(appropriate because today is sibling day, according to Facebook)
Isabella had me in her thrall for the first six years of my life, maybe longer. I was honored when she allowed me in her presence. My vision of us as kids is her sitting on her red flowered bedspread, her long legs crossed, and me running to get her a book, a snack, a cat. I was thrilled to be of use.
One day, though, the magic ended. For her. She opened with her usual, “Alice, will you do me a favor?” and instead of my usual eager yes, I said, with a hint of suspicion in my voice, “What is it?” The jig was up. I was no longer her handmaiden.
I don’t know what made me suddenly decide to question her requests. Maybe our brother, two years older than me, teased me for being at her beck and call. Or maybe my days of needing to run for the majority of my waking hours were waning. Maybe I wanted to lie languid on her other twin bed, in her pink room, reading Betty and Veronica.
Isabella still has me in her thrall. She is tall and beautiful, one of the smartest people I know. She recently came out of retirement to work part-time again as a neonatologist, just before the pandemic. So here she is, not far from the front lines, working in a hospital again. She keeps tiny babies alive. Our sister Fanny met someone on a plane once whose child Isabella had saved, and the woman showered Fanny with gratitude just for being Isabella’s sister.
She is the oldest child, and she worried about us, maybe especially me, as the youngest. I didn’t know this as a small child, only that I could count on her.
Our parents had another child before Isabella, Elizabeth, or Lizzie. Lizzie died when she was three months old in her crib. I didn’t realize until a friend told me that Isabella is the Spanish version of Elizabeth. I don’t know if my parents did that on purpose; my father’s Argentinian grandmother was named Isabella. Lizzie’s ghost has haunted Isabella, and seems to have pushed her into the business of saving babies.
But to me, Isabella is her own person, separate from Lizzie. She is a gifted doctor, singer, mother, and just recently, a grandmother. She is my big sister who let me play with her, even when I must have been a bit of a bore. She is my first hero.