She was wise, Immayé was. Told me all about how to pretend not to like the guy I wanted when I was in front of my friends (miQeNash yirgeff, lijé) but to make sure I caught his eye, just once, when no one was looking. Reminded me to always make sure there was a less pretty girl with me (she never said "uglier" -- she was too refined -- but the message was as clear as her ageless skin) when I went out in public. Cautioned me to always pat, never wipe, my face carefully with a clean, soft gabi QuraCH after washing with just lukewarm water twice a day to avoid wrinkles and unsightly bigur. Taught me the recipe for the secret all-natural wash that meant I would never have that "not-so-fresh" feeling...and no, don't ask for the recipe...it is called a "secret" wash for a reason.
However, if asked, and if you caught her at one of those rare expansive moments, Imma would freely share that most important lesson: at all costs avoid even speaking to any man with a controlling mother -- there's nothing worse than having a mamma's-boy for a husband, or his interfering mother as an amach. The Lesson was everywhere: mixed liberally with the formula she carefully had them feed me as an infant (yemin maTbat? she had choked out, incredulous at the implied but real threat to the well-preserved perkiness of her bosom); instead of the requisite da-dé chant that helped all my friends learn to walk, my own Immayiyé sang The Lesson as she watched the mogzeet stoop over to hold my hands and walk me around the room (wegebé biQeCHiss?); my milk teeth were each pulled out with a pinch of amed and a dash of The Lesson. At Bolé, she saw me off as I flew off to face the world without her daily homilies; holding me close for a final hug, she warned me about never forgetting to count safe and unsafe days (aderashin, ayat litadergiN atichekuyi), and ended with the clincher...always The Lesson.
And I learned my lesson well. It got so I didn't date anyone who even HAD a mother...I made allowances for one or two with ailing, aging mothers, though the idea of possibly having a whiny hypochondriac houseguest for life was daunting enough to disqualify all but the most deserving. I took my time, sorted the geleba from the Tiré from the EregeN! Finally, the man of my dreams crossed my path. Well-armed with Immaye's sound advice, I reeled in that baby, landing him gasping, breathless; hook still in his cheek. And no mother in sight. But then, the worst thing happened. Something I hadn't been told about...hadn't anticipated: The Sister-in-Law. How could Imma have left me so unprepared???
The Dreaded Sister-in-Law: she's your husband's sister and his closest friend/bane of his existence/confidante/worst enemy -- never someone neutral, and always guaranteed to be pretty much your diametric opposite. You like sports? She's a couch potato. Love Don Williams and Dolly Parton, do you? She head-slams to Metallica, Nirvana and Axl Rose. If you're Teyim selkaka, she's a cutely rounded Qey-Qonjo. You say poe-tay-toe...she insists on dinich. You can speak at length on your particular take on neo-post-post-modernism and the Arab-Israeli peace process? She can recite the Abugida backwards while rolling her hair AND snapping her gum. Ere Immay mela Mchi!
It is true that, on the surface, some Sisters-in-law (SILs for short) appear to be quite like you; clearly YOU'RE NOT LOOKING CLOSELY ENOUGH. In fact, you might even be lulling yourself into thinking that you could become friends with your SIL, seeing as how you both love the same man, and even shop at the exact same M*A*C counter at Nordstrom's for exactly the same Chestnut lip-liner and Fetish glossy lipstick. Ay gud! Not till Godiva has an all-you-can-eat Qimya sale will you be able to let all that anti-SIL pent-up hostility run free. But why wait...let's let it all hang out...
So there I was...unwarned, unarmed, facing down my own SILs. I survived, so now let me tell you what Immaye never told me...
First, never ever date a man with a sister. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh. Never date anyone with an older sister. Nah, that's no good either: younger ... older... twin sisters, all of them spell one thing: Trouble. (Aside: This should in no way be taken as encouragement to off your SIL...though if you do, I want RuPaul to play me as the Bad Influence in the Yesamintu TalaQ film). Ayi, looks like I got derailed...let me start again.
First, if there's anything of a contentious nature between you and your SIL, never ever confront her directly; let your husband deal with it. Men, poor spineless creatures, are extraordinarily ill equipped to deal with any type of conflict between the women in their lives. So, invariably, he'll ease his head out of the sand only long enough to mezebareQ something muddled and unsatisfactory to his sister, leaving her feeling both dissed and dissatisfied. The key is to make sure he doesn't mezebareQ to YOU. That's why you have to blow the top of his head off with whatever works...me, i use the long, warm oil, all-body massage where I don't use my hands; trust me, by the end, he's barely able to form a thought without weeping in gratitude for my presence in his life.
Second, never let your husband become fully confident about how you feel about him. I can't take credit for this, since it's one of the basic Immayé lessons that go well beyond SIL-handling. In his sister's hearing, mention in a matter-of-fact tone that anyone who is away from home for more than a few weeks is likely to fool around, no matter how CHewa or tamaN. Mention in an even-tempered tone that if you had a husband who left for six weeks for work, you'd just assume he was fooling around and not get too worked up about it.
This has several advantages: (a) she will jump to his defense -- oh no, not her brother -- proving that no matter how mad a sister is at her brother, she will always be there for him (this is called the Take Your Sisters for Granted clause in the sibling contract). So, when push comes to shove, her feelings can (and now, will) come second to yours. (b) You come across as a practical woman. Don't overplay this (or else you'll be changing the tires on your car before you know it). Learn the subtext and apply accordingly; in case you didn't catch it the first time, let's recap: "anyONE away from home for more than a few weeks is likely to fool around": this can apply as much to you as to him, and any man recently introduced to the full-body finger-free massage will be especially sensitive to such hints of potential waywardness. Thus, regardless of how much you worship him, from his hairy felQaQa toes to his bald pate, you have introduced him to niggling insecurity: could it be that you don't mind his cheating on you?! This strikes the fear of God in any man, keeping him guessing and making him your loyal subject forever. (c) Here's a little bonus for the avid reader who's made it this far: if you want to really have fun with a husband unsure about fatherhood, at the end of an intimate evening, try the "Honey, I'm Not Sure I Really Want Children" comment; this will have him promising you a Swiss-trained mogzeet as well as his total and unending devotion to the diaper pail through the birth and raising of the four children you wanted all along. Men! So simple it's frightening, but don't tell them I said that.
Third, timing is everything so learn all the stage cues: Your Beloved exits left => annoy your SIL while he's out of earshot. Beloved enters right => make sure he's around to hear his sister's seemingly gratuitous, mean comment. Sisters are almost as simple as men -- they wear their feelings close to the surface when it comes to their brothers, and it isn't hard at all to get them riled up with a little comment or two. Many a fabulous woman, well-trained in Immaye's ways when it comes to her man, becomes a blithering idiot when it comes to her brother. So you should all take note. You'll feel great when your husband courageously protects your honor. Pop quiz: She says something mean...do you respond to your SIL's comment? Repeat after me.....no, No, NO. Just look hurt towards stage right as Hubby enters. Later that night, once the lights go out, grin like a lunatic.
Finally, pick one of your SIL's best friends or closest relatives (bonus points if she's both) and make her like you. Be sincere, share some of your private fears, ask after her children, make yourself vulnerable in a way that makes her see you differently. There is no revenge sweeter than to have one of her closest confidants try to convince your SIL that she's actually being too judgmental about her brother's wife. "Maybe," the friend will say, "you're not trying hard enough to get to know her. She's really not that bad, you know."
Gud ikko new! Don't look now but it appears I might just have the makings of a damn good Immayé myself!