By Katie Slezas
When I was nine or so, I boarded the wrong school bus home. too afraid to speak up, I rode all the way through and out of the small town I lived in. We passed a taxidermy office and a pond I had never seen before. To keep myself from seeing more things I didn’t know, I stared at a slash in the army-green seat in front of me; it was gummy with duct tape residue. As we drove further and further away from my home, the dips in the road and the tipping of the bus around the strange bends made me queasy. i was afraid the driver would make me get off at the last stop. I imagined wandering streets, knocking on doors, begging strangers for a phone.
After the driver had dropped off all the other children, he parked, walked the aisle back, and found me hunched in my seat trying not to cry. He asked me where I lived, radioed the problem in, and headed to my house. As he drove down the winding streets of our condominium complex, I worried my mother would yell at me for being a sheep. I imagined my big sister Andii teasing me as the bus twisted down the last loop to my door. They were both waiting for me on the sidewalk in front of the house. The school must have called them. I don’t know how long they stood there, probably talking about me, about how I got into these messes. I didn’t know what to say for myself. When the driver opened the door, I hopped down the stairs, and squeaked, “Thank you.”
My mother stepped up and thanked the bus driver, while Andii came close to me.
She said, “I was worried about you.”
I shrugged, blushing through my ears.
“We didn’t know where you were,” she whispered. “Things happen to girls out there.”
I shrugged again, vaguely aware that things did, in fact, happen to girls, especially sheepish ones. I was surprised at her worry. Instead of making fun, she thought I might have been gone forever. Walking back to the house, I expected us to grow close. But we didn’t. In our home we were always pitted against each other. Comparisons were made about obedience, hair, childish beauty, and budding breasts. We grew to admire neither our mother nor the other. Sometimes we didn’t even want to be sisters anymore.
When it was her time to grow up and out of her little girl dresses, Andii tried to share the secrets of being a woman, but I wasn’t ready. She stood in the shower explaining how mothers breastfed babies–how it took three days for the milk to come in. I crossed my arms over my flat chest. I turned away from her and shuffled my dirt-smudged ankles to the back of the tub, waiting for my turn under the water. I wasn’t even three years younger, but I was abashed at being naked next to her–so suddenly a biological entity whose future involved mating and producing offspring. I did not want to fall in love or marry; neither had panned out for my mother.
“Not me,” I thought, “maybe her, but never me.” We shared no more showers. I felt i was nowhere close to puberty; I wasn’t anywhere near thinking about life as a circle, or thinking about anyone besides myself.
After I had grown, I wished I could be a sister like my father’s mother, Nan. She’d grip the hands of sister Dotty in both of her hands and shake them, but not like business people. Instead, the hard-clasped knot of hands shivered up and down quickly as though the women were shaking themselves while their faces would smile into lines like pinched and pleated silk. Maybe this only comes with age, and surviving other, less fortunate siblings. It helps to think that Andii and I are perhaps still too young to love each other in this way.
Really we are too different or, rather, too separate. I’d like to say this is her doing. But it is me crossing my arms against her, and all that I want and don’t want to be. In some ways I am even still cowering behind a seat, fearing how far from home I have gone–wondering if I’ll ever get back.