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Boyhood, Sisterhood

By D. Gilson

“Now do the Pee-Wee Herman dance in these,” my sister Jennifer commands as she hands me a pair of cerulean pumps, high heels dyed to match her prom dress. We are in her bedroom, in the red brick house on the edge of Aurora, Missouri. Jennifer is sixteen, and I am four.

     Her friends hold court in the living room, but we are in the bedroom playing dress up, rehearsing. I slip on the heels and walk over to the floor-length mirror between Jennifer’s dresser and closet. I wear no shirt, but a pair of navy blue OshKosh B’gosh briefs lined in white piping. Jennifer’s heels are on my feet, and oversized aviator sunglasses adorn my round toddler face. I took these from my brother Randy’s room because they remind me of the ones George Michael wears in the video for “Faith.”

     Jennifer sits on the edge of her bed in white summer shorts and a fuchsia tank top. In the mirror, I see her smile at me as I practice my dance in her heels, my pelvis thrusting forward then back, opposite the jagged motions of my hands, a dance I learned from Saturday morning viewings of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I am four, clamoring for the attention of my sister and her friends. When I think of them, I think of the Brat Pack, and Molly Ringwald especially; of Madonna and Whitney Houston, of smudged eyeliner and 1987’s Dirty Dancing. My sister is having a sleepover. “Dee,” she says, “you are the guest of honor.” We have Pizza Inn with my favorite toppings, which are nothing, the cheese peeled off and fed to Candy, our miniature dachshund, leaving only crust and a thin layer of sweet red sauce. Laurie Hall, my sister’s best friend, sits on the couch and we paint each other’s nails. “Let’s use this sexy red, Vermillion,” she says, “to match your cowboy boots.” I perch between Laurie and Jennifer on our scratchy brown plaid sofa, wide-eyed as Patrick Swayze teaches Jennifer Grey, Baby, how to dance.


About the Author

D. Gilson is the author of I Will Say This Exactly One Time: Essays (Sibling Rivalry, 2015); Crush with Will Stockton (Punctum Books, 2014); Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry, 2013); and Catch & Release (2012), winner of the Robin Becker Prize. His forthcoming book, Jesus Freak, is under contract with Bloomsbury as part of their 33 1/3 series. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and his work has appeared in Threepenny Review, PANK, The Indiana Review, The Rumpus, and as a notable essay in Best American Essays.