Co-Pilots

December 9, 2008
By
My younger sister will always be smaller than me. While I pierce the sky with my five feet and almost eleven inches, she lightly skims over the ground at her five feet and six inches. Her hands are tiny and quick to express her thoughts whereas my hands are long and languorous, always leading me on a different path. Her hands are good for meticulous detail with the tender strokes of her charcoal pencil in her prized sketchbook. They flit across the paper like her feet flit across the ground, allowing her to fly on the tiniest of breezes. Her eyes are connected to her hands because she caresses the world the same way her hands caress her sketch paper, delicately and meticulously capturing every detail. She is the artist, always aware of her surroundings, always studying some tree or some angle of shadow under someone’s nose. Whereas I am always a bit disconnected from my surroundings, always envisioning a story about some object, (like an old photograph or how a faded lace hankie came to the antique store), or daydreaming about random things like imagining my math class breaking out into a musical, watching the trees dance to my ipod music, envisioning myself an expert ice skater gliding and spinning around Lake Michigan, plucking the clouds from the sky and sleeping on it, or massaging my brain to get rid of a headache (which surprisingly works better than Tyonal). She is the artist and I am the writer.
Amanda and I basically disagree on everything. We are bound by the right of sisterhood to stand on opposite sides of an argument, even if we really agree. Mom asks which shoe she should wear with an outfit, I’ll point to the cowgirl boot on her right foot and Amanda will point to the dainty shoe on her left. We always take forever browsing the rows in Family Video since she does not usually share the same taste in movies as I. She has fine blonde hair and wide hazel eyes while I have thick brown hair and brown eyes. She prefers the wide rustic country while I belong in a little house on the wide glaring beach overlooking the white-capped ocean. She played the violin in orchestra; I played the B flat clarinet and did color guard in band. Only a little less than three years separates us and despite the fact that we seem galaxies apart, we share the same stars.
I was almost three when Amanda was born on that early summer June day. Because I was so young when she was born, I barely have any memories of being a single child. I always had a playmate and a rival. She was my first best friend and my first nemesis.
We used to share everything—baths, itchy blue-carpeted bedroom, secrets. I remember splashing through the soap-soiled water in the antique claw-footed bathtub with her. We were beautiful mermaids in the stormy sea; we each had our own mermaid name and tail color. I can’t remember what those were now, but when we donned our mermaid names, we were no longer boring human girls. We also named our bikes which were our horses. Mine was a female painted named Plotty and Amanda’s was a Palomino named Country Dancer (I always thought she named it that to prove how much she was like Mom, who once had a Palomino named Country Dancer, to irritate me since I took after Dad). Syrup-sunned summers oozed together while we peddled our horses up and down the uneven and cracked cement sidewalks. We knew each rise of the block, each gritty chunk missing, where to stop peddling on the hill to get just the right momentum so our hair was made of butterflies.
Each summer was magical, the one season that time eluded and granted children endless playtime under the sun. One summer we discovered what flying felt like. We had this red and white metal swing set in the needle-speckled backyard. Two plastic red swings with plastic covered chains, an airplane that you had to push to propel, a slide that sometimes served as a tower or lookout point, two lonely hoops that heavily hung from the support beam, and a gymnastics bar. Amanda and I had a ritual, an unspoken glance that signaled the racing out of the house with a vanilla ice cream cone already dripping down our hands, and grabbing the swings before our younger brother Josh could realize he’d been duped again. The grass was long-worn out under the swings from our bare feet skidding the ground as we rocked ourselves forward and backward. We would never swing while divulging in the sticky treat, no, that was for the popsicles. Instead we would sit and use the breast of our feet to push ourselves slightly back and let gravity carry us forward. This particular day, after finishing our ice cream, we began swinging, and like always, saw how many times we could touch the tips of the overhanging pine branches with the tips of our dirt-caressed toes. Giggling, we were always spilling invisible bubbles of merriment like the fizzing carbon bubbles from a cold Mountain Dew that float up eager to join the stars.
“Close your eyes, Amanda, it feels like you’re flying,” I told my sister and didn’t need to open my already-closed eyes to know she would do it. We’d follow each other into the depths of the basement or the nightmares under the bed. I knew she would follow my lead. Using our sense of kinetic, we propelled our legs in and out, pushing through the air, rising higher through the hot wind and shadowed landscape. Air rushed into our ears and whirled along our cranial lobes like a refreshing mist. Our stomachs light we leaned back farther the higher we rose, determined to thrust ourselves into the sky. Then, a wonderful sensation like the melting of a delicate chocolate on the tongue or the split second when you are suspended in air after you jump, not quite rising but not quite falling yet either, captured us. We were weightless and floating in the air, suspended in time like a marionette dangling by its strings. We had extended that exact moment right when your lungs are full of moist air milliseconds before plunging into the chlorine-smothered pool; every tiny hair on your body aware of the heightened stream of air from the jump, the rapidly progressing proximity of the water, and the tingling sensation of knowing what to expect but not when it will hit. The world had become a giant mass of warm blackness but vibrant in sensations—an ultraviolet rainbow of the senses. Until an even stranger sensation grasped us and pulled us back down to earth as we were gently laid down on the bumpy ground, beginning with our feet and ending with our heads. We opened our eyes to discover the playground had collapsed, it was old but never before had we noticed all the rust and grime or how it shook when you played too hard on it. We were laying on the ground, swing seat still planted underneath us, and a sense of wonderment escaping in soft exhales. We had flown.
We moved into a new house when I was almost fourteen and she had just turned eleven. We had separate bedrooms and no longer had a playroom. We were ecstatic to have our own space, our own beds, and our own decorations. Ever since we stopped sharing rooms, time had reclaimed its right and denied us those timeless summers. More time spent with friends, fewer made-up games. Fewer whispered secrets and more bitter remarks. I am now nineteen and she is sixteen. We are now as separate as ever. We are both defining who we are and shouting it to the world, but we will always share the same stars despite our separate universes.
Recently, Amanda asked if she could sleep with me. I was taken by surprise because it had been years since we had shared a bed. I had asked her a few times previously so we could whisper like we used to, but she always declined, proving just how quickly time was flowing. We lay in my bed, our limbs bumping into each other and released our childhood giggles into the darkness of my room. Secrets were shared and promises made, memories were dug up and flung onto the ceiling like stars.
“Remember when we’d pretend we were lions and drink from the hose? The hose that was the drinking hole,” she whispered. We would wrap the green hose in a circle on our black sun-stamped driveway and on all fours prowl majestically—queens of the Savannah.
“What happened to that box of food we kept under the bed?” We, being the clever children we imagined ourselves to be since we believed we were outwitting our parents, had gathered slices of bread and crackers and placed them in a box which we hid under our bed. It was intended to eat if either of us ever got in trouble and sentenced to a night without supper. We giggled as we imagined Mom finding it and only trying to imagine what we had intended to do with the food—probably a tea-party.
I don’t remember when we fell asleep, but after a few last mumbles and tiny grunts that substituted laughs, we escaped into our separate dreams.
My younger sister will always be smaller than me, some things will never change. I will always have brown hair and she will always have hazel eyes. I will always be slightly unfocused while she will always be concentrated on the slightest detail. We are separate people with separate dreams and separate lives. We have separate rooms and separate friends. But we will always be able to share a bed and become those two little girls who learned how to fly, together.
We simply have to remember how to close our eyes and let gravity swoop us up into the air past the pine-branches and higher than the stars. We have to let our senses dominate our thoughts and rely on tiny alterations. We have to become blind so we can fly and especially now that we’re older, we must shut our eyes more tightly to believe and see that ultraviolet rainbow again.
“Close your eyes, Amanda, it feels like you’re flying.”





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