As I crouch against the staircase, my eyes wander up through the darkness; they pass a shadow seeping under the door frame. My six-year-old hands clutch a piece of rope leading to the shadow, you, my sister only 10 years older. The light falls onto your face and I can see your sly smile. “Hurry!” you whisper. “The bad guys are behind us!”
In this moment, we are American spies on an impossible mission. As the rope suddenly becomes taut, I lurch up the stairs and the sound of our giggles break through the darkness. You fling open the door and light floods our eyes, momentarily blinding us.
“Hey, are you still there?” I hear your voice through the phone.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry. High school’s good ….” I scour my mind for something to say, but in the end, the same words always tumble out. Phone calls between us have become repetitive. They begin with “hello” or “hey, what’s up?” The “everything’s good” portion comes next, and attempted questions and repeated answers of “good” follow. After some more uncomfortable pauses, our words drift into silence like punctured balloons faltering to the ground. To end both our misery, rapid good-byes are said and then each end of the phone goes silent.
I sigh. I want to tell you. I want to tell you that when you set the bar with your perfect grades and acceptances to top universities, teachers, parents, and friends automatically replaced my name with “her little sister.” I want to go back to our childhood, a time when you led me to the light at the end of the stairs. Instead, now, you cover me in your shadow. But to tell you this would hurt you more than it would hurt me, so these words are unsaid.
“We have begun our descent into Paris and will be landing momentarily,” someone from the cockpit announces. Excitement floods my veins. In the winter, I had applied for a summer study abroad program in Paris with the goal of learning French, but as sophomore year progressed, the purpose had shifted with the change in seasons.
Paris could be my chance to get away from your legacy. Back home, teachers and classmates innocently compliment me as your little sister or as a mini-you. To me, each comparison felt more like a paper cut, deceptively small yet painfully deep.
The plane hits the runway, jerking me in my seat. I am officially in Paris, where no one knows me – and no one knows you.
Once in the airport, I meet up with other teens in the program. Out of habit, the introduction “Hello, I’m the little sister of” begins to slip off my tongue, but I stop as I realize that that label no longer matters. Here, I am a stranger like everyone else, facing a defining moment.
I inhale and start again, this time without a mention of you. I love you, but in a place with no you, I’m glad to have the chance to define me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.