I always wanted a sister. It wasn’t just that I was a lonely only child. There seemed something magical about having someone that lived in your house, knew all your secrets, and shared your parents. But more than that,
I was fascinated by there being a person on this earth that you could call, “My Sister.” It rolled off other kids’ tongues so naturally: “My sister had a birthday yesterday,” or “My mother got really mad at my sister and me,” or “My sister’s got a boyfriend.” I wished so badly that I had someone that I could call my sister. At home, I used to pretend. Wanting something and playing that you have it too many times can get you into trouble.
I guess I’ve always been a storyteller, intertwining truths and untruths into neat little narratives until what happened and what was imagined would merge even in my own head. One time, this wanting a sister thing got me tangled up in a tall tale that I couldn’t find my way out of. I didn’t realize how pitiful I sounded until I retold the story years afterward.
I’m eight years old and I’m on a train. I’m alone, but part of a large group of kids being transported from New York City to Cape Cod where summer camp awaits. We are in the care of a beautiful young counselor named Fausta. Her light brown hair is wound into a thick braid that reaches all the way down her back. She has the grace of a dancer and long eyelashes that frame her blue-green eyes. I am mesmerized by her smile and it calms my terror knowing that she will be my caretaker at this unknown place so far away. All the other kids seem to know each other. They are at ease while I remain silent and knotted inside. Some of the kids are siblings. I know this because I keep hearing phrases like, “I hate my sister.” “Give me back my brother’s hat.” “This is my sister’s first time at camp.” They laugh casually as they chatter on about their lives, their brothers and their sisters. Oh, how I wanted to get into the act!
From out the din of the background kid noise, I hear someone telling a story. It sounds so exciting, I lean in to hear every word. A little girl is speaking. “My big sister’s name is Joanne. She is so much prettier than me.” The story goes on and on with details of a life and of adventures that surprise me. They surprise me because the words are coming out of my mouth! I suddenly realize that, in my desperation to insert myself into the conversation, I am weaving a story from whole cloth. A mild panic sweeps me but I’m in too deep to pull back so I brave forward. “We drove all the way to Florida to see our grandmother who took us to the beach and my sister and I fought every day….and then this big wave knocked us over and…” I have no idea what all I have tossed into that pot of lies. Was I even making any sense? Suddenly Fausta leaned over and gave me a firm kiss on the forehead. It was clearly a kiss of compassion. I was shocked, then touched, then embarrassed. Why had she so spontaneously kissed me? Was it that obvious that I was spinning such an unlikely web with so many inconsistencies? Had everyone else noticed, or just Fausta?
A good storyteller engages her listeners, moves them to enter the world of her characters, ache for their failures and rejoice at their triumphs. Was this the beginning of my life as a storyteller, having the gift to move another person to pity with my words? My story now finished, I retreated inside myself to quietly listen to others’ stories and jokes until we reached our stop in Boston hours later.