I guess I better tell you something about my older sisters. You think I was good at pretending my mother didn’t exist? I was even better at pretending Lilibeth and Janine didn’t exist, and when we were growing up my life was a lot better when they pretended *I* didn’t exist. When my big sisters were paying attention to me it was to make my life hell.
This story is from before they started ignoring me. Remember that Disney cartoon with the two scheming Siamese cats? Lili and Nini, as Claire called them, were like that. They were only a year apart in age and were basically inseparable. When they were in fourth and fifth grade I had just started kindergarten. They walked to school every day and once I graduated from half-day kindergarten to full-day, Claire declared since I had two responsible, mature older sisters I could walk, too. With them.
Never mind that school was already kind of a challenge for me. I was very skeptical of the whole socializing-with-other-children thing to begin with. The lessons were okay. I could read, which put me in a higher group of some kind, and they let me play with crayons a lot because the teacher said I was “creative.” But I wasn’t good at talking to other kids–boys especially?–who seemed to have a lot of expectations and rules that I didn’t know.
Let’s see if I can remember some of the things my sisters did to terrorize me on that walk to and from school. They convinced me that if I was late to school I’d get punished, and the punishments they described ranged from bare-buttocks spanking in front of my whole class to being forced to clean the school toilets with a toothbrush. I don’t know where they got those ideas, but they had vivid, horrifying descriptions of other boys who’d been late and what happened to them.
Shortly after that, they got me to climb a tree. “A boy who likes Lilibeth hid a message for her in the crook of that tree,” Janine told me as we were walking. The tree was in some random yard that didn’t have a fence. “You have to climb up and get it.”
“Because we can lift you up to that branch,” she said, which seemed logical. “Don’t you want to help her out?”
“Why can’t one of you climb on the other one’s shoulders?”
“Because we’re dressed too nicely to climb trees. People will see up our skirts.” In other words, I had to do it because I was the boy.
They lifted me up so I could grab the branch and pull myself up, and then I climbed up to the notch of the tree.
“There’s nothing here,” I yelled down.
“Keep looking!” Janine said, but she was giggling and hiding her face against Lilibeth’s arm.
I began to suspect I’d been had. “There’s definitely nothing.”
“Oh, damn,” Lilibeth said loudly. “It must have blown away or something. Oh well. Thanks for trying.” But then she laughed, too.
As you can probably imagine, since I’m not a large adult, I was not a large child, either. And I learned that it’s much easier to climb up than to climb down. I made it down one or two branches, but then I got stuck. There was too big a gap from where I was to the main branch they’d lifted me to, and that branch also now looked impossibly high off the ground.
“Hurry up! You know what’ll happen if you’re late!”
I was already in a pickle and now they were trying to make me panic. “I’ll break my leg if I jump down that far!”
“You won’t.” Janine huffed. “You’re just being a chicken.”
“I’m not a chicken!”
“Chicken, bawk-bawk-bawk!” Janine flapped her arms.
Lilibeth said something to her I couldn’t hear. It might have been “But what if he actually breaks his leg? We’ll be in so much trouble.” Or maybe it was “we better ditch him and flee the scene of the crime.”
I wanted to cry, but I held it in, because I didn’t want to cry in front of them. “It’s your fault I’m going to be late!”
“You won’t be late if you hurry up, stupid,” Lilibeth said. “Come on, Nini. Let’s go.” Then she yelled up to me, “We’ll tell them to be lenient on you, but I don’t know if they’ll listen.”
And then they ran off, giggling like mad.
I eventually figured out I could wrap my arms and legs around the tree trunk and shimmy down to the last branch, and then I swung myself down to hang by my hands, figuring it wasn’t that far from my feet to the ground, right?
I was psyching myself up to let go when some guy shouted from the porch of the house. “Hey! What are you doing there!”
Oh, shit, of course it would be some angry old man’s house, right? I dropped to the grass and took off running. My hands were scraped, there was lichen and bark on my shirt, and a grass stain on my knee, but I caught up to them a block from school. I stayed behind them so they couldn’t pull any other tricks on me and we made it on time.
At some point I challenged them. “Why is it only me who’ll get punished if we’re late?”
“Because we’re special,” Lilibeth said, without batting an eye.
“Because we’re girls and we’re teachers pets,” Janine said. “So we can do whatever we want.”
Well, that was certainly believable.
Getting me stuck in a tree wasn’t the worst, though. The worst was undoubtedly what they did to some girl they had decided was their enemy. I don’t even remember her name or why they hated her. (Amy something?)
They made us hide in the bushes at this girl’s house until she and her mom, who walked her to school, left. Then they got me to climb in a partly open window–I was small enough to get through–and then I opened it wide enough for them to get in. The bedroom had pink curtains and a bedspread with pink flowers on it. I stood by the window quietly freaking out about the fact that we were breaking and entering while Lilibeth took various pieces of clothing out of the girl’s closet and drawers and threw them on the floor. She arranged the dolls into weird poses (probably pornographic, now that I think about it) and did a couple of other things to mess the place up.
During all this, Janine had climbed into the bed and wiggled around. She giggled non-stop.
“Did you do it?” Lilibeth asked.
“Give me a minute,” Janine said, before starting to giggle again. “Oh god! I did it! I did it!”
We got out of there fast after that, closing the window most of the way again and then running out the back door. We kept running for another block or two, to make up lost time, and then slowed to a forced casual walk when we spotted the girl’s mother coming the other direction.
After she had passed, I asked Janine, “what did you do?”
“Nothing,” she said. But the leering, scandalized way she said it made me realize she had peed in the girl’s bed.
I don’t know what that girl did to get on the wrong side of my sisters. Probably nothing. But you can see why I say it was better to be ignored by them than to be their target.
There were other incidents. Like the time they tried to get me to take a “short cut” to school by crossing the golf course–again, so I wouldn’t be late after they’d pulled some shenanigans. And I got hit with a golf ball while sprinting across in terror: you can still feel a little bump on my head from where it hit me.
One day a shy, quiet boy named Jack–the only one shier and quieter than me–was late to school. I spent the whole day in anxiety wondering when the jackbooted thugs were going to come take him away. At one point a woman who worked in the principal’s office came and spoke to the teacher, and then the teacher took Jack out in to the hall to talk with the woman. They came back in after a few minutes.
A little while later, during the time we were supposed to be building with blocks or something, I very apprehensively asked him, so…. what did they do to you?
He told me they asked him a lot of questions to make sure everything was okay and then gave him a letter to take home to his parents.
That was it? That was it.
I’d always suspected my sisters were full of shit, but once I knew for sure the whole torture chamber public humiliation scenario wasn’t going to happen, I vowed they weren’t going to get me like that again. Once we got out of sight of our own house, I either ran ahead, or stayed behind, or whatever necessary to get away from them, for the rest of that school year.
Yeah, life was better when they acted like I didn’t exist.
(Somehow I always thought Daron would pick this song title for a Ziggy-centric reason, but turns out not… -ctan)