the heartstrings of a younger sister 
We hide in piney bush in the backyard
Amanda is stronger and smarter
and we live in the bush like fairies do
chasing each other pretending
we are in a far away place
like the princess bride
or the never ending story.

And we look up at the big tree
the biggest thing in my life
as I am only three or four
and we imagine what it must be like
to have wings
and what our house,
the town, the world
must look like from up there.

During a summer rain
we run out into the yard
Mom throws to us
a bottle of dove shampoo
and we take a shower
we scrub our hair
our arms and legs
our shirts and jean skirts
and we laugh.

We play go fish and Amanda wins.

Michael is born.
It is no longer just the two of us.
Now I am in the middle.
Amanda is my big sister
and I am Michael’s big sister.
I can teach him things.
But quickly I learn
that he is a baby and I am a baby.
Amanda watches us
and she is the one who is yelled at
if Michael begins to cry in the car.

We are in a rose garden
it is green, pink, white, and red
and we just feed koi fish in the ponds.
Dad asks Amanda to dance
for the video camera
and with a small smile
she begins, and without hesitation
I jump in front of her.
She steps away
to give me space to twirl.

We are on an island in Maine
Cranberry island
visiting our Uncle Tony and Aunt Maryann.
It is a place that fills your lungs with laughter, salt air, love, and magic.

We want to go swimming
but we are afraid of the dog
down the road.

There is only one working bike
that Amanda is riding
so she dares me to run alongside her.
She says
don’t worry
the dog can’t get you — it’s on a leash.
I am shaky but I run and she rides.

I am at the dock
the water looks cold, clear and dark.
Amanda says
I dare you to go first
she’s not afraid and I don’t hesitate
with the bubbles still touching my face
I feel her jump in behind me.

It is the second grade
Dad asks Amanda
to go on a bike ride in the city.
Dad says I am too little.
I am left behind. I am jealous and I pout the whole day.

They come back
by the look on her face
she saw the whole city
and her legs are like jelly
as my dad carries her from the car.
I am happy for a moment that I am little and that she is older.

We play Chinese Checkers and Amanda wins.

Sometimes I am so angry
because she is better at everything
and she’s got a lot to say.
She is logical to the point where I don’t know why I try to fight her.

I see her get ready for school and
I wait until she goes down to breakfast.
I come down in the same outfit.
She is not happy.

It is almost Christmas, she is crying
because she is blinking in every picture
and mom only has two rolls of film.

I am smirking
and then laughing
because mom says the dog is smiling better than her.

I feel bad later but I do not tell her
that I am sorry for laughing.

Our birthdays are close together
so we often sing at the same cake.
I like that my birthday is first
and that hers is closer to spring.

Then it is Easter
we decorate eggs together
our hands smell like vinegar
and later we draw pictures of horses.
I cry because Amanda’s drawing looks exactly like a horse and mine does not.

It is the sixth grade
Amanda dares me to stay up late
and to have a sleepover in her room.
I don’t hesitate.
I have a test the next day.
I smile and I am tired as I circle choice b in pencil.

We play monopoly and Amanda wins.

A girl is bullying Amanda at school.
The next day on the playground
I tell that girl she’s pathetic 
and that girl threatens to beat me up. 
Amanda is proud but a little embarrassed.

Our parents always say
that Amanda is shy. They are worried about how quiet she is in school.
Our parents do not worry about me
I am the louder one and a little strange and I tell people what I want.

But Amanda taught me how— 
she taught me how to fight, how to be brave,
 how to have fun, how to play a game, how to lose, 
how to trust, and how to try again.

Yes she is quiet
but she is decisive.
She knows what she wants
and how to do it.

It is the 8th grade
I show Amanda a drawing I made
she says
wow I could never do that—
that is amazing.
and suddenly it makes sense to me
about what I am good at.

Amanda applies to catholic school.
I do not apply
because I want to make art.
We are not together—
soon we both have boyfriends
and soon we grow apart.

Everything about her makes me angry.
And everything I do irritates her.

We are not kind to each other now.

One day
as she is yelling at me
about why I am wrong
I realize that she is her own person.
She’s not just my sister
she is more than that
and she is more beautiful
then I ever realized
even when she is angry.

She applies to colleges
and my alarm wakes her up.
She is accepted into Cornell.
She’s done something that I haven’t dreamed of yet.

Two years later, she says
just apply to Cornell
to see what happens
there is a great art department.

But I don’t want to follow her.

We are both our own person now.
Why would we want to be together?
But I visit her and she convinces me
and I wish I spent more time on my application.

It is New Years
she gives me champagne
she dares me to have another
the room is spinning and we are dancing.

We are going to be together again.

It is October
and she’s met someone at a party.
His name is Mario.
But Kylie don’t say his name too loud.
I don’t think a lot of people at Cornell are named Mario. 
He’s popular and his friends hangout here.

So every Sunday in the library
Amanda and I talk in the cafe with coffee about Mario. 
But Mario has a code name— we are only allowed to say M.

What did M say?
The first thing he said was
Why don’t I know you?
And Amanda said to him
I’ve been in the library.

And every text from Amanda would be
Is this cute to send?
Do you think this Snapchat is funny?
Do you think he likes me?

And soon every Friday and Saturday night
Amanda asks me to come to parties.

Now I see M
in real time and
I am allowed to call him Mario.

And there we hangout with his friends
and his brother Lucas—
dancing and drinking
playing loud music
like Jet and The Strokes
laughing at jokes at the same time
and people saying
wow you sound identical
feeling forever young
talking about stars and physics
but only abstractly
as the nights blend to dawn
ignoring the stale pizza on the table
and the time we have to study
the following day.

And again
Amanda and I
go to the library and sit in the cafe.
So how was last night?
He said he’s going to marry me.
And we both smirk and sip our coffee.

And I never doubted Amanda and Mario.
I knew at the very first party
that it was the beginning
of something big and beautiful
but it was only recently
that I understood how much
Mario loves her.

Amanda said to me
You know— he doesn’t try to change me.
When people meet me they expect me to come out of my shell— 
to be louder— to be more like you. But Mario doesn’t— he likes me just as I am.

Mario sees Amanda the way that I do—
She has a special kind of power
and sureness of herself
that I wish I had.
I am the person I am today because of her.
She has helped make
everything good in my life
and she has showed me
what friendship feels like—
she has dared me to jump,
to run, and to dream.

And now she has showed me
what life can look like
when you dare to love someone
and to be loved by them—
to be seen by them
deeply and completely.

So with all that said
Let us raise a glass
to my sister Amanda
and to the love of her life
the person that makes her happy
Mario, M, Cutie
and then let us dance until we are dizzy
as the night blends to dawn.

Images captured by the incredible Thalia Nino