Our room was pretty much as we left it. Titanic movie poster on the door and NSYNC pin-ups next to Got Milk? ads. Dusty trophies mixed with Precious Moments figurines, untouched for years. Our American Girl dolls, hers: Samantha, and mine: Molly—leaned on each other for support from our bookshelf. Even the wooden name placards our grandfather made for us at our birth still hung side by side above our twin beds with matching daisy comforters: Jennifer, for my sister, and Katherine, for me.
Our parents had been talking about putting the house on the market for so long that when they announced the sale, we thought it was another part of the joke. The museum to our childhood was officially closing. Now was the last chance to clean it out and get a few souvenirs.
Jennifer was already in there, kneeling on the floor, half under the bed, her butt in the air. I was tempted to pinch it and make a joke that I was a literal pain in the ass, but she turned and noticed me.
“Good, you’re here,” she said. “Katie, we have a lot to go through.”
Standing in the doorway, it hit me how long it’s been since we were in our old bedroom at the same time. Our teenage years barely overlapped, my thirteenth birthday two months after her nineteenth. I missed her at college, but I didn’t miss sharing a room.
“How about you start in the closet, get all your stuff out, and then we’ll switch. There’s not really enough room for both us of to dig under our beds.”
“Fine.” It was then that I noticed the pop punk playing from the boom box on her dresser. “Nice tunes. Reliving the old days.”
She smiled and shrugged. “I found an old mix CD from high school and figured we needed background noise.”
We worked mostly in silence, occasionally speaking up to point out buried pop culture treasures (an ancient issue of YM magazine with Prince William on the cover) or an interesting piece of our own history (a shoebox of Valentines from long-forgotten classmates).
“Can I have this?” I held up a plaid babydoll dress, mostly blue and yellow, with occasional pops of green from where the two colors overlapped.
She glanced up. “You know that’s almost 20 years old.”
“The 90s are back. Everything old is new again.”
“Katie, I wore that in seventh grade.”
“You were chubby in seventh grade.”
She didn’t say anything. I closed the closet door so the mirror was facing me and slipped off my shirt before trying on the dress. It was tight across my chest, but doable.
“Did you ever really think about your name?” I said, looking at myself from the side and smoothing out the wrinkled cotton.
“What do you mean?”
“Like, what does it mean that so many girls in the 70s and 80s were named Jennifer? It was basically an epidemic. What does it say about American society that everyone lacked imagination for two decades?”
“I don’t know, parents just liked it. Why do parents give the names they do? Because they like them.”
“Or to honor someone. You’re the only one in the family not named after someone else.”
“So? Bobby’s named after Grandpa Bob, and I’m after Aunt Katherine.”
“There’s no rule that you have to name a baby after anyone.”
“Also, you’re like, the only Jennifer to not go by Jen, you know. Was that your way of trying to standing out?”
She didn’t reply and I looked behind me. Jennifer was on her bed with a stack of photos. I got up and flopped down next to her, laying on my stomach. I took her discarded pile and started flipping through them.
“Remember SeaWorld?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Not really.”
“Yeah, you were really little.”
“I can’t believe someone thought it was a good idea to put a SeaWorld in Ohio.”
She stopped at the next photo. We were sitting in birth order on a concrete dolphin with a curved back for a perfect photo opportunity. Jennifer, about nine, grinning, her blonde hair in a long braid. Bobby, six, in the middle, a baseball cap casting a shadow over his little face. And three-year-old me, sucking my thumb and looking at something off camera.
“Did you ever see Blackfish?” I said. “It’s awful. Those poor whales. I feel bad we ever went there.”
She didn’t say anything for a few seconds. “You were a little kid. We were all little kids.”
“Mom and Dad should have known better. Jennifer, we supported a corrupt organization.”
“Can’t you let us have anything nice?” She snatched the photo out of my hand and added it to the rest of the pile, which she then put back into the red photo processor envelope.
“Money was tighter back then. A lot tighter. They were trying to do something nice and take their kids on a little vacation.”
“O-kay,” I said. “I didn’t know. You can’t get mad at me about that.”
“Yeah, I can get mad. If you could stop being so selfish and goddamn self-righteous, you might be able to see life from someone else’s perspective.”
I rolled my eyes as she got up from the bed and stuffed a handful of papers in a garbage bag.
“God, Katie, it’s just...you just really are the worst sometimes. ‘You were chubby.’ ‘They should have known better.’ Give people a break.”
“I’m sorry, okay? I’ll just keep my mouth shut from now on.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she snapped back.
We barely spoke the rest of the day. I stewed in my head, thinking of biting comments I could have made. I almost let one slip. When I turned to say it, I saw over her shoulder that she was putting the envelope of photos into her purse. I turned around and shut up.
About the Author: Andrea Laurion is a writer, improviser, and performer from Pittsburgh. Her nonfiction and humor writing have appeared in The Toast, McSweeney's, The Billfold, Neutrons Protons, and The Yearbook Office, among others. This is her first published piece of fiction.
Story Song: "Certain Tragedy" by Saves the Day
Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith