You were sixteen, I was nine. You were pretty, popular, brave and adventurous – the object of everyone’s admiration and my envy. You were so good with people, while I struggled to make friends. You were on the honour roll in high school, while I couldn’t even get through fourth grade essays without breaking down. With every trophy you placed on the mantelpiece, I tore down another drawing I made that didn’t seem good enough to hang beside it. Even in our photographs, I knew that you were better than me, smiling your brilliant smile while I stood in frame with my eyes half shut. Our parents adored you, your independence made them proud. I was the little baby they always needed to care for.
You were everyone’s favourite. The only thing that kept me from hating you was that I was yours.
You said that I was your ‘plus one’, and then you became mine – you helped me with my essays, fractions and my social anxiety. I watched you cook with our mother as I sat outside the kitchen with my homework, sharing recipes and secrets I was too young to understand. I watched you taking driving lessons with daddy while I dressed up my new dolls and your old ones in clothes just like the ones you used to wear. I waved at you as you left with your friends in the evening, and I waited for you to come back home before my bedtime. Every night, I listened to you as you told me stories about the adventures you had that day, the adventures you always said i’ll have someday and I knew I wouldn’t, for I wasn’t like you. Every night, as you turned out the lights in our room, I prayed to the man in the clouds, to become you.
Come morning, I woke up the same scrawny little girl who wished she were her sister instead.
I wanted to be older, prettier, better at life than I was. What I was, however, was your plus one: When mommy and daddy went out for the night, I let you hang out with strange boys and girls in our house, watching you dance to the loud music you loved and I wished I liked, eating the ice-cream you got me that our parents won’t let me have.
I was your plus one: You took me to the movies and brought me a huge tub of popcorn. When the scary parts came on, I gripped one of your hands while your other hand held on to the boy you always talked to on the phone when you thought I was asleep. I was your plus one, and after the movie was over, I sat silently in the driver’s seat of your parked car with my tub of popcorn while the two of you talked noiselessly in the back. Later that night, as I listened to yet another story I knew you’d lived, you told me that one day I’d meet a boy who would make me as happy as he did you. Once, I walked into our room and found you two without your clothes on, and you made me promise I won’t tell mommy.
‘Ofcourse I won’t’, I said. I was your plus one.
One night as I lay in bed after you told me about your day at school, you opened the window and told me where you were sneaking out to with your friends, warning me that couldn’t tell a soul. I swore I won’t, finger on my lips. You left through the window and I stayed up half the night with the wind blowing across my face, waiting for you to come back with another bedtime story for me.
You were lying on the sofa outside with your eyes shut and a hole in your head as the cops asked me If I knew where you were going last night. I tried to wake you up after they left, but you must have had a long night. ‘I didn’t tell them’, I whispered in your ear. Just like I promised.
You were lowered into the ground on a sunny morning, wearing the beautiful dress with all the colours of the rainbow which I always wished would fit me; while I sat there in my black dress with a funny feeling in my stomach, my fractions and essays forgotten. The people covered you in earth and you didn’t come back home with us. I never saw you again, except for in the pictures of us that I now loved, and in dreams I’ve had every night since I’ve slept without a bedtime story.
You were sixteen, beautiful, brave, unfortunate. I was nine, lost, now more than ever, without the person I wanted to be.
You’ve been sixteen now for eight decembers. I turned seventeen yesterday – your plus one, indeed. I sit on my bed and stare at you smiling at me from the picture frame, and let out a tear a few years too late. I always wanted to be the older sister – and now I am.