Wishing a very happy birthday to my big sister. Love you, always. Thanks for paving the way.



A small child with very fine, white-blonde hair climbed the stairs to the second storey of her house. At the top, a small landing. To her right, the master bedroom. Straight ahead, the door to the eves. To her left, another bedroom, forbidden in all the ways a teenage sister’s bedroom can be to her baby sister. A round hole above the doorknob, remnant of a removed deadbolt, was tightly packed with an old white sock to keep the room safe from prying, spying little eyes.

I only remember being inside my oldest sister’s room a few times during my childhood. More than ten years my senior, and with an autumn birthday to boot, she went away to college at the tender age of seventeen, leaving just as I was about to enter the second grade. Throughout adolescence, she was very involved in her school’s drama and band departments; and, although I just made her sound like a giant dork, I don’t believe she ever was (much unlike my other sister and me). Instead, she was refined. And beautiful. In fact, she always has been and remains in my mind a standard of beauty and refinement, which I have sometimes aimed to achieve by wearing her clothing, sometimes (usually inadvertently) by imitating her mannerisms.

I liked to pretend to be fifteen. It was a mature and sophisticated age, filled with friends and responsibilities and maybe even a job. I assume this fascination began when I was five and she, fifteen. After she left for college, I would pretend to be in college, too, with loads of important projects to do, a car, and an apartment. My dad’s full Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia set was my make-believe college library. But for the longest time, I would imagine that I was ten-and-in-fifth-grade. I was very adamant about this specific of the Game and have often wondered why. Writing this now, it’s glaringly obvious: it was the age my sister was when I entered her world.

The child hesitates outside the door on the left. “Mimi?” She pushes herself up against the door and hangs hard on the faux crystal doorknob, which is at eye-level. “Mimiii, can I come in?”

If I got lucky, she would let me come into her room and play with her stuff. Since I wasn’t allowed in her room most of the time – and certainly never alone – the place had an air of mystery. She had a lot of dolls, all precariously balanced on a small wicker chair in the corner, but I was most interested in what was on the shelf, far out of my reach. She collected glass bottles of all sizes, and she had them lined up on the shelf, from biggest to smallest. There were dozens. Some were clear, some green. Most were old Coke bottles. The smallest bottle she had was of particular interest to me, as I too was the smallest. It was very tiny, and she would sometimes let me hold it.

A teenage girl opens the door and lets the child in. Knowing exactly what she wants, the child walks over to a single shelf that’s screwed into the wall. She cranes her neck to see the contents of the shelf above, but she’s much too short to see. The teenage girl takes something off the shelf and, crouching down to the child’s level, hands her a small glass bottle. “Be very careful.”

Today, that tiny bottle sits on the kitchen windowsill in my sister’s home. I eye it every time I visit, but so far have restrained myself from picking it up. Today, a tiny bottle sits on my own kitchen windowsill, reminding me of that mysterious room full of glass and oversized dolls and a generous sister, ever a decade wiser.


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