It's Saturday. How 'bout I tell you a story?
I was an excruciatingly unattractive child, even for the eighties. I had not been blessed with good eyesight, a proper grasp of oral hygiene, or the emotional intelligence to understand that talking to oneself or “practicing” kissing on my arm during class wasn’t exactly socially acceptable. Often, I came to school smelling like a farm animal, covered in scratches and bruises and poison ivy because the night before, I had pretended to be an explorer and had crawled on all fours through several feet of hedge. I’m sure my poor teachers were often set to call Child Services, though their inner conflict must have been great: “This child who reeks of old broccoli and whose face appears to have been roughed up with a cheese grater is the PASTOR’S DAUGHTER!”
In reality, the person most concerned about my appearance was my older sister, Heather. Heather was eight years older than I and could not have been cut from a more different cloth. If Joe was all boy, then Heather was all girl. I don’t remember ever seeing Heather dirty or sweaty from a long afternoon in the woods, she surely never forgot to brush her teeth or hair, and she was as pretty as I was mangled.
There was one other way in which Heather and I were different: our dolls. Her dolls remained pristine, as if they had only recently been freed from the sleeping quarters of their tidy packaging. My dolls? My dolls were a Tim Burton experiment in the ludicrous and creepy. Many were missing eyes, hands and various accessories, and all were missing at least one patch of hair. I LOVED to cut the hair off of my dolls, to see the spiky plugs shaved close to the plastic skulls, bristly and symmetrical and fun to touch.
Heather always carefully brushed her dolls’ hair with the specific brush that came with each particular doll. Tiny shoes always had feet to go on, and should a doll have an accessory, like a purse or a hat, you better believe all were present during play time.
It got the point where I would grow tired of making over my dolls into the horrifically beautiful creatures they were, so I decided that Heather’s dolls could use a little sprucing up. First, a sad blond doll that immediately looked better with a Flock of Seagulls do. Then, a Strawberry Shortcake doll that needed neither silly hat, nor tiny shoes, but definitely needed glitter nail polish "eye shadow." And then, a crying baby doll that also needed eye shadow, except I messed it up and tried to correct it with nail polish remover. The result? The finish rubbed off from the doll’s weighted, blinking eyes so that the eyes looked normal when open, but like black, soulless orbs when closed. Success.
My mother resorted to buying us each the same doll. The instructions were clear...I may alter my Blueberry Shortcake doll any way I’d like, but I may not alter Heather’s doll. In fact, I may not even touch Heather’s doll, lest Heather stoop to shoving something tiny, sharp and pink into my eye.
My sister and I are still different. She is a mother to five, and she runs her house with order, kindness and decency. I am often a whirlwind of raunchy stories, newly colored hair, and frenzied (always, always frenzied) activity. She enjoys the quiet of warm and steady friendships and relationships. I want nothing more than to act ridiculous in front of a crowd of strangers for the rest of my life. She can barely handle one animal (a fat, sausage-like dog named Molly) in the house. I’d have more if I was only slightly more crazy (it really wouldn’t take much). She craves the security of her religion and faith. I rail internally against external authority.
I wonder who we will be to each other in the coming years. We grow more different every day. I think no matter what happens, we'll at least have that tie to our childhood. The tie where she looked out for me when I didn't care to look out for myself (poison ivy face is SEXY). The tie where my desire to "make over" her dolls was rooted in my desire for her to have as much fun playing as I did. The tie where two kids, eight years apart, could love each other so much that the younger would say "Heather" before she said "Mommy."