Jilly and I fought a lot when we were kids. When other folks tell me they never fought with their siblings, I think about all the circumstances in their childhood that would have made that a remotely possible reality. Maybe these people had more than one shoebox-sized bathroom in the house, and didn’t have to barricade the door shut every morning when they wanted privacy? Maybe they didn’t share a bunk bed with their sibling, such that they could feel every infinitesimal movement from her troubled sleep during the early mornings? Or maybe they just didn’t spend every waking hour together. A lot of tension builds when two people have to share everything, including a life.
Regardless, my twin sister and I fought. We hit. We pinched. We clawed. We bit each other’s arms, leaving whitened half-moons imprinted deeply across skin. We pulled hair out. We kicked at rib cages as hard as we could, and would bend one another’s fingers back in a crooked curl towards the wrist. One time, I was so angry with Jilly that I slithered into our room and licked her pillow generously to punish her without her knowing. Sometimes I’d spit in her cereal when she wasn’t looking, if we fought before breakfast. Once I squeezed a plastic bottle of artificial maple syrup over her homework, grinning with my tongue between my teeth as the air grew fragrant with its thick sweetness.
Another time, we were arguing on the living room floor. She walked away and marched back with a full glass of water, maintaining calm even eye contact as she turned it upside down over my head. Later that evening, I pummeled on a bag of Salt ‘n’ Vinegar potato chips and sprayed the heavy, oily crumbs on her bed sheets, feeling like one of those parade marchers who tosses glamorous confetti.
Once on vacation at Blue Lake during nighttime, right before bed, Jilly and I were fighting. Our rented cabin was made of wood paneling, with stucco on the outside. Wood paneling that she slammed me against in the cubicle bathroom, hissing through closed teeth, “I can’t believe you would do this here.” I could feel nails from the wall digging into my back and knew they’d leave bruises that Mom would be able to see the next day, when I’d be in my swimsuit. The thought of this made something burn and swell uncontrolled in the cage of my chest. And I unplugged the hot hair dryer from the wall and brought it down on her head. It made a strange hollow noise, like when you knock your shoe against a door frame to uncake mud from the heel. We were nine years old.
Once on a different trip to Blue Lake a few years ago, Mom burned herself on the tiny cookstove trying to fry potatoes. Later that evening, I was sitting on the shore of the lake and watched the gray sand start to shake. I thought that my brother Jack had come up behind me and was rattling my shoulders to scare me. Even as a Californian, I’ve never been able to tell right away when earthquakes hit; I always think it’s something else. Huge bubbles rose to the top of the lake like it was suddenly full of boiling water. And for hours after the quake had subsided, the trout leapt and troubled the water, making the surface shimmer in a disturbed dance.
A couple of years ago, someone introduced a handful of carp, non-native fish, into Blue Lake. They ate the crawdads and ducklings, causing them to all but disappear from the lake. Before the carp came, Jilly and I could creep onto the beach at night and shine our flashlights over the shallows. The sand would be teeming with the crawdads’ anxious little bodies, looking green and sparkly in the glow of the light through the water. Now the shallows at nighttime are calm and empty with a melancholy peace.
The morning after I clocked Jilly on the head with a burning piece of metal, we woke up before the purple light of sunrise and hunted for crawdads. We ran across the rocky beach to a tiny scoop of cove that we thought was our secret, one chasing after the other. With one arm I pressed the plastic cage for our catches against my side, furiously pumping the other to keep up with Jilly. She tossed a glance at me over her shoulder, her smile shining all animal with its giddy fullness.