Movies & TV Personal Essays

Shonda Rhimes & My Sister

003ap111112147082_193432I have been reading Shonda Rhimes’ new book, Year of Yes. You know Shonda Rhimes, the creator and writer of the great Grey’s Anatomy. Great book. Game changing book. Merely one chapter into it, I realized that my sister Leslie is Shonda’s twin sister.

We moved a lot while I was growing up. Fifteen times by the time I was sixteen, or sixteen times by the time I was fifteen; who can remember? I was in sixth grade when we moved to Cleveland in the middle of the school year, and Leslie was in the first grade. A few weeks into our enrollment at the new school, Leslie’s teacher came up to me in the hall close to tears and said, “I was so sorry to hear about your brother.”

I didn’t have a brother. Actually I did, but I didn’t know I had him until I was sixty and my mom was dying, and it came out then. Another story for another time. But when I was in the sixth grade, I did not have a brother.

“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. “That’s okay, really.”

“And to have him eaten by a lion at the zoo. I can understand why your mom needed to move you all right away.”


I went home and told my mom. She called Leslie in and asked her why she’d told her class she had a brother who got eaten by a lion at the zoo. I can remember the scene like it was yesterday.

“Because it was show and tell and I didn’t have anything and everyone had really cool things to tell so I made it up. It was the best story at show and tell.”

Alrighty then.

Fast forward to Shonda’s book, in which she says she is a great storyteller, and that whether her stories are true or not is no matter. She wrote that when she was in the second grade she told everyone in her class that her family were spies from the Soviet Union, and that if they told anyone, she could be killed by the American government. She said the next thing she knew, she was on her knees with the nuns doing yet another set of Hail Marys.

OH MY GOD! My sister is Shonda’s twin. She has the same genius creative mind, and she knows how to weave a tale. But while Shonda’s family celebrated such creativity, I can assure you mine did not.

I called up my sister, totally excited. My sister works for a big-deal Fortune 100 company, and her sense of humor is not usually on display on a Friday morning at 10:00 a.m.

“Oh my GOD! Do you know who Shonda Rhimes is?”

“No, what do you want?”

“She is the creator, director, and writer of Grey’s Anatomy for God’s sake! AND How to Get Away with Murder AND Scandal! Jesus, where have you been?”

“What do you want?”

“You are her twin sister.”

“What do you want?”

I told her the story about the lion eating our sad younger brother (may he rest in peace) when she was six, and she remembered it. Then I told her about Shonda’s similar story, and that clearly the two of them are soul sisters. She said she will read the book. I’m really hoping she does.

Here is the thing. I love that Shonda Rhimes embraces her talent for embellishment, and that she saw even way back when what it could mean to her. Being yourself and embracing what makes you you is not always easy. I made my sister promise to read the book, which I doubt she will, and I hung up knowing with clarity that legitimizing who you are as a person with the honest tales of our history, including brothers eaten by tigers and the time I blamed the missing cookies in Leslie when she wasn’t anywhere near them, is a part of celebrating it all. Humans. Fabulously creative. Fabulously flawed. With secret twins all around.

So here’s to the creative kids and their imaginations, and what they bring to storytelling. And here’s to my sister, who is very special unless I’m mad at her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *