Diverted

When I came home from my graduate program for spring break, I knew I would be out of Syracuse for more than two weeks. The pandemic was ticking up on my timeline, the Ivy Leagues were moving full semesters online, and my school would likely follow. My younger sisters, both in college, were likewise sent home. I thought my older sister would stay away. Serving in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, it seemed unlikely she would be pulled. However, she was soon taken out of West Africa, routed through Europe and the American Midwest, and brought back to New York State and to us. 2020 was the year of four twentysomething sisters, diverted, living once again under the same roof. My older sister and I have had a tense and complicated relationship for most of our lives, and I was unexcited at the prospect of bunking together in the attic. I blame her for many of my faults, unfair as that may be. My defensiveness, my intense fear of being vulnerable, my possessiveness: these I trace to her. There are a few stories I tell about her when first explaining our relationship. One is her pushing me into the deep end of a pool before I knew how to swim. The second is her taking my (very thick) middle school cell phone and chucking it at the mini Zen Garden I had bought at Dollar Tree, chipping a sizable chuck from the corner (“she ruined my Zen,” I tell people). There's the time I performed in my first school musical, and she told me: “you weren't as bad as I thought you'd be” (her version of a compliment). None of these are very bad and, truthfully, she wasn't a Very Bad sister. Yet these instances characterize my relationship with her. She was violent, invaded my space and property, and any time I was proud of something she insulted it. I kneeled; she stood on me. Even now, sometimes, I'll tell her something she did, something that hurt me way back when. “Oh that was a good one,” she'll say. She cut my favorite necklace in half and threw it in the garden. She slammed my head against the wall for eating her Goldfish. “I should write these down,” she smiles. She sprit in my hair, screamed at me when she lost her phone, hit me in front of my friends. - Everything we see in each other is colored by expectation and the need to build a differentiated identity for ourselves. We project freely and our defensiveness is reflexive. We are fonts of unsolicited advice and unwelcome criticism. There's a judgement there: we assume we know each other best (or truest) even though each one of us withholds so much. Our presumption of knowledge is not so much about events but character. As though the two are not related. We believe we know each other best and believe that none of the others really knows us. But there are these moments we decide to suspend all reality and laugh at some novel bit or deprecating observation, times when we decide not to be self-conscious and let ourselves take the jab-- we enjoy it. There are times when the joke is good, or when we willingly do favors for one another, or when we all cohort as siblings for parental leverage. There are times when the low snickering and secrecy feel nostalgic of a happy childhood. - Tonight, Julia was giggle-screaming at Rachel about a centipede which had fallen from the ceiling of her room. She couldn't find the monster and absolutely COULD NOT sleep knowing it was waiting somewhere to crawl into her mouth while she slept. She came downstairs to beg for help, asking myself and Ashley to PLEASE come up to her room, find the centipede, and catch it. I lay horizontally across Julia's bed, the flashlight of my phone pointed at the corner of floor where the centipede had apparently landed. Hanging my head over the edge of the bed to look beneath, I found: three hair ties, a barrette, a Christmas chocolate, dust, a plastic toy (this to Ashley for her enjoyment), and a Spanish-language flyer which, when moved, revealed a centipede. Ashley goading me to touch the centipede felt like I was soon to be the butt of a joke, so I made her do it instead. She assumed the post with me holding the flashlight above her. Julia had provided an empty Tylenol bottle for capture. It was an awkward angle, and Ashley was having trouble. Julia tossed me a magazine to squish the bug, but she missed horribly, and the rogue copy of The Atlantic landed near Ashley's head in the corner, scaring the centipede. This led to Ashley attempting to resign the task and blaming Julia, Julia admitting fault but BEGGING us to stay, and the centipede once again being found on the floor, opposite the side of the bed where it had started. Ashley acquiesced attempted to nudge and scoop the centipede into the bottle. The window was open and waiting for the poor creature's defenestration. It wasn't working well. “Kill it,” I said again. “Just do it.” As the centipede ran, Ashley took the magazine, dropped it on top of the bug, and gave one large, socked step. “You can deal with this,” she said to Julia.

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