My first days of high school, I wanted to change
my last name, I wanted my own identity.
Not because everybody hated you, but because
they loved you so much, and I was not you.
You had just left and I had just arrived,
and I could no more take your place
than a noontime shadow can take the shape
of the body that leaves it behind.
Mr. Delaney was new, so I could not remind him
of you. But the rest of the teachers
were soon disappointed that I had not studied
you better, had not learned the same things.
I could not live up, so I lived down
the boys who passed their crushes on to me,
the girls who wanted me to join things
so they could be in charge of me as you were of them.
I wanted you more than ever
to have never existed.
I was the keeper of a flame
that had never been lit.
It’s not that you hadn’t taught me things,
or that I hadn’t listened. When I got my schedule in May,
you talked me through from teacher to teacher,
telling me your version of the truth.
You could flirt your way to extensions
with Mr. Peterson, while Mrs. Platt would rather
stick a fork in your ear than answer a question twice.
Mr. Rose gave the same tests every year.
Mrs. Green had been sweet to you, and
(you promised) would be sweet to me, too.
What I should’ve known was this said more about you
than it did about her, and nothing really about me.
This was the one time we talked about high school
since you were already planning for college.
My change was a matter of streets while yours
was a matter of latitudes.
I could not compete, so didn’t.
I dove into your preparations,
went shopping for a wastebasket and a microwave,
which would be going with you instead of me.
This was how we’d always played.
You were Cinderella, I was a mouse.
You were Alice, I was the Hatter.
You were the sun, and I wasn’t even the moon.
I loved being the supporting character,
because I felt it was my way of supporting you.
I asked for nothing in return
and wanted so much.
I pierced my ear four times
and ditched my old friends,
the girls who idolized you
to the point of missing me.
When Andy Reilly told me
I looked as good as you
he meant it as a compliment
and I told him to get lost.
He told me to get lost
then called me that night
to say it again.
We laughed, and I was free.
You told me about boys but always waited
to tell me about the ones who you liked.
You treated me like a direct line to Mom
when all I wanted was to keep your secrets.
When I was twelve I was too old for a baby-sitter
and you were too old to be a baby-sitter.
But Mom and Dad shackled us with allowances
so I became your Saturday night burden, and you mine.
Then Mike Reilly came over with flowers
and I knew something was going to happen.
I watched the TV and tried to listen to you
murmuring in the other room.
You left me with two slices of pizza and a soda.
You left me with a look and the door closed.
I was smart enough to know, but not enough to be angry.
You left me and wouldn’t even say where you were going.
Even after you were away, I heard things.
Those barbed admirations from girls
you probably didn’t know all that well
but who felt they’d figured you inside out.
You call from college and talk to me first
if I happen to be the one who answers the phone.
You ask how it is, and you’re asking about your absence.
You say to fill you in, but you’re not empty.
I try to picture you in the halls you’ve left to me -
it looks like a parade, everyone celebrating you.
I keep my head down, try to play
the girl who doesn’t say hello.
Andy says he remembers you
coming over, charming his parents.
He remembers when you ended it, how Mike tore
at his shelves and broke his books.
And I tell him the truth – that you
cried for days and screamed at me
when my music got too loud, as if
I was flooding you with love songs.
I wonder what you would think of me
and Andy. I imagine you would approve
and I don’t want to care about that.
I want to keep my own secret now.
I go into your room at night
and search the walls for clues.
You are my glimpse of the future
and I don’t really know you at all.
The worst is Cara Segal, fulfilling
her reputation as the worst.
You’d think a senior would have better things to do
than to search me out for taunts.
At first it’s just comments, calling me
your runt, your clone, a slut like my sister.
She wears her jealousy in a rage,
looking at me and seeing you.
I want you there to defend me.
I want you there to show there are two of us.
I want you there because I don’t know what to do
and I am sure you’d know exactly.
But you are thousands of people away.
So when Cara tells Andy and everyone else
that I am history repeating, that I will
kill his heart recklessly, I must take her on myself.
He doesn’t believe her, but I don’t like her
saying it. So I find her in the cafeteria
and belt her with an orange plastic tray.
It’s not what you would do, but it works.
Being suspended is an unexpected reward.
I am suddenly considered
another kind of person.
And I am that kind of person, if provoked.
When I get out of the principal’s office
Andy is by my locker with flowers
he skipped seventh period to buy.
He carries them on an orange plastic tray.
I do not want to be your history repeating
but you are my history nonetheless.
I do not want you to be my guide
but I want to see which way you went.
I come home and Mom is on the phone
with you, relaying the news with concern.
You ask to speak to me, and I expect
another sermon of disapproval.
But instead you say way to go
and tell me you should have smacked Cara
when you’d had the chance.
You are proud of me.
I don’t want you to be my definition.
and still I want you to mean something to me.
I have lost having you here, and here
you are, saying I am going to be a star.
The year you left, I was always missing you.
Your life was moving so fast
away from me, and I could only
grab hold so much, so tight.
But there were moments when you were still
with me, and it is these moments I gather
when I try to summon you, conjure you.
I tell Andy the stories, like the night of your prom.
I remember how you came into my room after midnight.
You were still Cinderella, ball-adorned
in the quarterlight of the hour.
You told me to follow you outside.
So we crept down the sleeping stairs
careful not to wake anything but the folds of your dress
which fell effortlessly, carelessly to the ground,
clearing the path for my bare footsteps.
I would have followed you anywhere
and you took me to our backyard
to where the swing set used to preside
the place you taught me to move my legs to go higher.
I whispered when I asked you how the dance was
and you whispered back a word so soft
I felt you were talking in a dream language
I was too young and too nervous to know.
Before I could ask you more, you bent your knees,
sat down, lied back on the grass in your pearl-colored dress,
telling me to slip beside you, to be quiet and stare
at something far enough away to make my thoughts rise.
I still do not know why you wanted me there,
what made you think of me at that moment.
But as I felt the damp ground against my nightgown
you reached over and let your hand rest on mine.
Above there were stars and planets,
distant bodies so intriguing and elusive,
formed like a pattern across night’s ceiling,
a map to all that I could not reach.
A car might have passed, crickets may have sung…
all I can remember is the silence.
When I turned to look at you, I was afraid to move again -
the moment was just too beautiful to be lost.
“Your Sister,” from The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan. Copyright © 2004 by David Levithan.