Sisters – Part 1
My phone chimed where it sat on the counter next to the stove. I glanced at it but didn’t really register what text message had just been delivered. I loved cooking dinner for my family and wanted to put all my thoughts and love into it. It was probably my mom or my best friend. They could wait a few minutes. If it was urgent, they would call.
Finally, the dish was ready for the oven — my husband’s favorite chicken enchiladas — and I washed my hands. I picked up my phone and felt my eyebrows raise.
The text was from Lisa, one of my sisters, except most of them don’t see me as a sister. My parents married when I was four years old, and my dad adopted me. My dad’s three daughters from his previous marriage are all much older than I; one already had children by the time I was part of the family.
I read Lisa’s text again. Hey, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry for all the things I did to you when you were a kid. I was really mean for no reason. It wasn’t right. You just wanted to be accepted.
My first thought wasn’t graceful. Almost thirty years later and now she’s apologizing? Took her long enough. My next thought was, “I wonder what has changed in her life to make her apologize.”
Standing in the middle of my kitchen, I remembered all the snide comments about not really being part of the family. I didn’t even know I was adopted until I was almost 10, so I didn’t understand why they were always so mean to me. I just knew that my sisters hated me. The oldest, Judy, showed more indifference than dislike, but I was the same age as her second son. Melissa and Lisa, however, were frequently unkind and sometimes downright cruel.
Thinking back, it wasn’t until our dad died that I realized they were jealous of me. After our parents got married, Melissa was no longer the baby in the family, or Lisa the favorite. I was the baby, and since I was so much younger than the other girls, I naturally became the favorite. Judy eloped when she was sixteen, Lisa moved out shortly before my parents got married, and I was ten when Melissa finally moved out after completing college. I basically had our dad all to myself. As my mom’s only birth child, I was already a priority for her. My dad’s first wife was sort of missing in action as a mother from the time my sisters were in their pre-teen years. When I was young, I had no idea how good I had it compared to my sisters.
I showed my husband my phone. “Jake, look at this text I just got from my sister.”
“Wow. What are you going to say back?”
“I have no idea.” I sighed and began setting the table for dinner.
“I’ve heard the stories. From you and your parents. Your dad told me a couple of times how the other girls weren’t very nice to you.” Jake stopped me long enough to give me a hug.
The memories weren’t ones I wanted to hold tight to, but it was hard to forget. I remember very clearly the pranks my older sisters pulled on me when I was little.
Every year, the entire family got together to go camping in Hope, Alaska. Besides our family, my aunt and her family would go, and usually some close family friends. We would take over half the campground and spend the weekend hiking, playing in the woods, and canoeing. A favorite game was “cops and robbers” with water guns. All of the kids would divide into teams and race around the woods, shooting each other with ice cold water from the hand pump in the center of camp. Sometimes my dad, uncle, and brother-in-law would join in. They were out to get any of the kids, and always had the biggest and best water guns. My mom would be with the other adult women, cooking for the next meal or cleaning up after the last one when they weren’t knitting or enjoying sitting by the lake.
I vividly remember one camping trip when I was eight. Melissa had a couple of her college friends with us, and they had a small campsite all to themselves. As I ran by their camp, I squirted water at Melissa, who was sitting by the fire. She yelled but I kept running. I knew she couldn’t catch me. A while later, when we were taking a break from the game to eat granola bars, my dad came over to me and told me to go cut a switch.
“What for?” I asked.
“You put out Melissa’s campfire, ” Dad said looking down at me. “It took them a long time to get it started. She said you came by and dumped water into the pit.”
“No! That’s not true,” I protested, stamping my food. “I just squirted her with my water gun.”
“Don’t lie, Ashley.” The accusation of lying angered me. Lowering his voice, Dad said, “You’ll only make it worse. Go cut a switch.”
It wasn’t the first time my dad had made me cut a switch. I knew that the skinnier switches would sting horribly, but that if I cut one too big, he would make me cut a different one and probably spank me more times. As I walked towards a small stand of willow trees, I passed Melissa.
“That’s what you get, you little brat,” she hissed.
I tried to get revenge on Melissa. One day, she was out with friends and I toilet papered her bedroom. I wrapped toilet paper around her bed, dresser, and the lamp. I put garlic powder on her toothbrush and petroleum jelly in between her sheets. I tried to put clear plastic wrap over the toilet, but it kept getting tangled up. I decided to wait until she got home, then go into the bathroom and put Elmer’s glue on the seat instead.
It’s too bad that being eight doesn’t protect you from stupidity. Melissa was older, so naturally, she saw the glue and garlic powder before using the toilet or her toothbrush. I got in trouble for wasting toilet paper and had to clean Melissa’s bedroom. I had to clean the entire bathroom, too. She didn’t notice the petroleum jelly until she went to bed, and I ended up having to do her laundry for a week.
“Why would you do such a thing?” my mom asked.
“Because she lied and got me in trouble when we were camping. I had to cut a switch.”
My mom coaxed the entire story out of me, bit by bit. She held me as I cried in both remembered pain and current fear of what my dad would do to me this time. I don’t know what she said to my dad to keep him from taking the belt to me, but whatever it was worked. I never minded doing chores, but even the thought of my dad pulling off his belt made me want to hide under my bed.