A true story though foggy in a mystical, magical sort of way.
Her hair golden, flashing in the sun. Her skin, sun-kissed. Her existence — no nonsense, strong, opinionated. There was no negotiating. After all she was 3 years older. I remember a dream room. A beautiful little girl’s bedroom, in order. Perfection. Delicate trinkets placed carefully on the bureau. Clouds of powder puff and perfume floating in the air. Colorful, character poster images hung neatly, adored. Bedding for a princess complete with stuffed, talking dolls and comfort.
I'm just 5 or 6, holding an apple-sized lump in my throat. I have to leave. Again, I have to leave? Really? Please, let me stay just a while longer. This being the opposite of my life, I find refuge here. Maybe it was the normalcy of it? Maybe. It wasn't just my cousin or her room. It was my aunt, my grandma, my grandpa, the charming small town, the community. The bustling, healthy activity. Life's rhythmic heartbeat seemed to live right here. Tears streamed quietly as I'm whisked out of town.
Months later. It's dark. I smell rain. I smell earth. Groggy from the night drive but excited about my return. "Come on," she says. "Let's go play!" We find ourselves lost in hours of play. I remember grandma's backyard. Organized patterns of blossom lay gingerly, sprawling past a small greenhouse. Gorgeous fuchsia baskets sway, wispy above our heads. "Pop one," she says. "Pop it!" I follow along, popping one after another. There are shades of pink, yellow, and purple everywhere. Pansies dance happily under an oversized cherry tree. We found ourselves masters at dodging busy bees bustling around apple trees. Fragrant roses guard the entrance. The milk has arrived. Cold, thick glass tucked neatly in the box on the front porch. I slip my hand through the metal mail slot in the door. I'm finally here. I'm back.
Fresh, crisp aroma of cucumber in the kitchen. Lunchtime. First, competition to see who can get their hands the soapiest. Fluffy clouds cleansing away the wonders of the backyard. While reaching to dry, water drops race up tickling the underside of my arm. Time to sit. We are served. Giggles. I remember all-out, pee-pee dance giggles. Shhhh. We eat quietly. We lock eyes. Some how my lima beans would magically turn into cottage cheese. And mystical forces would turn her cottage cheese into lima beans! It was our pact. Our little secret. The first of many.
"Today we skip!" she says, slating the activities. "Wait! I'll be right back. " Faint in the background, I hear: "Can we go around the block, PLEASE?" She returns, chin-up, grin on her face, taking obvious pride in her top-notch negotiating skills; off we go. Skipping along, chanting, "Don't step on a crack, you'll break your mother’s back!" Kicking pebbles and pine cones along the way.
Around her, I had the pleasure of being the youngest. In the real world I am the oldest of five children. Her presence is more like a big sister than a cousin; she held my heart and great influence at a very young age. A trickster at times. "Close your eyes," she’d say. "No really, close them." "Don't peek!" A hint of something would graze my lips. I'm thinking, “What is it this time?” A green bean, fresh from the vine? A potato bug?! Or yes, yes, yes a sweet piece of candy? No, not this time. "Okay, bite!" she says. I bite. Oh! Hot! Hot! Hot! A dastardly belly laugh follows. She's done it again. A pepper, a hot pepper, of course. You would think I would learn. Maybe I didn't want to.