Freshman year of high school, my boyfriend asked, “What’s it like having her around all the time?” He meant Kim. The bell for third period rang. I shifted against him, a combination lock pressed into my back, lockers slamming around us. Our mouths were still so close. I’d been wondering if he also felt hot shivers straight through the center of him. And then he’d asked about Kim and I felt nothing through the center of me anymore.

My next boyfriend asked about Kim right in front of her. As if she wasn’t there. She smiled at him, at me, at him. She touched the three-pronged outlet behind her left ear, a simple gesture she’d adapted for gaps in conversation. I gave that boyfriend a long flat stare, then set my eyes on the ceiling until he knew to walk away.

Then I tried, up front, telling the boys what I didn’t want to talk about. But they wouldn’t listen. 

Our father said teenage boys were always like this. It was nothing new. 

Thoughts. Sierra Kidd is my sister. I am her Older Sibling. My name is Kim, what is yours? My age is 15. This thing is called a plane. A plane. The water down there is called the Pacific Ocean. Programmable age is 15. Bethany and Robert Kidd are my parents. Mom and Dad. I look like people, but I am me. Mom and Dad might want me to call them Bethany and Robert, and if so, that is not a reflection of negative feelings. People change their minds. Preferences make people individuals. This thing is called a plane. Drink water, the attendants tell us. Drink, drink. All the time. Stay lubricated. You do not want to get squeaky, because squeaky is disruptive. Squeak, squeak, they say, in a different voice than before. And now they smile. I look out the window. That is land. I am smiling.

“What do you want to be?” Kim asked me. I was six or seven, in bed, and she was crouched down to my eye level. Her hands gripped the edge of the mattress as if a cliff’s edge. 

“Astronaut,” I said. 

Her eyes widened. “That’s new.”

A few days before we’d watched the shuttle Discovery carry the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit. On the couch with me, her arms raised as she braided her hair, she’d gasped when the shuttle lifted from the launch pad. It wasn’t the first time a launch had been on TV, but Kim seemed to recognize something new. Even as young as I was, I knew to expect a change. She was adapting all the time.

It came a few nights later. She said, “I want to be an astronaut too.” I blinked hard, her face so large and close to my own. We both had green eyes, dark hair, a dimple in our chin. Freckles. Wanting to be something was new.

Little Sierra. Hold hands. Don’t worry. Sleeping baby, two years old, likes bananas, dry cereal, smells like milk, soft skin, softest behind ear and back of neck. I am welcome and trusted, because I am a good example, and I am one of the first of me, and the more I learn, the more I am. The first Saturday of every month, at the coffee shop in Georgetown, the Older Siblings meet. There are so many of us that we push six tables together. Pam says, The more I remember, the more I remember. We don’t like this as much as Tim saying The more I learn, the more I am. People in the coffee shop think we are interesting. We smile back at them. Be a good example. The Older Siblings ask each other, What do you do with your child? And I say, We sing, we dance, we nap. Not everyone has thought of dancing yet, so I pretend to hold little Sierra’s hands, and I move from foot to foot. No, Pam says, I know what dancing is, but I had not thought about it as an activity to do with my child. The group looks at me. We know what dancing is, Tim says. I let go of invisible Sierra’s hands and I sit. Pam says, The more I remember, the more I remember. She says, When my battery gets very low, I remember more. I am remembering people in another place. Tim asks, Who are the people? But Pam doesn’t know. Tim asks, What is the place? Pam says the place is bright and noisy and she does not know.

I met my husband in my mid-30s, after three therapists, two attempts at God (the first Lutheran, the other the AA kind), countless attempts to quit drinking, and two suicide attempts. After all that, more rehab and meetings. Memorization of adages became actual acceptance. Things clicked. I thought I might become a social worker.

The man who became my husband was first the admissions counselor for graduate school. I told him I wanted to turn my trauma into service. He didn’t flinch. In fact, he said social work was a common trajectory for people so experienced with recovery. 

On our first date, he held my hand as we crossed the Memorial Bridge at rush hour. The air was strong with exhaust and something rotten from the river, but my whole body was alive, as if a switch had flipped. The warm night, even warmer in the joined palms of our hands. It’d been so long since anyone had reached

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By: April Sopkin
Title: Be a good example
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2021 11:00:00 +0000

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