She vibrated with need, I can see that now. She was breathless with it, each word darting after the next with no spaces in between. Restlessness personified. The sharpest memory I have of my sister took place when she was four and I was six.
I immediately hated the dress before I’d even finished tearing the clouds of tissue paper from the box. What sort of present was this? I only liked things that were pink and I loathed dresses as a rule. I carelessly tossed the dress, box and all, onto her lap and tore into the next gift.
Hours later, she descended the staircase deliberately, placing each foot squarely and completely before raising the next. Her hair was an explosion of hairpins rising like weapons from her head.
The skirt was a melee of miniature green and white checks, finished at the bottom with buttery lace and jingle bells and she wanted to be certain that the bells didn’t cry out until exactly the right moment. Her sharp little shoulders rose as she took a breath and jumped onto the bottom landing with a flourish. She trembled, she spun, and she whirled in her colossal desire to be noticed. On the television, music blared while Hoss rode his horse through a cloud of dust.
Not one of the others glanced her way.
I raised my hands to clap, and someone shushed me from the couch. At exactly that moment I saw her soul for the first time, already worn a little thin around the edges. Her face was frightfully pale but not a tear fell. Each freckle silently shouted and clenched its fists. Her chin rose to the roof as she spun sharply on one patent leather toe and clomped back up the stairs.
For years after that, I taught her how to lose. She lost every race we ever ran. She lost at Candyland, Scrabble, and Boggle. She was not as pretty as I was, and she did not have dimples, a fact that I used to my advantage on a regular basis. The truth is, she was a copper penny shining in the sun, and I am a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. She was smart, and funny, and kind and I left her alone to fend for herself, a task for which she wasn’t quite prepared.
Thirty years later, dangling from the orange electrical cord, I think she had just enough time to silently query, “Notice me now?” before the cord prevailed. Sometimes, I wonder if it would have been kinder to choke her myself.