my dad died. I remember nothing about him, just secondhand pictures and stories that do little to help me grasp the type of man he was. But my sister was different. She was nine, and it marked the beginning of her whole world shattering. She became moody, distant, and angry. Angry at being the oldest and having to help take care of me. Angry at the small town in Alabama she’d moved to after the military base in the Pacific. Angry at how race suddenly mattered in a way it never had for her before. And angry, most of all, at the world, for taking the parent she’d bonded with. The one who didn’t ask her to wear dresses when she wanted to be in pants, the one that read her fairy tales every night, the one that snuck into her room after mom insisted on bedtime to help her beat Super Mario.

Growing up, summers in the south were long; hot stretches spent roaming neighborhoods in search of candy ladies and adventure. My sister and I picked blackberries by railroad tracks and played, pretending to be Alex Mack or Xena the Warrior Princess. But there were also days spent just watching my sister conquer video game after video game. I hummed along to Epona’s song or the Chrono Cross intro, watched Tidus play blitzball, and laughed tauntingly at her failed attempts to make Mario wall jump. The world she unlocked through gaming was pure magic to my young eyes; I’d literally observe for hours to cheer her on.

But in a lot of ways, she remained an enigma. I’d sneak in her room religiously, eavesdropping on her phone calls, reading her diary, or sometimes just sitting there quietly. Eventually, she started handing me the thickest books she could find to get rid of me. Classics at first, like Emma and Little Women. But when I burned through those, she gave me the first book in the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World

Syntrell (left) and her sister (right).

Syntrell (left) and her sister (right).

From that moment on, we were inseparable. Don’t get me wrong, I’d always loved to read, but nothing engrossed my imagination the way Wheel of Time did. I had dreams about it. I wrote diary entries about it. I carried those books with me anywhere I could. I owe so much to that series, not only for igniting my love of fantasy and sci-fi, but because of the connection they gave me to my sister.  Where other girls giggled over makeup and clothes, we delighted in arguing about which Ajah was best and who we’d bond as a Warder. We poured over those 13 books together, obsessed over each character and new development. We applauded when Nyneave finally broke through her mental block. We admired Egwene’s strength. We drooled over Gawyn and Matt, and stanned Tuon, whose dark skin and short hair reflected our own. 

Now, decades later, our conversations last for hours at a time. I smile when she messages me on Facebook (her nickname popping up as Shishio, mine as Himura the Battosai) to tell me about some obscure physics theory she’s reading or the release date for the newest Persona. Then we talk about everything else: sex, FLCL, politics, Beyoncé, family, religion, Wakanda, Harry Potter, there’s no topic off limits. Most blerds I’ve encountered spent so much of their lives in search of their person, someone else who gets it, who doesn’t judge, who looks like them and sees them and accepts them. I was lucky, I guess. I was born with mine.

Syntrell is a native of Mobile, AL. She gave up on being cool after she realized she was a Glee loving mathlete that would rather talk about Octavia Butler than Beyoncé (although she loves Beyoncé). She’s now happily content nerding it out over stats, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy. She’s not on social media much, but you can e-mail her at crimsonsyn07@yahoo.com for any writing related inquiries.