A funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: all my sisters turned into women. It’s something you don’t expect, that day you look at your kid sister, the one who used to dominate your home and life with her toys and songs and absurd fascinations (the Olsen twins), and see instead a Jane Austen heroine, someone emerged from that long, unambiguous, and unambitious childhood and adolescence into astonishing womanhood, and all in that single day.
Today is not that day for Coleen, my sister of twenty-one years, though it is her birthday. Her maturity came earlier, a year or so ago; hard to say, as I was not always here. But that did make it easier to spot it, Coleen’s blooming: she was here when I arrived.
What a funny, lovely girl! She always was, but now she comes in a more handsome package: student, worker, teacher. I meet her in the hallways and kitchen of our house. She is my next-door neighbor, and I catch her coming up the stairs on her way to her room. Ours is such an easy relationship: late-night banter about work and television (we both mourn Arrested Development and Veronica Mars and obsess over The Office), and sometimes come unprocessed, unprotected thoughts and fears. Rare is a connection this genuine.
Part of it is because Coleen is so uninhibited and confident. She has a terrific sense of humor and fearlessness about herself. She seems impervious, something common in our big household, but stronger in Coleen. It’s wonderful to meet an intelligence so incapable of being offended, especially when I can be so aloof and offensive. We can all be remarkably distant in this family—small feelings (and our lives are collections of them) fall through the cracks when much larger things are at stake (falling grades, sexuality, destiny). These connections keep us from drifting out completely, and it’s easier when we find each other so easy. Coleen is easy as they come, which is the best thing I can say about her on her birthday.
She proved herself years ago the funniest of us, no small feat in this clan, and it was through that combination of courage, ebullience, and wit. She’s a mad pleasure to be around, never a drag, always the beaming bright spot of a room. How can I be looking to my little sister for approval? I should have this together by now, and I do, but Coleen has exceeded me. She has a natural ability to dominate a party without over-dominating it. If the world were a wiser place, she’d be voted Most Popular of Everything.
What’s most charming about all of this is that Coleen has the self-deprecating manner of someone who doesn’t know how good she is. She hasn’t learned to flaunt her natural gifts, thank God, lest she lose them. Now, she’s a lovely clown, like Elaine Benes, one of the boys, but still very much a girl, the ideal woman.
And only twenty-one! Our great fear for Coleen (and all of my sisters) is that she’ll be interrupted on her path to her great destiny. Some vestige of childishness will sabotage her life, some boy will get her pregnant or make a joyless homemaker out of her, so much squandered potential. We haven’t yet learned to trust her.
She is studying to be an elementary school teacher, another bit of effortless, perfect positioning, whether hers or the universe’s. It’s an exciting time for those of us in the Coleen fan club. She moves slowly and assuredly and falls easily into perfection.
Happy birthday, little woman!