In the dark of the night, there is a scream.
Is that what she did?
A quavering, terrified voice cries out, “Stop!”
Is that what she said?
Did she scream? Jesus, did my little sister scream?
I never had any delusions that I was as charismatic as my sister was. It’s not that I was ignored and she adored; I got pretty much the amount of parental attention any guy needs and/or wants.
She was a looker, that was for sure—even I have to admit that one. Petite, naturally blond, pale green eyes, button nose. My roommate Steve likes to remind me she has the face of an angel and the body of a centerfold. Sorry, I can’t confirm one way or the other; the idea makes my stomach lurch a little.
I was no slouch in the looks department, either, but guys don’t get told as often as girls—I don’t think, anyway; never having been a girl, I have no basis for comparison. Still, I usually had a girlfriend or a girl that wanted to be; you can tell if a girl likes you, because they do things like look at you from up under their eyelashes, or laugh at things that aren’t particularly funny. They find excuses to touch your arm or your leg in casual conversation And eventually several of their girlfriends tell you.
But Kristie always had a line of guys waiting—just waiting—to be ready to be there, if and when she ever deigned to look their way. It wasn’t that she didn’t know she was “hot”, as Steve loved to rub in my face; it was that she did know it, and expected the world to notice it, and boy, did they. Did they ever. One year Dad threatened to have the phone yanked out, it rang so much with boys sniffing around his daughter. Girls don’t call—they email or IM. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. It’s on the very long list of things that I have to figure out about women.
I was three when they brought Kristie home, and apparently (to my mother’s delight and my everlasting shame) I told everybody she was “MY baby”; I went so far as to insist on “helping” everyone who wanted to hold her and chastise them if they did it wrong. I held her (with a parents’ protective arms reinforcing my three-year-old grip) enough to have a thousand or more humiliating pictures, available in both album and frames, and eventually my father and sister’s Facebook albums, decorating my life.
Kristina was her name, but Kristie-Anna was the best I could manage; the Kristie stuck, but by kindergarten, the Anna was dropped. It was too big a name, Dad claimed, for such a tiny girl.
It was in kindergarten that Mom showed us The Sound of Music on DVD; I liked it okay (I never really got into those movies where people suddenly burst into song) but Kris was enthralled. She watched it three times in a row, until her eyelids wouldn’t stay up any more. She fell asleep in the family room, and woke up there, demanding two things: breakfast, and the opportunity to be one of the Von Trapp kids.
“Sweetie,” Mom said gently (this was before the days she began every morning with Bailey’s sweetening her coffee, so her words were still warm and steady), “this movie was made before Mommy was born. You can’t be in it.”
Kristie shook her head firmly. “I’m going to be in it, and I’m going to be Gretyl,” she announced, and went about eating her breakfast. As far as she was concerned, it was a done deal; there need be no more discussion.
Mom thought it was adorable, yet sad; someone was going to have to step on her daughter’s determined dream. She mentioned it during her daily conversation with her then-best friend, Jenn. (Jenn, once a dancer, now a pharmaceutical rep, started coming around less and less when booze took a bigger and bigger chunk out of Mom’s life.)
“That’s so funny,” Jenn remarked, “Community Little Theatre just announced their season, and they’re opening with The Sound of Music.”
Mom nearly dropped the phone, and turned to look at Kristie, who was back from her half-day of kindergarten. The DVD was already on, and Kristie was stopping after each song, to memorize not only the words, but the choreography. Her voice was great. Her dancing, only a mother could love. But that voice, that face, that confidence . . . roll ’em all together, and you had yourself a Gretyl.
The day of the auditions, Mom was more nervous than Kristie was; there were at least twenty potential Gretyls in attendance, most of them adorable, most of them with some stage experience. I didn’t go--Jenn, whose daughter did shows at the theatres, said they were always short on boys, and were always looking to recruit, so you couldn’t have dragged me there if you tried. But Mom told the story so many times I feel like I was right there in the audience. Kris had pieced together the closest thing to a little sailor suit that she could find in her wardrobe, and walked up to the piano, like she’d done it a thousand times.
“She smiled at the audience, like each and every one of them was a friend,” Mom will say, when she slurs the story now. “And when it was her time to sing, she just . . .shone. Her ear was perfect, her tone was rich . . . I don’t know where that comes from,” she marvels. Neither of my parents are musical, so Kristie’s voice seems to stun them. Neither of them has ever worked at a newspaper or ever gotten awards as a journalist or an editor, either, like I have; but no one’s ever mentioned that as a particular wonderment before.
She got the part, of course; it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t, once she went after it. That’s how’s it was for Kristie. She could manage okay grades without studying much, she got the lead in nearly every show, there was never a guy she wanted that didn’t want her back, and when she smiled, the world smiled back. Nothing could touch her, ever. Or at least, that’s what I thought. For a long, long time.
It might sound like I was jealous of Kris, but I wasn’t. See, some people want the spotlight, need it, crave it, chase it all their lives. But others . . .well, when the spotlight’s not on you, no one can see you quite as clearly, and the pressure’s off. You can be whatever you want to be, and no one has to notice until you invite them into your dark little corner of the stage.
Problem is, over time, that gets harder and harder to do. Invite someone in, that is. There are, however, a few curious people who would wander their way over, and peek into my corner; the ones that stayed long enough to see me were the ones worth keeping.
Still, social rules are social rules. My sister pretended to be embarrassed by her straight A, youngest editor of the school paper, and head of the Odyssey of the Mind club big brother, and I pretended to think she and all her flamboyant friends were a bunch a flakes. (But oh, what a bowl of cute flakes, as my buddy Steve would say . . .the fact that I just said that confirms I hang with him WAY too much).
Plus, she would take my clothes (it’s cool for girls to wear guy clothes; there was no way I could retaliate against that one), she hogged the computer and the big TV in the family room (the only one hooked up with TiVo), and if I took more than five minutes in the bathroom . . . the results were so traumatic I’ve blocked them. Dad would always side with her, of course; Kris was the baby of the family, and, more importantly, a girl. He’d would give me the lecture about how I was supposed to be the older, more mature one—not only was he the oldest in his family and expected me to follow his mighty footsteps--he was as enchanted with his little girl as the rest of the world was. Little girl—that’s what I called her when I really wanted to tick her off; not only did it remind her that I had a later bedtime, more responsibilities (and therefore a high allowance), but it made her crazy when she realized that 5’2”, that as much as the Good Lord was going to give her. God was the one person—if He can be called such—that couldn’t be bullied into giving Kristie her way. Yes, bringing out the Little Girl nickname was the surest way to bug the crap out of her—which is endlessly entertaining, when you’re the big brother.
But there was more than that to our relationship. At home, behind closed doors, when the female breed often confused me, I could ask her the things I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone else. She’d give me a tip or two on how to handle myself—how to hold back a little (girls don’t like guys who smother), how to be respectful but not doormat. I told her which guys were the ones who’d take a simple smile and turn it into a locker room rumor, and which guys would treat her like the princess she was sure she was. We watched reality shows and were addicted to reruns Quantum Leap and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One weekend, when we were alone because Dad had talked Mom into a third bout with rehab (this one had things like massage therapy, hypnotism, facials, and acupuncture, which made it an easier sell for Dad), we had a party that kids still talk about—mostly because the geeks mixed with the beauties and everyone lived to tell the tale. Of course, the guys were all upperclassmen—we could have been wearing pocket protectors and coke-bottle glasses, and the freshman girls would still have been in awe to be at a party with us, Kristie told me much later.
So, between battles, we could talk about anything, me and my sister. She wasn’t just my sister, she was my friend. One of my best friends.
Then, one day, everything changed.