So once upon a time I called my sister the “B” word, the one that rhymes with stitch, witch, itch, birch, and butch. I felt instantly bad after the word escaped my mouth, the first and as far as I can recall only time I have ever used an expletive towards a sibling. Not counting “dumb ass” thought even that was rare.
I’d love to make excuses and claim the use of the “B” word, the one that sounds a bit like pitch, switch, and snitch came completely from warranted grounds, or when discussing mongrel husbandry. Unfortunately, I must disclose that the utterance spew forth like so much flu season punch as a brilliant display of older sibling breakdown. My sister, eight years younger biologically and 28 years older intellectually, had by her ‘tweens sorted out how to push my buttons and that particular afternoon had elected to phone long distance collect with a bootleg Chinese scratch off phone card.
And I had things on my mind, as most emotionally challenged artistically moody and dramatic 17 year olds seem prone to embellish. Such woes, such concerns, such weight on my tilt head defeat bowed world weary black sweater from Lazarus dept. store shoulders. And then my little sister did what all little sisters of the world should do. She called my meandering morose shenanigans for what they were, pose prose, and giggled for the absurdity of it all..
No one knows you like your family does, especially how to flatten your personas like closing a pop-up book, pressing the fairies of your flights of whimsy flat between colorful cardstock pages. And while she might have been intending some levity at my expense, she meant no real ill will. If anything, she’d chiefly wanted some attention in our household of distracted, preoccupied peoples and denizens. Mom and Dad were busy teaching, studying, grading, and caring for three kids when the children weren’t at school or I wasn’t out working at the mall. We lived like associates of Nemo in a narrow townhouse apartment midway down a row of identical facades, and the upstairs hallway between the three bedrooms and single bathroom often had the elbow dodging urgency of a San Francisco streetcar, the frenetic scoot and shove of a waiter’s station as the line plates overdue orders. Sooner or later the tarmac would heat up enough for a tie to hiss and pop, for a gasket too blow.
Don’t remember what exactly set me off, maybe she’d giggled too loud, maybe she’d mentioned my black sweater had faded a bit gray in the wash. Maybe she’d just stepped on a toe in passing, called me a jerk for saying no about something, or to something, or replying no to her asking about inquiring as to something. I honestly have no idea. All I know like Soul Coughing sang that a name burned the air like the names of candy bars, my vulgar utterance soured the air and left me immediately resourceful, wishing I could turn back the sands of time and these days of our lives to retract my statement and not make that particular impression on my little sister.
Even more so now. Not the insult as much as the fact that little could be farther from the truth, and I’ve never really made an effort to say so.
My sister is in her thirties now, and has a family of her own on the distant Isle of Britannia, or whatever England calls itself when it’s in a playful mood. She’s a heavyweight with the University of Manchester, and has had some sense of what she wanted to do with her life for as long as I can remember.
I recall her mentioning wanting to move to the Queen’s country and marrying up a fine blue blood during one of those holiday breaks when I came to visit the family out where they’d moved too in tornado alley, Missouri. True, I might have manufactured that memory to support my thesis, just bear with me.
My sister has confidence, I am insecure as the day is daunting. I have ambitions while my sister actually has a plan. I have a family now, a wife and child. Guess who had that sorted first? I adore zombie films, though invariably Jennifer and her handsome husband Neil have seen another five or six films I’d not even heard of yet. If it pleases the court, allow me to present Exhibit A: Black Sheep, Dead Set, Flight of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dorks, and Doghouse.
I still don’t have a license to drive; my sister has been driving legally since high school. Of course, I’ve also never t-boned a parked Mercedes with my parent’s brand new Taurus. I took eons to sort out colleges and majors therein. My sister graduated early, with honors, and with a job lined up to go to immediately thereafter. Did I mention she wrecked my parent’s brand new car while in college? Just checking, as these details matter.
I know how to press play on a cassette deck, my sister knows how to play the cello. Both she and my brother had that skill covered. Skipped the firstborn offspring with me, clearly. My sister knows how to talk with my parents almost every day, despite the time difference, let alone the differences with accents. I barely manage to check in quarterly. My sister knows how to live in Europe. I’ve been there once or twice.
One of the things I missed out on is growing up with my sister. With almost a decade between us and the family move without me to Missouri while I finished my last year of high school, I missed out on my sister’s growth from a surly ‘tween into the woman, mother, and wife she is today.
That said, I’m glad to know her as I do, and proud to be her sibling. And after all this time, to say sorry for ever calling her the ‘B” word.
Love you, sis!