The Santa Anas were always at it, as were the fault lines, and as if by proximity, so were we. When the earth was silent, we were loud. When the earth was loud, we were loud. When in Rome, shake, rattle, and roll with them best of ‘em.
Los Angeles taught us to move. And everything was in motion then, which was partially the élan of youth, but in the decade plus we lived on Midvale the wind blew with more gusto than it has in this millennium, and the ground danced with more frequency—despite the ominous turned grating threat of the big one.
There were many nights when the ceiling lamp in the stairwell to our bedrooms swung like a pendulum, without a point of equilibrium. Even after the ground would stop moving, that light never wanted to hold still. The skylight in our hallway would often buckle and creak under pressure from Mother Earth, and on that one night when the earth roared like lion and shook its mane to remind Los Angeles that it was boss, a giant crack split the hallway wall that connected our bedrooms. Though this of course was not the event that fractured our union.
That movement stirred beneath the surface, long before Los Angeles could shoulder the blame.
San Francisco, 1986
There is a photograph of two little girls perched on bricks stairs at some unnamed time of day. It’s the kind you’d expect to find on an aunt’s refrigerator, and one that I don’t remember being taken.
The blonder, you—polished and barrette-ted, a bona fide little lady, sat with knees pressed together, and a smile like warm water. Your toy camera rested in your lap. You were pleasant. Pleasing. Then there was, me—unfettered with holes in my tights and underwear on display, a feral pet of a toddler, and a Minnie mouse doll choked up under my arm. My mouth agape and eyes diverted. Even in this photograph, I am loud—an omen of the clamoring to come.
We were as biologically opposite as men and women. The, if you wait for it, you might see it, kind of sisters. And it was probably around this time you decided you didn’t like me.
But we were so young. How could I distinguish the straightness of your hair and the personality it suggested? How could you, from my curls, suspect that I was anything but bouncy? In truth, I was solitary like a Panda, locked myself in my bedroom with books for the weekend, and had lungs full of scream when I heard anything that resembled a no. You were lively but refined, the perfect child, with the perfect hair and the grades to match. So now I wonder, how could sisters acclimatize to personalities that they were too young to understand?
It is not surprising, that it was just a few years later when you decided that you hated me.
Los Angeles, 1989
There are mobiles in a box somewhere, out in the wood storage hut that dad built with scrap wood. They are the nostalgia from the Beverly Hills Library summer reading club. Its rules were simple: for every book you read, you wrote a report. For every report you turned in, you got a piece of the mobile puzzle. By the end of the summer, if you had received all eight pieces, they hung your mobile, colored by you, in the hallway of the children’s section. We both participated every summer, and even though I was three years younger, I fancied myself a better reader. I thought I deserved all the books. I didn’t like that you got to read the grown up books.
So I wrote my name, in pen, on the inside cover of all the books in your bedroom.
Mom and dad sent you on a European summer adventure. You were only ten. You were gone for four weeks, riding bicycles through the greenery of Amsterdam. I was home, eating my vegetables while you devoured those chocolate sandwiches with the sprinkles.
On my tenth birthday, I expected a plane ticket instead of a card. But the only place I flew was off the rail. “Not everything is fair,” you told me.
Los Angeles, 1994
The aplomb of the Northridge quake sent me flailing from my bed, past the swinging light and round the bend in the stairs, as if my feet were on fire. It was a shake that made me sleep at the foot of our parents’ bed for the next three months. A roll that made me well with fear every time an aftershock hit. It was the same on the nights that the Santa Anas went at it like lovers with a spat to solve. I’d gather my comforter and camp out in the bathroom we shared. And I’d sleep with the light on and I’d turn on the fan, so I couldn’t hear the banging and the whistling. When you’d find me in the morning, crunched up on the bathroom floor you’d always tattle that I didn’t sleep in my bed. That I was scared again. But I wasn’t like you. I couldn’t sleep when the wind whipped something funny through the city. And you would never let me sleep in your bed. You slept through it all. So soundly that dad often wondered if you were ok. But there you were polished and together.
And there I was, wild and screaming.
Santa Barbara, 1996
I boycotted your sixteenth birthday to stay home and attend our school’s fall festival. It was after all, the fall festival, and it was to be my last before my eight-grade graduation. Where first kisses occurred on Ferris Wheels and everyone ran loose, untethered. So I refused to attend your birthday dinner.
I think this was the year you decided you despised me, but I can’t blame you.
It was unbearably humid. Walking down the street was work. We had arrived with graduation dress in tow for your commencement. I’m not sure you and I said more than ten words to each other. I don’t believe we took one photo.
Despite the fact that you have always been smarter. Despite your 1500 to my too-embarrassing-to-document SAT score. And despite a mid-college escape to Europe on my end, when I abandoned school to take myself on the European excursion I had been so rudely denied at ten… I graduated.
You were too busy—back in school again yourself, showing me up every step of the way. You didn’t even have to try, it just came naturally. “Your sister is too busy,” mom said, “but she wants you to know that she’s proud of you.”
And there were a lot of years of silence. Not real silence. We saw each other: Christmas and Mother’s Day. We grew pleasant. Yes, even me.
And the whole of our childhood that became our adulthood went something like this. You chose words carefully, while I frittered them away, because I thought they were inexhaustible. I’d volley expletives accordingly in your direction. I hate you. I hate you. We aren’t related. And we despised passionately. Though you argue to this day that you did not. You shriveled your feelings and I filled mine with gas, and we grew into two separate people—the girls on the steps, as incongruous in adulthood as they were as children. The hyperboles we told ourselves turned into golden truths. The slide of ski turned into the cut of a skate.
The above so much so that I searched often for my adoption papers, down in the drawer where my mom kept all her serious stuff. Misunderstandings became webs that caught no flies, only fictions. I hate you. I hate you. We are not sisters.
Then something non-definable happened. What parents attribute to age and maturity, but had nothing to do with either. It was simply time. Time to realize that the two little girls were more alike in mannerism and mind than hair color could ever separate.
There was no earthquake. No life lesson. All of the sudden, when the earth was loud, we were quiet. When the earth was quiet so were we.
Los Angeles, Present Day
Now we share a wall. Separated by frame and mud and tape. Literally. And it’s ironic because the one between us has finally come down.
We are so close that on nights when the Santa Anas start to blow, or a passing truck makes the old building shake as though on the precipice of an earthquake, I know you would let me sleep in your bed if I asked nicely.
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