When I was small, Mom rarely sat down. Ironing, cooking, cleaning, fixing her hair and makeup, she was always fiddling with something, never taking a break.
So one afternoon, when she began resting on the white couch for days, my brother Matt and I tiptoed around her as if she had an infectious disease.
Mom looked lost and small. Her hair was strangely messed up, and her lips were missing the usual frosted coat of lipstick. Her mouth drooped in a thin, half-circle. She clutched at her middle.
I sensed that she was sick or hurt, like a lost bird, and her broken look intrigued me. Saucer-eyed, I watched her rest. Then Matt and I played around her, acting up, threatening to spill soda on the white carpet, but Mom didn't move. She gripped her middle, hugging herself.
Then I heard Dad whisper to another big person that Mom had lost a child.
After her miscarriage, though, Mom got pregnant again, and Dad seemed mellow and quiet as usual. Matt and I acted awkward. Our mouths made "O's" and we were shifty in our shoes. We stared at each other, quietly shocked. But we went out to play and pretended nothing was new.
I was 9 years old. Matt was 11.
Later, as Mom's belly grew, we were all excited, fixing up the guest bedroom, turning it into a nursery, hauling baby clothes and supplies up from her neatly labeled boxes in the basement. We were all ready.
Until Sept. 8, 1983, Matt and I had ruled the kid section of the family. This marked the day when Tracy came home, our little sister we soon nicknamed "Snook." Matt and I patiently waited in her nursery.
It was sunny in the room. Shifty and silent, Matt and I took turns sitting in Grammie's yellow and white chair, waiting there, posed, our backs as straight as two fence posts.
I wore my lavender sweater, the one with flowers near my heart. I had on tight, dark blue jeans, and I worried that the seams might bust. I swore everyone could see my stomach through the sweater. Tangle-free, my thick, long hair was center-parted, barely held back by two thin barrettes.
I thought about taking the barrettes out. I wanted to cover up my cheeks. But then I stopped, snapping the barrettes back in place, because I was afraid to mess up my hair.
Matt needed new school clothes. His sleeves came up short on his spindly arms. His hair shot straight up, frizzed out in his famous thick, curly hairdo. By then he'd grown out of his stuffed monkey collection, and the girls on the bus always wanted to sit near him. Matt was a player in grade school, with his rambunctious curls, wiry body, and clear blue eyes that held a curious light.
Anxious, I felt like it was my baby coming home. My stomach rumbled. I felt hungry, and I didn't want to feel hungry.
I am not hungry. Where's my Mom? Where's my baby? Maybe now that there's another kid, people won't notice that Matt's the cute one. Maybe they won't notice I'm so fat.
Finally, Matt and I sat up straighter, hearing Dad's Cadillac pull in the driveway. Matt spread the levelers open with his hands, peeking out the window, announcing, "Here they come!"
Slowly, carefully, Mom walked up the steps, looking worn. She was a lot smaller in the middle, instantly shrinking when our Snook left her, arriving to our world.
Mom looked gorgeous that day. Wearing no makeup, her hair was feathered and cut short. She wore a loose maternity top. She handed the baby to Matt, then me, and we took turns holding her, passing her back and forth while Dad took pictures.
I worried about how I might look in the pictures. Snook was so small. I felt like a hippo. I didn't want to be a hippo sister. I wanted to be small and helpless, like her.
Snook looked warm and red, buttoned inside corduroy pants with no holes for feet, her shirt small enough for dolls. Her eyes squeezed shut; she was still half-sleeping.
I was afraid to bruise her damp, paper-soft skin. I was afraid to touch her hair, scarce and dark, curled into a tiny tornado on top of her small head, flat in back, slightly dented from the womb.
I was afraid to touch and hold a body. I had never touched and held a living human. This was new. I was so big, and I might hurt her.
Matt and I shared a rare moment together in that room. Suddenly, we weren't arguing. Rather, we were studying and celebrating a new life, our sister Snook.
Before Snook came, Matt and I were deep into the fighting stage, daily showing how close we were in age. Snook broke us up by appearing and resting quietly there. We could barely see her chest rise and fall. Her tiny breath.
In that first moment when we held Snook, Matt and I learned to take turns. Suddenly, there were three of us.
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