I was nine and we lived in a townhouse complex in Maryland. Between the kitchen and the living room, a chair was placed under the steps. Maybe I dragged it there, maybe my mother had carefully placed it there. She often thoughtfully rearranged the furniture around our home. It is the first memory I have of saying, loud and clear, that I wanted to be something “more.” With a composition notebook and a pencil, I jotted notes on curled paper, a bump protruding from my middle finger, where I regularly placed my #2 pencil and wrote pages until the pencil itself broke in half. I wanted to be a writer. Not just any writer I suppose—one that wasn’t held up in the corner apartment with dim-lighting and jazz tunes and wax over-filling the candle plate.
My sister responded very mater-of factly that she wanted to be normal. Normal? I was perplexed. She wanted a regular job, kids, and a house. Not a two-story house; one floor would suffice. As the years went on I felt particularly confused by her complacency. My sister was the smartest girl I knew, only a year ahead of me and a plethora of books engrained in her brain. She could read silently and comprehend a book at the same time. At nine, all of these traits screamed exceptional. She had it all, yet she didn’t want it all. She wanted normalcy.
I recalled the memory vividly as our Volvo curved the corner of a steep mountain hill somewhere upstate while River and Oak slept in the back. Peter listened to talk radio, and I looked down at our coffees rattling in their cupholders. My cup is always behind his, spilling over just a tad, with a moist lipstick stain covering half of the top of my cup. My favorite view happens to be looking over his lap and seeing his wedding band gleam, depending on the direction of the sun. I like the way the crease of his jeans feel as I curve my index finger across them, and the way he knows to grab my hand as I start to dose once the ride ticks past a half hour.
I realized this in our very family-friendly, normal car, going to cut, wrap, and bring home our own quaint normal Christmas tree for our tiny Brooklyn apartment. The apartment with the fence and the yard and the sun that comes up and leaks through our headboard at about half past noon every day. We don’t have pets, but we do have a squirrel family that visits our yard every morning, burrowing winter bites away. I realized this as we entered the tree farm and a discussion was underway how I was just “done” having children, a boy and a girl, and everything was right. I realized this on our way back as the coffees were replaced with hot ciders and crusty donuts, and the kids made a mess in the back seat with freshly-popped popcorn. We opened the sun-roof shade and kept our eyes up to the roof of the car, making sure our tree made it safely back to Brooklyn.
I realized that I had normal, and it made me, in that moment, so insanely happy. The thing that I despised all those years—complacency, predictability, whatever it is called—how it felt so right and normal. I realized that my sister and I were and are more alike that we are different.