That Nat

Her eyes were bigger and darker than mine, by how much, I didn’t know. When we were growing up, everywhere we went, “Look at those big brown eyes!” was the first thing people said about my sister.

Nobody said that to me, not even as I stretched up on my tiptoes, pried my eyes open with my fingers, and smiled at the complimenting cashier. Nope. I usually got, “Oh. You have brown eyes, too.” Which is the equivalent of saying, “Yep, you have two eyes.” Nobody seemed mystified by mine.

The next thing people noticed about my sister was her hair. I got my mine from my mom’s raven locks, while Natalie’s was white and as fine as down. Her hair became translucent when wet, like shiny skin, but once dry, it would lift in a perfect arc around her head.

The sun would find her—in the corner of the room, hunched behind our mother’s bell-bottom pant leg, or squatting in the grocery cart behind a bag of Puffed Wheat cereal—then, Nat and her fine white hair would glow.

“She looks like an angel!” people would say, appearing out of nowhere, hands raised out in front of them, eyes fixed in a trance as if right there on aisle 7, they were in the presence of a messenger of the Lord.

I didn’t see what the big deal was. My hair stuck up, too, from three annoying cowlicks. Two are at the front of my hairline, right at my forehead. Each twist in opposite directions, impermeable to bangs, making me tragically uncouth in the 1980s. The third cowlick is smack dab in the back of my head, creating a perma-hair bump, also making a straight part for things like two ponytails or braids, an impossibility.

When the sunlight found me, I didn’t light up like an omen. I became a void, trapping light like a black hole. No matter how much I marched in front of large, sun-filled storefront windows wagging my single ponytail, “Uh-huh. You have hair, too,” was all I seemed to get in return.

However, where I would gladly prostitute myself for the spotlight, the constant attention to my little sister was her curse.

Nat was born shy, painfully shy. To her, a large family was a blessing. She could be absorbed in the sheer number of older siblings and escape notice, even amongst the herd.

It wasn’t just her expert hiding skills that made her invisible. Nat didn’t speak. Ever. To anyone. Instead, she created a specific kind of mime through hand gestures and head nods. Then when we guessed correctly, she would reward us with a grin exposing a single dimple in her cheek and all the long moments of playing baby charades were worth it.

I think our age difference of two and a half years was hard on both of us. I was the big sister. When I told you to do something, you do it. It was my rite. But Nat disagreed. She figured because I was not much bigger or older than she, why would I automatically get to be her boss? Of course, she never said this. No, Natty was a biter.

Having Nat as a little sister was terrible for me once she became mobile! From her years of evading notice and practiced disappearing tricks, she had become apt in stealthiness. Also, for some reason, when her baby teeth came in, they came in as fine points. All of them! She became the bane of my existence.

Nat would sneak up on me watching Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street in front of the television. The first notice she was there was the piercing hot pain radiating from my shoulder, or my neck, or even from the middle of my back, right near my spine.  At the peel of my screams, she would evaporate, leaving no trace except a pair of twin puncture wounds in my flesh.

Nat would appear, bite, and disappear so quickly that soon I found myself in a state of paranoia. In a chair with its back against the wall, I would sit ramrod straight and wait for her to come for me.

Once, while sitting on the couch, a sharp pain hit me like a lightning bolt in the ankle. Nat had army crawled under the sofa and chomped my foot before I knew she was there!

I suppose one would assume from my description of our early years that Nat and I don’t get along as adults. This is false. My little sister Natty is delightful.

Although her eyes don’t seem to garner the same kind of attention and her hair has grown as dark as mine, there are three things I still envy about her.

My sister Natalie is absolutely authentic with everyone. There is no hiding behind a protective candy shell developed over the years to maintain a three-feet-by-three-feet personal bubble, which is why people like to approach and hug her. She’s a willing, able participant! Plus, her hugs feel warm, inviting, and unabashed. They feel like love!

Nat smiles easily, without an ounce of self-consciousness. Ever. Why would she need to be self-conscious over smiling? Why would anybody need to be? I don’t know, but I always am! As an adult, she smiles, and often, exposing her dimple, and she glows.

And then there’s her laugh, like soft wind chimes or the ebb and flow of the ocean. Hers is magical, with a slight lilt, a slow rise, and fall—nothing jarring, no guffawing bark, no sudden snort, or breathy chug, chug, chug. I suppose she laughs like an angel.

The older I get, the more and more I want to be like Natalie when I grow up. I’m delighted to have her in my life. I’m honored to be counted, not only as one of her sisters but as one of her friends. I love you, Sissy!

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