THE TIME I FELT CLOSEST TO MY SISTER KIM
My sister Kim is smart as hell. Not like, "That was a good movie. The writing was so...SMART!" No, I mean smart smart. Book smart. #1 in her class, Ivy league, straight A, list the awards alphabetically smart.
She also loves to laugh. She has the ability to laugh so uncontrollably that whatever beverage is in her mouth doesn't stand a chance. Out the mouth, out the nose, down the chin. Real live spit-takes. I've seen it happen. It's not pretty. But man, is it fun to see her laugh that hard.
Kim taught me how to score a baseball game. Thanks, Kim.
When we were growing up she patiently tutored me in all subjects. See, I wasn't what you'd call book smart. I was what you'd call lazy and not very bright. Whatever chance I had for academic success I traded long ago for a bent whiffle ball bat and a serious Starburst dependency, both of which kept me from my homework. So Kim dutifully helped me get by. As she would go over the reasoning behind the quadratic equation or the process of cell division, it all seemed so simple to her, like she really understood what she was saying. I went through school trying not to say something so stupid as to make it completely obvious that I had no clue what I was talking about. How could we be so different, Kim and I, I sometimes wondered. How could these things come so easily to her and be so confusing to me?
The difference, of course, is work. Kim worked harder than anyone I knew. She came straight home from school everyday and did her homework till dinner. Then after dinner, she went right back to her room and did more homework till 9:00. Then she went to sleep. This was the routine every day for as far back as I can remember. Sure, she's naturally smart, but she's also got something inside her that drives her to take full advantage of that smartness.
So while Kim was proving theorems at her desk which was positioned at her bedroom window so she could look out onto the street below, I was off playing home run derby at George Odin's or slowing down Van Halen solos on an old turntable or setting snakes free in the underwear aisle of Woolworth's.
Yes, we led different lives, alright, Kim and I. And so they rarely intersected except when others intervened. One year, we took piano lessons together from creepy Mrs. Brewster. One of us would wait in the dark hallway of her dark house while the other sat and received a half hour lesson. When the half hour was up we would switch and the other one would get the lesson. Seated next to Mrs. Brewster, you could see the arthritis in her hands, hear the cracking in her voice, and smell the old-lady smell all over her. Kim, of course, practiced dutifully all week and so was prepared for each lesson. I, on the other hand, would blow it off all week and then frantically practice for thirty minutes right before each lesson and try to fake my way through. I guess I learned little from Goofus and Gallant. Our studies with creepy Mrs. Brewster culminated in a recital for which Kim and I played a duet in front of about fifty other students and parents. It was fun practicing with her and we performed quite well at the recital despite a nearly crippling case of pre-show nerves. I felt close to Kim during those weeks, but when my mother asked us if we wanted to sign up for another round of lessons, I passed. Kim did not. It had been enough for me. It was, well, too much work.
As Kim progressed through high school, it became obvious that she would have her pick of university. Her academic achievements were that strong. But in filling out her college applications, there was some concern that her record lacked certain extracurricular activities. She belonged to a few clubs, yes, but always ones that leaned more toward the brainy rather than the social or the athletic. I think this bothered her, so she set about to correct it.
Kim decided that despite the fact that she had never played a sport in her life, she would try out for the high school soccer team. And she asked me to help. At first I resisted for a couple of reasons. First, it meant I had less time for eating Starbursts and setting snakes free in Woolworth's. Second, I didn't play soccer. In fact, it was one of the few sports I really disliked. (No hands? C'mon!). Third, like most teenagers I lived in abject fear that someday someone somewhere would discovery the fact that I actually HAD a family – actual sisters and a mother and father. I mean, WHAT IF SOMEONE SAW US? My whole world would come crashing down. Despite these obstacles, I agreed to kick the ball around a little with her after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour over the three weeks until tryouts. After all, she never complained about having to tutor me, so what the hell.
The first Tuesday seemed like a huge waste of time since neither one of us really knew what we doing. We walked down the street from our house to the Phillips School field, stood about twenty feet apart, and started kicking the soccer ball back and forth to each other. After about the fifth kick, the ball went a little astray. I went to retrieve it and did a little turn-kick-spin move that I'm certain Pele would have loved, but my accuracy was off so the ball skipped right past Kim and rolled about ten feet behind. So now we were about forty feet apart. Not good. The widening of the gap between us grew with each errant kick until Kim was halfway to the backstop on the softball field and I was in deep left field, a good 50 yards separating us. We were gaining little knowledge as to the finer points of the game. Instead, we were just kicking the ball hard and far. After an exhausting hour of this, we headed back home. Kim was not discouraged and was already thinking about the next time.
The next time was a little better. We tried to stay closer and not kick so hard. I still didn't really want to be there (what if someone sees us?) but Kim was really trying hard. Not particularly blessed athletically, she lacked a natural sense of timing so crucial in most sports. Consequently, she would routinely over run balls or set herself for a kick too late resulting in an awkwardness of motion. I suspected at the time that she also may have been self-conscious about her breasts bouncing around so visibly.
As the three weeks drew to a close, we had definitely improved. Our kicks were more accurate and our ball handling was OK. The ball still got away from us occasionally but we recovered quickly. I couldn't say I was enjoying it, I still didn't like soccer, but I was noticing a definite deepening of the relationship between myself and Kim. Separately, we were both working through the different obligations of our lives in our own way. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we were working toward something together just like we had been when we had our duet at the piano recital. And to my surprise, it felt good to be doing something for her for once. I was helping her in one of the few ways I could. Looking back, I think I may have learned more during those three weeks than Kim. It was the closest I've ever felt to her.
She made the Junior Varsity squad the next week.
starburst • high school soccer • goofus and gallant • pele