My first memory of my sister is like the artful strokes by a painter on a canvas. She’s a little girl, but so much bigger than I am. Her long curls hang down her back as she reaches up casually to take a strand of weeping willow through her fingers as she walks by it. I reach my own hands up from the stroller, but that willow is elusive. The distance between its branches and my small fingers mocks me. In my first conscience introduction to my sister, I know that I cannot have what she has. She doesn’t realize the scope of what she can do, just by proximity, height, age. She doesn’t consider me in the context of herself. She has the luxury of being Lisa. I am the product of being Jaime, Lisa’s little sister. I know from that moment what I want to be when I grow up.
I want to be Lisa.
I didn’t know other people thought she was pretty until I was nine. We were on vacation in Florida, on the beach at Sanibel Island. I was walking between my mother and father. Lisa walked a little ahead of us, fifteen years old and pretending she was vacationing on her own, in her own apartment, financed by a wealthy merchant. Or something. I had no idea what she was thinking. All I knew was that she was separate, away from us.. A guy walked passed her. He was older than she was, maybe twenty or so. His eyes locked on my sister in a bikini and he turned his entire body to follow her with his eyes as she walked by. She pretended not to notice. Cool as ever. My father let out a laugh and said, “They all love Lisa.”
It was the first time that I saw the inversion of my breasts, so flat that they almost pointed inward. The straightness of my hips in my skinny boy body had been just fine with me until that moment. From then on, I knew what I wanted to be.
The one they all loved.
The Gods heard me, and upon my twelfth year they showered upon me abundant curves. Sore breasts stuck out through my t-shirts and I clasped my arms over them. With a hot face, I asked my mother to go bra shopping. Lisa came, so that we could bond. She nodded her approval at the white one with the tiny bow between the cups. She told me that was the one she had worn. Sold. She told me that day that French kissing meant kissing with your tongue. She said it just loud enough to elicit alarm from my mother, her goal.
At long last, it seemed to be that I was on my way: on the road to becoming like her. My body was changing, and with my newfound body would soon come the knowledge of how to talk to boys. The confidence. The beauty.
She had her prom that year, complete with her date, her boyfriend Craig who I count as my first true love. He had sandy hair with bright blue eyes and his eyes followed her when the rest of him wasn’t. I was locked out of our bedroom a lot then. It was Lisa and Craig, her record player blasting Led Zepplin, her bed with the purple comforter, and mine, unmade with the stuffed animals on the inside. Me on the outside. I banged on the door. I slammed it with my body. I cried and then I told on her. I knew what I wanted.
I wanted in.
The more I tried, the harder she pushed me away. My attempts at putting on her make-up were met with eyes rolling. When I stole her clothes and wore them to school, she caught me. Every time. When I came to her with the news of my first period, she smirked. “So?” She drove off in convertibles in the summer, her long curls flying in the getaway car without a goodbye. I sat alone, with scabby knees and ankles fraught with mosquito bites. I wrote in my diary. I drew pictures of two girls, equal in height. They had dark hair that fell in waves down to the their waists, hitting hands that were entwined between them. It was my first work of fiction.
I thought I might want to be a writer.
When I was fifteen and Lisa twenty, we worked alongside each other in a jewelry kiosk in the Sunrise Mall. My mother was the manager and only trusted me to be left under the eyes of my sister, who certainly had other things on her mind. We waited on customers and she rolled her eyes to the heavens when I could barely hold in my tears of anguish when she pierced their ears. Just for that, I got second holes punched in my ears. Not that I complained. If she was giving me the time of day, even if it was at earring gunpoint, I was happy.
It was all I wanted.
And then one day, it happened. She looked at me. She sized me up. She saw something in me that I didn’t. (All I saw was an absence of what she was.) But she must have liked what she found because she spoke then. She asked me a question that I will never forget.
“How would you like to be an aunt?” she asked me.
It took me a second. It took some rearranging to figure out what she meant. My mouth dropped to the floor on the inside when she showed me the pregnancy test, but on the outside, I played it cool. The writer in me, the one that sits a few feet away from me and observes, told me that this was an important moment, that there was a lot hanging on my reaction. I said to her, “I’d love to.” And then I wrapped my arms around her, my nose to the fragrance of her curls. She let me. She asked me to keep that very important secret until she was ready to tell our parents.
It was the first secret she’d ever trusted me with. It was the first secret I’d ever kept. Because I knew what I wanted.
To be her friend.