I had once been afraid of growing older, as I had watched my sister’s arms and face grow long, her feet and legs fall out of her control. At eleven, her hair had grown wild and was rarely combed, but always held back in a fat elastic band so your attention was drawn immediately to her ears and nose, then to her wide mouth and full lips. Adults remarked that she looked like Barbra Streisand. They thought it was a compliment.
I discovered the horror of 11 was only temporary, and that there was a great payoff waiting ahead. My sister’s body was filling out to catch up with what had grown first. Her spreading hips had tamed her legs, and made her her new height respectable now that she carried it well. Her skin was tight on her cheeks and pink from the sun, not as freckled as it used to be. She smelled of green apples, and kept her nails clean and grew them out a little, until our piano teacher made her cut them if he could hear them on the keys. I looked at my own nails at the end of my fork and pondered where the dirt had come from between the kitchen and the dining room.
She had sent away for a plain metal bracelet from the back of a magazine. It was engraved with the name of a prisoner of war and the date he was captured or reported missing. A lot of the older girls wore them, with pieces of colored string holding them secure through holes in the bracelt’s two ends. She explained to me you were never supposed to take it off, even when you were sleeping or in the shower, to make you remember that they are prisoners every day.
I was my own ghastly version of 11, and she was 15, and life was colored red-white-and-blue in celebration of the Revolution, as if it could make the war that had just ended go away. It was the last time the 4 years between us seemed like a chasm; over time, the gap was smaller and smaller. These days we're just the same age.
Except today. When I get to gloat. Happy Birthday.