Thursday, February 02, 2006

1981: The Day Sarah Spoke

Our Lips Are Sealed

Redheaded Wendy was probably the cheeriest, funniest girl in the 5th grade. She spent her recesses skipping along, belting out the lyrics to the Go-Gos "Our Lips Are Sealed," with her two best friends. She cracked dirty jokes, was a smart ass, and invited all of us boys over to her house in the summer, for everything from hot dog lunches to water balloon fights, or lazy hang-outs in the living room watching the newest sensation, MTV.

Her chipper, gleaming personality was in stark contrast to that of her older sister, whom I happened to see once, for a brief moment, at her house. We were watching MTV when I saw a dark, ominous slender shape drift across the hall, from one room to another.

"Who is that?" I asked, somewhat startled by the sight.

"Oh. That's my stupid sister Sarah," Wendy said. "Don't pay attention to her."


Sarah said nothing I later got a chance to see her up close, as she eventually came out into the open to grab something from the kitchen. She donned a black trenchcoat, red plaid pants with zippers all over them, combat boots and a white t-shirt with a huge Dead Kennedys logo. Her hair was a disheveled, spiky mess of black thorns, and her eyes glowed under heavy, heavy eyeliner.

It was plain to see these two had nearly nothing in common, aside from the fact that they were sisters. Wendy, as trendy and New Wave as she was, and Sarah, who simmered in gloom, despair, and non-conformity. Their conversations were an even brighter reflection, a far cry from the bubbly and cheerful Wendy I'd see on the playground.

"What are you doing out here, bitch? Go back to your cave," Wendy spat.

"Shut up, trendy fuck," Sarah retorted, her eyes flashing from their black pits as she fixed herself a hastily-spread peanut butter sandwich. She put a boot on the table and scanned the room, her eyes squinting as they alighted on me. Ah, a visitor. She studied me, noticing I was one of Wendy's friends. I didn't know what to do...I probably looked like a "trendy fuck" to her myself. Our eyes met, and she held no reaction, aside from biting into her sandwich.

"God, you are so lame. Go eat somewhere else!" Wendy threw her arms up in the air, disgusted. The volume increased.

"Oh, kiss my ass!" Sarah fired, her mouth half full. "It's my house too!" Sarah wiped a bit of stray peanut butter from the corner of her lip. She rolled her eyes.

That's the way it was—that's the way it always was—when they saw each other. Two complete opposites—from sunny and warm to dark and cold, from red and freckled to black and pale. There was never a friendly moment between them. From my juvenile perspective, I liked Wendy for her sunny personality, but something about Sarah intrigued me, even though she represented everything that Wendy was not.

Did they sing about sex? From that point on, everytime I went to Wendy's house, my curiosity with her sister grew. Sarah usually wasn't around; she was either gone or isolated in her room, blaring her music. But she left traces of herself and her life around the house. Once I found a bright, pink album on top of their dining table. On it read:

Never Mind The Bollocks - Here's the SEX PISTOLS

It was so completely foreign to me; the language, the colors, the unusual mitch-matched letters of the logo and the crude appearance. But most of all, the spray-painted words Sex Pistols stuck out like a taboo, an odd alliteration that I couldn't imagine my fifth-grade mouth saying out loud to anyone. Wendy saw me holding it in my hands.

"That's my sister's album, whatever the hell it is. I don't listen to that shit," Wendy waved it off with her hand. "Pssh. The Sex Pistols," she said mockingly. "Whatever!"

I put it down gingerly and imagined the vinyl inside. What would a band called "The Sex Pistols" even sound like? Was it perverted music? Did they sing about sex? It was like something from another world. I couldn't picture my parents even letting me have anything like that laying around my house. It was something so wrong, yet fascinating.

Knowing this was Sarah's music piqued my curiosity. And eventually, all I did when I went to Wendy's house was try to catch a glimpse of the dark and secret life of her sister. I was tired of MTV's colorful, toasted, videos, tired of Go-Go lyrics and how many pairs of Vans Wendy had. Instead, I wanted to see what Sarah was up to. But she was so darn scarce and absent.

Until one day, when she appeared, this time at the dining table, with a big white t-shirt spread-eagled before her, on the wooden surface. She had a few markers, and she hunched over the shirt, busy drawing something on it.

"Hi, stupid," Wendy said coldly as she walked by her.

Sarah said nothing this time. She was concentrating, deeply involved with her art, paying close attention to her strokes. Not wanting to bother her, I edged in quietly, peering over her shoulder from a distance, for a closer look.

She drew two feminine holding a bloody, dripping razor and the other with a gaping red slash in the wrist.

Simply morbidThey were so well rendered yet simple, perhaps like a 50s dishwashing liquid magazine ad. Soft, feminine hands with well-manicured nails, mannequin-like, yet symbolic of death and doom. I couldn't take my eyes off of that blood, which she had painstakingly rendered in red marker, down to the last drop. It was so horridly depressing, so morbid and so macabre...and...I liked it. A lot. In fact, I think that one image began my whole fascination with the macabre. Because it was just that—a gruesome, compelling mystery, a question of our existence and the afterlife. I was seeing an expression that not many kids saw nor contemplated on at such an early age.

Yet, as my fascination with Sarah grew, the more distant she became. She remained a slender, quiet mystery, one that lurked in the halls and kept behind locked, punk band-stickered, anarchy-symbol laden doors, whose only voice sounded in the brief, bitter insults she hurled at her sister. My best friend once asked me, "Dood, have you met Wendy's sister? Man, she's weiirrrrrrd." That's what she was. A dark secret, the town rebel, the outcast. Nobody seemed to care. I wished I could talk to her, just once, to see what made her tick, instead of shunning her like everyone else seemed to do. But it was impossible. She was quite a few years older than us, and she and Wendy simply could not co-exist in peace.

One afternoon marked the one, and only, conversation we had...through glances, if not through words. I was alone in their living room. Sarah once again sat at the dining table, with her boot propped on it. We were both silent and bored. I looked over and studied her for some time, as she sat toying with an anonymous object. There was a beauty to her, in her steel blue eyes racooned by eyeliner, her black painted lips and pale, ivory skin, but a sadness, anger and longing as well.

Hi She looked over and caught my glance...she blinked, and the slightest, miniscule upending of a sincere grin appeared in the corner of her mouth. "Hi," she said, and she reached for a pack of cigarettes and lit up. As Wendy reappeared, they once again exchanged their vulgar greetings, and Sarah got up, her chains and zippers clinking and swaying, and walked out the door.

The dark, brooding figure made its way across the lawn, into the street...never looking back, her boots thudding softly on the pavement. Where she was going, I would never know.

Because she never returned.

Sarah died not long after, of a drug overdose. But even this remained secret and not so was as cold and uninviting as the closed, punk band-stickered door, and as ominous and foreboding as the two feminine, delicate hands whose wrists were being slashed.

As silent and mysterious as she was, our last brief encounter had said it all. There was sadness in her face, anger as she battled with her sister, and a longing, in that slightest inkling of a grin, that "Hi" she emitted before retrieving that cigarette. It was like pieces in a puzzle. But now the silence and mystery was gone, only to be washed away in a barrage of water balloon fights, dissolved in the millions of colors in the visor of the MTV astronaut, and wisped into the air from freshly-grilled hot dogs.

The only remaining thread of connection were those feminine suicidal hands, which I had begun to draw myself, trying to imitate the pristine rendering and simplistic nature of morbid elegance. Once, my mother saw me drawing them, and her eyes went wide with horror. "Why are you drawing that? Is something wrong with you?"

"No mom, nothing's wrong," I said, not looking up from the paper. "I just like it, that's all."

Who was the "outcast" in your town? What made them different? Did he / she influence you? How?


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