WE ARE Narcissus

I have tried to write my story many times and have never been able to get far. I always go over my words again and again, editing and polishing and getting caught in the obsessive intricateness of arranging lyrical phrases. I am hoping that writing this online and posting as I go will keep me pressing forward.

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4. Pecking Order

my sister, the golden child, and i were never sibling rivals. there could be no competition because she had won every possible prize already. she was petite from the moment she was born, blond, green eyed, with a fine pale nose lightly dusted with freckles. she had my mom's love, such as it was, and loyalty, and she possessed a tongue sharp as a razor blade. she wasn't afraid to cut deep and watch her victim's spirit bleed. our relationship was a mixture of hatred, jealousy, envy, idolatry, and cruelty. a cauldron whose toxic contents bubbled and hissed perpetually, could be concealed beneath a lid for stretches of time but never lost their corrosive power.

 

in the beginning, at least, she didn't hate me. i was invaluable to her as a source of power, the ever flowing source of material for the satires she enacted before an audience that hung on her words, salivating for the blood that she drew with each slicing flick of her tongue. 

 

i think the ferocity with which i hated her probably did scare her. i caught it sometimes, the traces of fear flickering behind her eyes. because i could not defend myself with words. sometimes i tried, erupting in some angry outburst that only gave her more fuel with which to do her work. "don't be so defensive," my mom would say. "if you didn't respond that way, she wouldn't tease you. it's your reaction she's looking for." to a certain extent, she was right. my reactions, when i did give them, added new dimensions for my sister to explore in her heckling. but my mom was also wrong, because the primary goal of teasing never had anything to do with me: it was about my mom's responses, her laughter and appreciation, as well as those of my siblings. it was about the way everyone would gather in a circle, like this was a sport, verbal bear-bating, and sometimes join in, in small ways. it was about the reputation she garnered, the fact that everyone could clearly see it was important to stay on her good side, because look what she would do to you if you crossed her. it was about the fact that her standards became the norms everyone in my family strove to live up to. it also was about the fact that my mom never reproached her or stopped the teasing, but always focussed on what the victim was doing wrong in the situation by standing up for him/herself or by caring when his/her dignity was stripped away, which was the same thing as backing her up. every "defensive" word or action of mine was quickly squashed. so my hatred was silent, most of the time, because it had to be. It festered like a sore everybody pretended not to see. But there was a latent violence lurking in me that the fear in my sister's eyes acknowledged was there.

 

i won't pretend that at the end of the day we loved each other, because we didn't. family members who claimed this was so were either in denial or oblivious. if she'd seen me run over by a bus, my innards strewn about, a flattened gorge in my body where the wheels had smeared me outward like they were trying to roll out a pie crust, i cannot claim to be either a mind reader or a predictor of the future but i believe she'd have felt a not insignificant quantity of gleefulness. as for me, i never even once had a thought to wish ill to fall upon her. but i did more than a few times want to stab her repeatedly in the face. i do to her physically a measure of what she'd done to my self esteem.

 

of course, there were other components than just anger to our relationship. i always wanted to be like her. when she started jelling her bangs back, transforming her hair into a hard, glossy helmet above her large forehead, i thought that was the epitome of beauty and fashion. i contemplated plastic surgery from a very young age, eager to swap the nose i thought of as bulbous and snubbed and my pudgy cheeks for a lean, delicate face like hers'. 

 

i asked the golden child for many years on my birthday if i was "a big kid yet." when i was eight and she was nine she said you had to be nine to be a big kid. when i was nine she told me i'd be a little kid till i was ten. when i turned ten i got wise to her game, and though the realization that i'd never be given the satisfaction of hearing from her that i had at last made the leap and become a big kid turned my stomach, i stopped asking.

 

we were close in age and close in size. as an adult, i probably measure five foot three, and she stands at five foot one. at some point i surpassed her in that one area of life. since weight was a topic of much discussion and energy in my family, sometimes i'd hear her weight at particular instances of our teenage years. i liked nothing more than those occasional glorious highs i got from learning that, just this once, i actually weighed less than she did. which never changed the fact that she was skinny and i was a "fatty."

 

there were times when economical living in a family of fourteen children necessitated that we share a room, the golden child and i. or maybe it was just that my mom enjoyed throwing us together. i remember showering with her after a trip to the beach, working neon colored, strawberry smelling shampoo into a latter in our hands then pressing them to each other's flat chests. leaving behind white, foamy palm prints that we pretended were indian war paint. we shared a piano teacher and sang the same songs with him, and she made sure i was aware of the agony my voice evoked upon others, and i never told her how during her lessons i choked back my emotion and wished someday i could sing as beautifully as she did. she pretended to be a fortune teller, and traced my future on the cracks and wrinkles of my palm, explaining how this one meant that i would never marry, and have no children, and live alone with twenty cats, and die young and overweight and dumpy. I didn't need to tell her that i believed her, because she was there as a witness with a front row seat to my self destructive behaviors. without knowing it, for years as i did everything within my power to make her predictions come true.

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