In 1988, when I was 12 and viewed the world through rose-colored, grass-is-always-greener glasses, I finally got permission to move from our going nowhere slowly southern New Mexico town to Las Vegas, where my dad lived. My older sister Kim and I had been making the trek from Artesia to Vegas for three months each summer since I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade, and I couldn’t wait for one, long, luxurious vacation. I couldn’t wait to get out of my life, where my stepdad regularly beat the crap out of my mom, and where I got spankings so bad that I spent most of elementary school covered in bruises from the backs of my knees to my tailbone. I couldn’t wait to be away from my sister, who was mean and strange and always in my space.

The plan was for Kim and I to go to Vegas, where Kim would spend the summer, like usual. At the end of the summer, Kim would return to New Mexico and I would stay in Vegas, my perpetual Disneyland, forever and ever, la la la.

I.

My sister is a bright red slash of lipstick.

I wrote that when I was fourteen. We were supposed to be creating vignettes, a la Sandra Cisneros in The House on Mango Street. The line seemed just right: literary, poetic, true. I thought I’d done pretty darn good.

 

II.

My sister is a bright red slash of lipstick. Beautiful and bold and unexpected. My sister is the color that cosmetics impresarios dub “Fire” or “Dragon,” “Flirt” or “Seduction.” “Revolution.” “Absolutely irresistible red.”

My sister is a lawyer. A career that was, perhaps, inevitable. She doesn’t back down and she doesn’t equivocate. She will wound you. She will draw blood. But she will be right.

My sister is no shrinking violet. She will not be satisfied with your pinks or mauves or corals. She is high-gloss and high-intensity. She is capital letters and neon lights.

 

III.

My father had hopes that my sister would become a violin prodigy, That she would be the next Sarah Chang. But the Suzuki method is crafted for other children. Children more disciplined.  Children less willful.  Less manipulative.  The sort of children who nod dutifully and always respond in the affirmative.

But my sister always loved the word “no.”

Undeterred, my father bought her- at two-years-old- a tiny violin and a fistful of lessons at the local music school. He had dreams of a family chamber music trio. He’d play the piano, Hannah would fiddle away and, when I was born, I’d join in, tooting melodically on the flute.

It was not to be.

My sister informed the music teacher and my father that she would play only if they both got under the table and turned off all the lights. So they got under the table. Turned off all the lights. And Hannah? She remained stubborn and unyielding. She never played a note.

My sister is a bright red slash of lipstick. She is Fire.

 

IV.

“Everybody in Cleveland just thinks of me as Dan’s Hot Wife,” she complained.

“I…I don’t know how to respond to that,” I said.

 

V.

My mother taught Hannah about good touching and bad touching. This was, presumably, between the lessons on not accepting candy from strangers and never getting into an unmarked Ford Escort. Hannah heard and understood.

My grandmother went to strap her into the car seat.

“Don’t touch my privates!” she shrieked.

 

VI.

That summer, I was 5’4” and 90 pounds.  I was sixteen. I couldn’t sleep on my stomach because my hipbones dug painfully into the mattress. When I breathed in, you could see the whole of my rib cage pulsate. I hadn’t eaten in months and I was dizzily, dangerously thin. I was hoping to lose another 20 pounds by the fall.

Hannah was home from school. We were fighting. Viciously. Over what, I can’t remember. She threw a picture frame at my head. I called her a bitch.

“You’re awful and ugly,” she spat at me, “and no one will ever love you. No matter how skinny you get.”

It was the thing I was sure was true but hoped against hope wasn’t. I knew she was right about me and I hated her for it.

To this day, it’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said to me.

My sister is a bright red slash of lipstick. She is Dragon.

 

VII.

My sister was the world’s most beautiful bride. This is not opinion but fact. Everyone said so. She was radiant. As she always is.  Spinning. Unearthly. Faster than the speed of light.

I watch her go from my seat on the sidelines.