For Becca. On Her Birthday.

for becca

Me and Becca (her favorite photo)

For the past nineteen years, my sister Becca has told this story every time she introduces me to her friends. I guess to show them what our relationship is like. The take away as far as I can tell is that I am a person who backs up my words with action (so watch out), and—I hate to say it, but it’s true—sometimes Becca doesn’t know when to shut her mouth.

It was a summer afternoon. Becca was twelve and I was thirteen. Old enough to know better but not yet capable of controlling the surges of hormones and terror that allow an adolescent girl to do things she never imagined she would be capable of.

In the above ground pool in the backyard, Becca and I had run in circles long enough to create a whirlpool and were now slung around flotation devices, letting the current tug us around the sides, under the ladder. The sun was setting and all we had to look forward to once we got out of the water were the indignities of piano practice and washing dishes.

Then out of nowhere Becca started hollering about this boy I liked—Mary Loves Paul Agostini!—and my stomach jumped into my throat. She was just guessing at the name of my crush, but once she saw the look on my face, she knew she’d got me.

So she kept going.

Mary Loves Paul—

Her voice echoed down the street. Anyone could hear her. People on their front lawns. Neighbors grilling dinner. Drivers passing by with their windows open.

Stop it— I said.

I disentangled from my Fun Noodle and tried to cross the pool to dunk Becca’s head under the water, but the current tugged me off course and all I could do was splash her. She was two inches taller than I was, anyway. No previous dunking attempts—even without a whirlpool—had ever been successful.


Shut UP, I said.




Her mouth was the problem. If only there was a way to stitch her lips together…and suddenly I heard my voice say:

If you don’t SHUT UP, I’m gonna SPIT….IN. YOUR. MOUTH.

We both paused.

Our eyes locked for a full minute.

I could hear crickets and cicadas chirp in the freshly mowed grass.

The flicker of a thought passed through my sister’s eyes; she didn’t think I could pull it off.

And her doubt solidified something in me.  I knew I had this.

All my flailing against the current had weakened it, and I braced my feet against the side of the pool to launch myself toward my sister when the time was right.

She opened her mouth wide as a jar. Her eyes closed as she leaned into her next shout.

And I did it.

I shot across the pool and I spit right in her mouth before she could utter a single syllable.

Her mouth snapped shut so hard that her molars clicked together.

It took her a few seconds to register the fact of my saliva in her mouth.

We’re sisters, I said, backing slowly away. We have the same germs.

It probably didn’t help that I was laughing. Hard.

Becca tackled me and dunked me under water. Chlorine burned up my nose and my eyes but I had gotten the best of my little sister for once and I didn’t care.

So here it is. Nineteen years later.

In honor of her thirty-first year on this earth, I would like to say, publicly and sincerely:

Becca, I’m sorry I spit in your mouth.

(You should have seen your face though.

God, it was priceless.)