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For the fourth time in two days, my sister approaches somebody she just met and says,"I want to teU you something. Have you heard ofRuby and the Romantics? I work with her.You know that song, Our DayWiU Come'? That's her singing. She's a really wonderful person, and we keep an oldies station on at work just so we can hear it whenever it comes on. Every time it does, we aU stop and Usten while she sings along. She can reaUy belt." My sister is 60 now and sorts clothes at the Salvation Army. Her posture is akeady deteriorating—she leans over sUghtly from the waist, and she is a good 40 pounds overweight from eating potato chips and drinking too much pop. Her skin is mottled, an artifact from awful teenage acne. She got her grayflecked hair chopped offfor this trip to see me, but it's still unruly, sticking out at the crown. Her eyes are smaU and close together, and her teeth are very, very bad. She's got some sort ofplate holding one ofher front teeth in, but the whole contraption is crooked and yeUow. Nonetheless, she often smües broadly. Despite aU the above, there is a striking family resemblance between the two ofus, something around the mouth, the shape ofthe face. I want to say that she looks like a bad clone—one that didn't turn out quite right. When I look at pictures of the two of us together, I am alarmed. That we incontrovertibly share the same genes, that despite aU our differences my sister and I are deeply alike, is a fact that has driven me and frightened me aU my life. ? The first time my sister told me the Ruby story, it was just the two of us alone. I had picked her up from the airport for this week-long visit, and when she teUs me about Ruby she confides she reaUy doesn't Uke her. She says Ruby's kind ofbossy. 2 Fourth Genre But my sister has quickly discovered that my friends love her story about Ruby, and that it's better not to say she doesn't Uke her. My friends want my sister to say she Ukes Ruby, and with a remarkable social instinct, my sister does, as if she'd never said a word to the contrary. I think my sister is some kind of social idiot savant. Some of my friends think she's a stitch. She embarrasses me. This is an essay about shame—about being ashamed of being ashamed. And how love and shame can coexist, surging up intertwined and inexplicable Uke kudzu on oak. And how, sometimes, love wins out. I'm ten years younger than she is, but because my sister was in special education her whole childhood and didn't leave home until she got married at 26, and because she and I were the only two daughters in the family we shared a bedroom until I was 16. Most ofthat time we slept in bunk beds, and I was always on top. When she got mad at me, she kicked at my mattress. She had an unhappy body. By that, I mean—she had pimples and thick greasy hair and hay fever and she snored aU the time. She had terrible periods and bled uncontroUably leaking spots onto sheets and skirts. She used Noxzema skin cream, giving her a thick, medicinal smeU. She didn't know how to buy clothes—didn't have any money, either, and my mother didn't care much about style—so my sister's drawers were fifll ofgarish pedal pushers and pflly sweaters with bare spots at the elbows. She had a black poodle skirt (the poodles pink and white, with silver threads worked in), which she loved. I thought that skirt was ridiculous. Hers were the first bras I closely examined: I thought they were pathetic— she kept them too long and the straps turned gray. Sometimes the straps would break and she'd fix them with a safety pin. Sometimes they showed, as did her sUps, incorrigibly misfitting whatever skirt she wore. My first opinions...


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