Family Portrait-Older Sister

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

There’s a girl with long, flowing brown hair, but it’s not shiny or particularly well-kept. If anything, it looks like it’s just been ruthlessly attacked by a brush, forced into frizzy submission. She’s locked herself into the small space that is her room, where the door is always closed and a banana rots on the old wooden desk that once belonged to a dead great-grandmother. And the room is littered with everything, but it never feels messy, only mysterious. There’s a small, chipped china cat underneath a diary, and a green rubber band she’s inked with deep blue triangles resting next to a slip from a fortune cookie that promises peace with a clear mind.

This girl is my older sister, as I’ll probably always picture her, even though she’s now grown-up and settled and living on an opposite coast. As a child, she was strange to me, someone I couldn’t quite pin down. All I knew was that she read books like Crime and Punishment for fun and had skin that almost looked bleached, it was so white. Her jaw was always clenched and she spent most of her life not with me.

Most of the time, at least by my standards, she existed only in that room, a room that became like a treasure trove to my young, imaginative mind. Whenever I thought the coast was clear, I’d hold my breath and ever so carefully pick up each strand of the neon beaded strings that served as her entryway. Every time they clinked my heart stopped, and every moment that passed by without detection it started to pound like crazy. Finally I’d slip through into the lingering smell of incense and dirty laundry and try to find a new something amongst the piles of her existence. It didn’t really matter what; each prize sent the same thrill zapping through my veins. A hair elastic tangled up in that matted, knotty brown hair, a fifth grade project, a perfume bottle with a faded CVS price tag and a small amount of sticky purple liquid. I never stayed long, fearful for my life if I were caught, but every time I slipped back through those swinging beads and stole away to my own room I felt like a secret agent, a member of the FBI, an action movie hero. Because my older sister was the world’ greatest mystery, and I had broken into her headquarters. I had inched a little closer to the door of her mind, the window of her soul.

And if she wasn’t hiding out in that room, my sister was blazing down the hallways or screaming at my mother (who had started the screaming) or walking down a major roadway in the rain without any shoes. She was throwing around all of her prized books or erupting into sobs that sounded so, so, angry, like the most betrayed, misunderstood creature in the world. She was drawing beautiful, beautiful pictures and understanding deep artistic complexities in all the assigned reading for her English classes and not really caring about any of it. She was listening to Spanish music on an old stereo and trying to block out the little sisters that were giggling down the basement, free and happy and not alone.

When she finally went off to college, she did not return. At least, not really. There was the occasional holiday where everyone exchanged pleasantries and acted like they loved each other for who they were. But other than that, we became content with the barrier, the void that separated sister from sister, daughter from parent. She chopped off her hair and majored in art history and started dating girls and never called but sent cards when it was needed. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief that they’d never have to confront whoever she was and moved all of her things around and aired out the room and bought new things from HomeGoods.

My older sister.

Erin.

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