Plastic Dinosaurs

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Christina, a sixteen-year-old girl, feels pressured to understand the mind of her older sister, Wendy, who has high-functioning autism, an affectionate personality, and a fascination with dinosaurs. 16-year-old Christina knows her sister is different. Wendy dresses like she lives in another time period, talks to herself, and loves dinosaurs. This is the story of what it feels like to grow up with a sibling with high-functioning autism, and knowing the pain, joy, worry, and wonder it brings. As Wendy enters senior year, Christina must balance finding her own identity with attempting to understand her sister's identity as well.

E.S. Paul
Age Rating:

Things I know: Wendy is different.

I wake up to my alarm. I roll out of bed, wishing the alarm would just be quiet for once. But I can’t just hit a button to get it to shut up, because my alarm doesn’t have buttons.

My alarm is my sister. And my sister is really, really into dinosaurs.

That’s been her thing, ever since she was little. She’s just obsessed with dinosaurs. I don’t know why, there’s just something about dinosaurs that she latched onto and has been talking about them ever since we went to the local museum years ago. I don’t get it at all, and I’ve been trying to figure it out for a very long time.

Right now, she’s listing the names of every sauropod she knows, which is a lot.

Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Barosaurus…

I’ve heard all these dinosaur names many times before, and have picked up plenty of facts about them from her. Not that dinosaurs are interesting to me at all; they’re the last thing I want to hear about. If I could go my life without hearing another dinosaur fact, I’d be content.

But of course, I can’t say that to anyone.

I wish she’d shut up about dinosaurs. I’ve wished it for so long. I try to ignore the stream of sauropod names coming from her bedroom, and walk into the bathroom to take a shower.

I undress, and she’s right there.

“Wendy, what are you doing?” I gasp, covering my breasts. I know she’s my sister and that she’s seen me naked plenty of times before, though I still can’t stand it when she walks in on me before I’m about to shower.

Wendy ignores it. “Hey, Chrissy!” she beams, as if I hadn’t said anything at all.

“My name is Christina,” I growl, annoyed at her cheerfulness.

“You don’t have to be so grouchy all the time,” she pouts. “Why are you so grouchy?”

“I don’t know, Wendy,” I mutter. “Why do you have to wake me up by naming every dinosaur that’s ever been discovered every morning at five?”

“Whatever,” Wendy shrugs, her go-to response every time I win an argument. I slip behind the shower curtain and turn on the hot water. From inside, I hear the string of dinosaur names resume, this time the hadrosaurs, as I’ve heard many times before. Parasaurolophus, Maiasaura, Edmontosaurus….

I try to tune them out, but I can’t. It bothers me to no end. With each dinosaur name, I’m reminded that my sister isn’t normal. She probably won’t get a job, or drive, or get a boyfriend, unless he’s really into Jurassic Park. There is nothing more I’d rather do than wake up one morning without the dinosaur facts and names, without her pacing the floor endlessly and smiling at nothing.

But I’m not allowed to think that. If I do, I’m automatically a horrible person.

I’ve tried multiple times to embrace the dinosaurs, and therefore, Wendy. Dinosaur facts are good, I keep telling myself. They could come in handy on a trivia game show, or just to bring up at a party. Not many people my age know this much about dinosaurs.

Dinosaur facts make Wendy special, I constantly think. It could have been worse. She could have been obsessed with something worse, like drugs or sex. At least dinosaurs are pretty interesting to most people. She could be into something completely boring, like throw rugs or economic transactions or whatever. She could have been worse off. I’m supposed to be lucky that she can walk and talk and take care of her basic needs.

It could have been worse, I keep saying. She could be completely normal. She could be nineteen and sneaking out the house and blowing money on makeup and hair products. She could be getting bad grades in math every once in a while. She could have long talks on the phone with boys on the football team, or be getting into fights with me instead of randomly calling me pet names.

But I know the truth.

That reality would not be worse.

If anything, it would be better.

But I cannot allow myself to think that.

I could have had any other sibling in the world, or none at all. I could have been like my friend Ahalya, who has a baby brother, or Grant Nevitts, who lives next door and has a twin sister. Grant and Ahalya haven’t had to grow up with a sibling like Wendy, and neither do plenty of people around the world.

But as everyone keeps saying, Wendy is different.

Don’t I know it.

I get dressed, selecting something casual, and begin brushing my hair. Wendy scrutinizes my outfit, just like she does every morning.

“Why do you always have to look so plastic?” she says, staring at my oversized t-shirt. “You look just like everyone else.”

I want to shrug it off. Wendy loves to argue. She pulls the same points every day, in hopes that I’ll respond to her attacks. But I ignore her, pulling my hair into a quick bun on top of my head, partially to keep the hair out of my face and partially to piss her off. I’m sick of her telling me how to dress when she looks like a total fruitcake.

Wendy gets all her clothes from thrift shops, ugly moth-eaten sweaters and stiff old dresses that some old lady has most likely died in. I’ve gone off about it plenty of times before, how she looks like a mutant fifties housewife, but she only gives the same response: Why do you always tell me what to wear?

I want to give up at this point, but I’m tired of it. Maybe that’s why she likes dinosaurs so much- they were probably around when the things she wears were last in style.

But I don’t give up.

I should have.

Instead, I try her remark.

“Why do you always tell me what to wear?” I explode. Wendy is facing me, but is glaring at the floor.

“Because you look like trash!” Wendy shouts back.

I look like trash? You look like a-”

As mad as I am at Wendy, I can’t tell her that she looks like a slut. Of course, she’s not, but with the five pounds of green eyeshadow she’s got caked on her face, I feel like people would get the wrong idea about her. I want to protect her, but I also want to be honest. I could tell her how she looks and be honest about it, but she’d go off the handle at me. But at the same time, I can’t let her go out that way.

“-a frog,” I say, alluding to the chartreuse ensemble she’s wearing. “You look like a frog, Wendy.” A frog that shares a lily pad with a bunch of other frogs, I think, to add power to the insult, but I don’t say anything. Wendy is pure and sweet, to the point where it bothers me. She’s too innocent for senior year.

Wendy never swears, and if you do swear around her, she loathes it to no end. Once, I’d stubbed my toe on the stair and muttered, “goddammit,” and she began shouting at me immediately.

“Christina, you shouldn’t say such trash,” she gasped, as if she was one of the old ladies in the Baptist church we attend, the ones who glare and shake their heads at things they disapprove of, bobbing their heads and saying “amen” at the things they like.

“Wendy, I’m sixteen,” I said. “People younger than me say worse.”

She’s not ready at all for senior year. I’ll never understand how she made it through middle school.

There are things I love about Wendy, and things I hate, and things I can never understand.

But I can’t talk about any of them. I can’t talk about Wendy at all, not to most people, because most people don’t understand. They don’t understand what I say or what Wendy says or anything, because most people don’t have a sibling like Wendy. And that’s not a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a fact.

But there are things I can’t talk about, because Wendy is different.

Wendy has autism.

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