It’s funny how Christmas changes when you get older – I got floor mats for my car and a bunch of cold weather clothes. My sister got lots of different sized packages filled with mounds of dollar bills, because she asked for money.
She’s also decided to get a job so that she can work right up until she leaves for college in August – she has a theory that if she doesn’t work her first semester of school, she’ll be able to fashion longer lasting friendships. So she’s saving for that and wants to supplement her savings with a job that she hasn’t gotten yet. She’s excited for the possibility that a family friend might have an in at one of those throwback diners where girls in short skirts and rollerskates bring your food out to you, so she’s practicing. In case they ask if she can skate.
She had to get into the attic to find our old kid stuff – she remembered she had rollerskates but it turned out she had rollerblades (isn’t it funny that memory can morph things like that?). They were dust-covered and taped with teal duct tape that I had bought to make duct tape wallets. She didn’t remember why she taped them – it could have been fashionable, maybe a quick fix. I think it’s because I had a surplus of the tape after I tried to turn wallet-making into a business, and when it failed, I started to just cover everything in the tape. My old bulletin board is a pointillist approximation of a wave in swatches of different blue tape.
She’s wobbly on her skates – her knees keep knocking together because she’s scared to put all of her weight on her feet. I want to give her tips but I don’t think she’d listen, especially after I found my old skateboard in the attic with her, got on top of it and prompty fell on my ass. There was a time in my life that I could land a kick flip about 30 percent of the time. But those days are over, I guess.
“How does it feel?” I ask from my perch on the curb.
“Horrible. I’ll need real rollerskates. I don’t think they’d let me wear these.”
“Well, I don’t think the concepts differ much. Practice on these and then use a box of your ones on a better pair.”
“I hate the idea of spending money just to make money.”
“Isn’t that one of the principles of business?”
“I forget, did you major in Economics or Anthropology?”
“Careful with that sass, Sis. Your tips will suffer.”
She’s skating from car to car, dragging her hands along the sides to keep her balance.
“Confidence, sister!” I yell.
“Screw you!” She rejoinders.
The box with the skates had old pictures of me and her together, staged shots my Dad took of us when he still took pictures for the family’s Christmas newsletter, as well as a couple rolls of undeveloped film. I think one of them is prom with my Senior year girlfriend, Mattie Hall – I called her when I got home for the holidays, but she didn’t answer and hasn’t called me back yet. I’m always more ready to go down memory lane than anybody else.
My sister has gained some measure of confidence and now is throwing herself across the street, not really propelling herself with that instinctual weight shifting that we all somehow pick up somewhere when skates are on our feet. Instead, she pushes off from a car, pinwheels her arms wildly, and lands on a car on the other side.
“The neighbors aren’t going to like it if you break a window,” I tell her.
“You won’t like it if I break your window!” she yells back.
“Just skate! You used to skate! Remember the roller-rink they used to have at Funlandia? We used to go every week for a birthday party or something. Just let your inner kid take over.”
“What, like you and your skateboard?”
“All I know is, you can’t pinwheel your arms if you have a tray full of milkshakes.”
“I know that. Damnit. I wish I could just work at the movie theater, like a normal teenager.”
I get back on my skateboard, and trust my feet a little more, even if I’ve traded Etnies sneakers for Brooks Brothers loafers, and propel myself over to my sister.
“Here, get away from the cars and just skate behind me. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could fall and have to go through horrible facial reconstruction surgery that makes me look like a completely different person, and I would have to go through identity therapy.”
“Is identity therapy a thing?”
“I don’t know. It sounds like a thing.”
We’ve started down the street, side by side, an eight-wheeled 18-year-old and a four-wheeled 24-year-old.
“Can I tell you something?” I ask, keeping pace with her as she finally starts to stride out.
“I really miss the time when we would have to be invited downstairs for Christmas.”
“You miss getting toys.”
“Well, toys have changed a lot,” she says, gliding with her hands behind her back. “Hey, I think I’ve got it back.”
“Like riding a bike!”
“Well, it’s not about toys. It’s just… I don’t know. I don’t like to think that Mom and Dad and you and me are all equals now.”
“Like they don’t have all the answers any more, just like us.”
“Exactly. You ready to try it with a plate full of something?”
“I think if you do tricks with the food, you’ll get better tips.”
“I think if I wear a short enough skirt, I won’t have to do any tricks.”
We stop at the end of our street and then turn around and go back.
“Does it feel weird to leave and come back?”
“It never feels like coming back. It feels like I’m going someplace new.”