My sister is 18 months older than I am. Since our family moved a lot when we were kids, we established a love-hate relationship at an early age. Her name is not Priscilla (or Pollyanna), but that’s what I’m going to call her, because even though she’s 41 years old, she would probably call our mom and tell on me if I resurfaced the nickname “Prissy Missi”…
People that didn’t know us well throughout our lives thought that we looked like twins. Those would probably be the same people that think that Patrick Swayze’s brother, Don Swayze, looks just like Patrick. The reality is that it’s like a normal, pretty sibling is born… and then the less-than-perfect leftover genes produce us. Yes, me and Don Swayze. Close, but no cigar. And someone left this baby (read, me) in a corner. I didn’t “have the time of my life”. If Priscilla was “Dirty Dancing”, I was “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”.
To quote from the Unofficial Don Swayze website (www.donswayze.com), “For every person in the world, there is a Don and there is a Patrick. The Patrick is handsome, confident, assured, while the Don is surly, malformed and squinty. For every famous person, there may be dozens of Don Swayzes, in fact, if people tell you that you look like someone famous, only one chromosome shy, you are probably that famous person’s Don Swayze. On the other hand, if you have a sibling who comes across like an inbred hillbilly version of you, then you may in fact be the Patrick in the relationship and the world is your oyster.”
Why people feel that taking two siblings and comparing them is a socially acceptable form of torture continues to elude me into adulthood. As children, I got attention because I tried harder… (as in “Avis, We Try Harder”). When you’re second in the running you tend to work to get a little more attention. When you’re Priscilla, you just tattle all the time and I end up with a spanking (with a Ping Pong Paddle) and another story about the straw that broke the camel’s back. (I personally think the camel in my dad’s story was the wimpiest camel ever… its back was always breaking.) But if Priscilla had a better Show and Tell item, I would lie to my teacher and tell her that Priscilla stole it, so I could use it. If Priscilla bought Body Lingo corduroy pants and looked adorable, I would buy Body Lingo corduroy pants that were so tight I would get sick and almost pass out at Sunday Evening Church. When Priscilla cut her hair in a short bob and looked bouncy and peppy, I would get a short bob that after about 2 hours would succumb to humidity and become not-so Dorothy Hamill, but more Rosanne Rosannadanna. And when Priscilla was asked out on dates and turned them down, I was always right there ready to say yes and, yet again, take the title of First Runner Up.
When she went to college, I had two entire years of high school to be my own person. Unfortunately, we moved right before my junior year to the most depressing city in Florida, and my plans to flourish and become my new, improved self fell on blind eyes. No one knew my sister, no one really cared to know me, and I quickly found myself living for the one weekend a year I could go visit Priscilla in college and pretend I was her mysterious younger sister.
There was a time that our family of six lived in a green doublewide trailer with the obligatory above-ground pool. The interior walls were decorated with faux wood paneling, and the linoleum floor that we called “yellow” wasn’t so much yellow, the color, but more yellowed with age. As to be expected, Priscilla refuses to this day to agree it was a trailer. Perhaps the latticework covering the cinderblocks beneath it really did fool her. Or maybe because we weren’t in a trailer park, she was able to hold her head higher and remain, um, (what’s another word for prissy?)… Priscilla thought the crazy lady across the street that covered wire hangers with braided Wonder Bread bags was artistic. And when the pool needed cleaning and my dad would fill it with Palmolive Dish soap, Priscilla would manage to find a way to simply lounge out of the way as soon as he was out of sight. This would leave me and our two younger brothers to run around the pool to create a whirlpool-cleaning action and bath time for three. She would keep her hair dry and her teeth unchipped, while the boys and I were slipping and crashing into the sides of the pool, bending them and flooding the yard with soapy water.
On 18-hour road trips, the seating arrangement always remained the same in our Chevy Caprice Classic (that never became the classic my dad swore it would). Andrew, the baby, would sit up front with mom and dad (ah, sweet memories of days when seatbelts and car seats were but a pipedream… where kids and parents alike were launched through windshields willy-nilly). Daniel, the second youngest, would lie in the back window. I would estimate it was about a 60 degree angle where, facing backwards, would allow the sun to burn him enough that by his teenage years, he would be forced to have sections of his skin removed due to skin cancer. But if he faced forward, he risked the occasional slamming of the breaks (mostly because my dad would be messing around with his CB radio), causing him to bang his head on the glass and then fly forward and land on the seat below him; aka Priscilla’s seat. Yes, shockingly, Priscilla managed to secure the entire back seat. She would not only claim the entire back seat, but she would mysteriously claim the only pillow in the car to rest her head as she read Little House on the Prairie books or combed her silky hair. (The other mystery would be the rational of my mother to pack a car for six people, and determine that one pillow would suffice). Sometimes I wonder if during Priscilla’s 18 months as an only child, if she and my mother made some sort of pact that mom would always make sure Priscilla remained #1.
So, I like to imagine, you, my readers, as you reach this point with bated breath, whispering to yourselves; nervously biting your nails, where this car seat assignment leaves me. Well, take a deep breath and get this… I got the entire back floor. And depending on your age, you might even think this isn’t such a bad spot for a young girl. But before you begin to feel that I am just an ungrateful younger sister, with some misplaced aggression, I would like to remind (or explain to) you, dear friend, the layout of the back floor of an early 80s sedan.
The front seat was a bench seat, and with my father well over 6 feet tall, he would immediately adjust the entire front seat by sliding it back to give his legs room to breathe (he has claimed a knee injury his entire life, but has yet to provide any proof that such an injury existed beyond simply rubbing it during trips and making “woe is me” sounds.) The remaining 5 inches left were doable for my hips at that age; although it did mean that once I wedged myself down there, I had to accept the fact that I would not be moving until the trip was over or if Priscilla determined that she would let me up on the seat for a few minutes (usually because she wanted to show how pretty her headband look in her hair, compared to my headband that I had already broken because it would squeeze my big hair too tight and I would try to stretch it out… p.s. plastic doesn’t stretch… it snaps).
I apologize for all the tangents, but these stories have lives of their own. So, let’s move back to the floor. Sedans, during that decade, had what was called the “hump”. It was a large bump in the middle of the floor that had something to do with something under the car that apparently is no longer needed in today’s cars. This hump would be the bane of my existence. You see, it meant that everything from my head to my butt was wedged behind my dad’s seat, my knees would bend over the hump, and my (freakishly) small feet would have the other side all to themselves. Picture me sitting ramrod straight on the floor of the back seat, the handle to roll down the windows jammed in the middle of my spine, and Priscilla’s perfect feet to my right, sans shoes and socks. (And if Priscilla has one fault, her feet stink, a lot). And so it was, and so it shall be. Priscilla 7, Me 0.
To sweeten the pot, Priscilla and I shared bedrooms almost every day since we were born. We even shared a bed. Well before middle school years, Priscilla had implemented the “line” down the middle (read, not-so-middle) of the bed that could not be crossed. And if I were unfortunate enough to cross her line while she was still even remotely conscious, I would be subject to a swift kick to the back, kidneys, or legs. Priscilla’s legs were oddly strong (but nothing compared to the painful vice grip of her daughter’s thighs… this will be addressed in another chapter. We can assume, for now, that the chapter might be called My Niece’s Freakish Thigh Strength).
A few stories pop into my head, so I will try to remain focused and not jump all over the place here. Once, while we lived in our large (doublewide) home (trailer), in the outskirts of St. Louis, we had all gone to bed on a cold night. The house was quiet and everyone was sound asleep (okay, I know I was asleep, but let’s assume we were all asleep for this story). At some point during the night, the smoke detector went off. You would think everyone would jump out of bed and run to safety, but that wasn’t the case. I didn’t even wake up. Well, I didn’t wake up until Priscilla turned sideways, squared her feet on the small of my back, and launched me off the side of our bed… I can’t say the exact moment I awoke, but it was somewhere between the kick and my clumsy landing on the dresser that sat one foot away from my side of the bed.
The good news here is that said dresser was made out of cardboard. And readers, don’t you dare think I am exaggerating here. It was cardboard covered with contact paper. Granted it had drawers and knobs… but spray it with a hose, it would have been soggy.
But back to the burning trailer… we all eventually gathered near the main room that had a fireplace (not so much fireplace, but more a stove where my dad burned newspapers that he boiled and spun into logs… ugh, another story there). The only thing I remember from this moment on is that I saw my dad in his underpants for the first (and thankfully, only) time in my life (well, except the wisdom tooth situation which will be addressed when appropriate).
The trailer was not on fire… I wasn’t Farah Fawcett in The Burning Bed… we were just the family that closed the flue shoot to the chimney. Again, I imagine there was some relief in our home (trailer), but I was numb and my dad was in his underpants. I only wish I could say that it was now all but a blur.
While we were in high school together, (Priscilla a junior/senior, me a freshman/sophomore), we again were sharing a room, a bed, and a closet. It was in this room in our home (yes, readers, this was a real house… with an upstairs, a basement, and solid foundation), that our last years as roommates took place. (Well, the last time until she moved home after college, and I came home from college because I was pregnant… don’t worry baby birds, I’ll feed you.)
It was at this point that my body developed (noticeably) overactive sweat glands and Priscilla developed an (uncanny) ability to open her side of the closet and sniff out anything of hers I may have borrowed (and not washed; just hung back up). Her clothes were always cuter; the grass is always greener proverb applies here. When we both wanted cute Guess plaid pants and were encouraged (read, forced) to buy Palmettos, she would know without a doubt which ones would be cuter once we got them home. I would come home and find mine to be a color that matched nothing, and much like my Body Lingos, would provide me camel toe and stomachaches like you can’t imagine.
As an aside, Palmettos were close to Guess (see Don Swayze reference at beginning of this chapter)… while Guess had an upside-down triangle logo with a question mark; Palmettos had the right side up triangle with a palm tree (that from afar, was supposed to resemble a question mark). Priscilla could put her pair on with any top and look adorable, while I was stuck with a shade of aqua that was only duplicated years later in my parent’s home in Florida… in the shade of their carpet (refer to the chapter entitled, My Homes). I would tell myself the reason for the less-than-cute look I was hoping for was due to the triangle being the wrong way… so out come my Home Economics seem-rippers and glue gun. I removed the patch and turned it around. Big mistake. The light aqua dye of the pants was not the dark blue dye that was under the patch. Not to be dismayed, I would show those Guess folks, I figured a touch of bleach would clear up my dye problem in a heartbeat (more on dye problems in upcoming chapter called My Hair).
So, now I was stuck wearing aqua plaid pants with a bleach stain on the back pocket and bubbles of glue holding on the stupid Palmetto tree logo. (Seriously, how was I ever supposed to get ahead when the world was so clearly against me?)