"So, as you all know, we are here to celebrate that my stupid little brother is now an adult!"
The crowd laughs, finding this statement funny. They all know what university I was accepted into; they all know my plans to become a doctor; they all think I'm incredibly smart. My sister smiles with them, pride warm in her eyes. She is wearing a simple dress, midnight blue and elegant. Her dark hair is piled gracefully on her head. She wears only white pearls in her ears, and her makeup is discreet. Everything about her outfit says "don't pay attention to me! I'm just another well-dressed person in this room." Even so, our guests can barely take their eyes off of her to cast me fond smiles. I don't blame them. My sister's presence is simply too big, too loud. Energy vibrates off of her like heat off of pavement on a hot summer day. Her flashy smile enchants all who see it, and her sparkling eyes cannot be ignored. My sister seems unaware of all the attention though. She looks only at me.
"Well," she goes on, "he has always been stupid, and I assume he always will be. I remember this time, how old were we?" she asks me, "You were six, I think, I was 9? We were brushing our teeth, and he said," she gives a hilarious imitation of my little-boy voice: "'Ana, people are greedy, aren't they? They always try to squeeze everything out...' 'What?'" She imitates the muffled sounds of her younger voice talking around a toothbrush, then switches back to her version of me: "'you know, like toothpaste. We always try to force the last stuff out, we don't just let it be...'"
Our guests are all transfixed on my sister's every word, their eyes widen at what they perceive as wisdom beyond my six-year old years.
"My equally brilliant response?" she says, "'You are so stupid!'"
The room is once again bouncing with laughter; everyone is completely lost in the storytelling. I kinda remember the night she is speaking of, but it is merged with hundreds of other nights of my sister and I fighting for space in front of the bathroom mirror, foamy toothpaste spilling out of our mouths as we raced to see who could finish brushing first. Ana always won; I always got distracted by random things and started prattling out my philosophies. Prattle, prattle, prattle. My childhood was full of it. But my sister always listened to me. She always heard me. I wish I had listened more to her.
I remember a night when I was probably ten or so, my sister thirteen. I had fallen asleep at my desk, studying, my face smushed against my textbook. I woke up to the sound of a ball swishing into a net. It was 11:45 pm, I remember exactly. My parents had long ago gone to bed. I followed the sound to our tiny backyard where a soccer goal claimed most of the space. There was my sister: dribbling, lining up her body with her ball and the goal, shooting, sending the ball soaring in a perfect arch right into the high left corner of the goal.
Ana! I remember calling. But she didn't hear me. It was past 12:30 when she finally walked to the porch and noticed me, sweat dripping off her skin.
Luca! Why are you awake?
Why are you?
Because you missed at the game? 'Cause of what Dad said?
She rolled her eyes, hugged her ball to her chest.
You're so stupid!
No, you're stupid!
I should have told her that it was OK to miss. That she was only a kid, she shouldn't have to be perfect; she should just enjoy the game. That Dad should've known that. Instead, I pouted and went to bed. A different night, she was in her room, doing her workout while I laid on the floor next to her, simply watching and thinking. She did crunches, then push ups. She was timing her planks when I finally spoke.
Do you still like soccer?
Huh? She grunted out between clenched teeth.
Soccer? Do you still like it? Even though you work so hard?
You're. So. Stupid.
No! I mean, you're always like, 'I have to be the best!' Doesn't that take away all the fun? You don't HAVE to be the best, you know. You could just be average.
She collapsed to the floor, breathing hard, her arms trembling.
Stupid! The more you work for something, the more it's worth. And anyway, I can't just be 'average'!
Her eyes darkened as she stared at the wall, her chest still heaving.
You know, I'm not like you... like smart. I HAVE to be good at something, at this.
Ana, I think now, you're so stupid, so wrong. You're so much smarter than me. Always were. I wish I had told her that then, but of course I didn't. I was too stuck in my own thoughts, too happy and proud that, I, the younger one, was "smarter" than her. That I was better. So stupid.
When I was sixteen, Ana nineteen, she stormed into the house, slipping off black, pencil sharp stilettos and throwing them across the room. Part of me already registered that something must be wrong, that she should have been tossing cleats, not heels. But I didn't pay close enough attention.
What are you doing? She snapped. Shouldn't you be at that evening SAT prep class?
I didn't even look at her, just kept playing my video game.
I don't need it, I said, my voice smug.
You're so stupid! she shouted.
She stormed across the room, threw open the freezer door, and just stood there, staring into it.
No, actually I'm not! I took a practice test, without studying at all! And you know what I got? A 1440. That's like, really good. Everyone else got like, 1200.
It was only then that I really looked at her. Her slim, muscled body tense. Her hands clenching the sides of the fridge. Her slinky black dress. Her shaking shoulders.
Ana? What happened? I asked, finally wrapping a skinny arm around her.
She told me that her jerk of a boyfriend had broken up with her. Apparently, soccer girls weren't really his type anymore. Too strong, too hard. Also, she had beaten him in an arm wrestle.
The little weakling! I cackled. Even Ana had to laugh then. We sat on the kitchen floor, and I remember how her eyes had warmed even though her cheeks were still wet. She rested her forehead against mine, her eyes smiling and gentle. I should have told her that she was beautiful, that he could never deserve her. But I didn't.
You're so stupid, my brother. Why stop at 1440? Study a little. Get a 1590.
Of course she switched the focus to me when she was the one with a bruised heart. She always seemed to. But, in the end, I got a 1591. Her ex-boyfriend got a black eye.
Only last year, when I was still seventeen, still a child, I went to one of Ana's games. She had already been on a professional team for a few years by then. A corner kick, a shot, a block, a header, a goal. The crowd around me roared in disappointment, shaking their heads in dismay while opposing fans jumped with joy. But my eyes were only on the player still lying on the floor.
Hey! I remember screaming at the ref. My sister had tried to head the ball out, but an offensive player had jumped for it too, ramming her head into my sister's. While the other player only rubbed her head a bit, my sister lay in the grass, completely still. An hour or so later, I sat beside her in a room at the Emergency Department.
We told little jokes and laughed, my sister wincing.
Can you make it darker? her voice was small and shaky. This wasn't her first concussion, but I could tell it was the worst. Her face was pale as she curled into a miserable ball on the bed.
It's getting worse, she whimpered.
My sister is tall and strong. But there, beneath that thin blanket and in that hospital gown, she looked so small, so fragile. It scared me.
Do you want me to get the nurse? Call Mom? Dad? I asked, panicked.
You're so stupid. I only want you. They're all too...
She made a limp gesture with her hand, but I knew what she meant. I should have told her that I understood, that if it were me, I would have wanted her over anyone else. But instead I just sat there, happy that my big sister needed me.
Now, in the present, my sister finally finishes her speech, smiling her huge smile.
"So, as I've proven, our Luca is inherently stupid. And his becoming an adult cannot change that."
Giggles and cackles and full out laughs follow, for Ana has spent a full twenty minutes "proving" that I'm mature beyond my years. Though really, she is the one that has always been older and smarter than her age.
Her dark eyes, glowing with a pride and warmth, look directly into mine, speaking only to me.
"I love you, my stupid brother."
I love you too, my big sister, I whisper back, though the words never actually leave my head. Still, I think she hears. She always does.