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By Katie Marshall
Before we were anything at all, we were made of promises.
They promised us that we would light the sky. They promised us that we would be heroes. And so we lived happily for a time, halves to a perfect whole, surviving on what would be.
The doctors said you had a fever for most of your first year, but there wasn’t anything wrong. You were born warm and you grew into your radiance and big smiles, and love for hard work accomplished. My water eyes were the heart of me, pumping cool blue through my veins. I hummed jazz and danced with arms like wings taking flight and eyes closed to bring the darkness into me. We were different. We were happy.
The time came for us to take on our roles. We would work in shifts. They gave you the day and explained that, as the sun, you would help things grow. You would be energy for the drained. The great beginning, you were to inspire new hopes. You were progress. You were work completed.
They gave me the night so I could find beauty in darkness. I would end work and begin dances. I was the underside, the unexpected, the spotlight for nervous, first-time poets and brave sailors. They gave me the seas and the stars to play with.
Each of us found fulfillment in our work. We encouraged the other. We were different. We were happy.
Until we realized that people had a lot to say about us.
They called you growth and joy. When the clouds covered you, people shouted Encore! until you returned to the great stage of the sky. You were a hit. You were a super star. You were a tough act to follow. For you, they promised to be better people – to exercise and clean-up and give to charity. To me, they would hide. My performances were so boring that I put them to sleep. Where my pride in you once stood now lived a hunger for affirmation, rendering me prey to my fears.
They told me darkness was bad and I believed them. They told me the stars were all dead so I threw them away. They said I had no light of my own; I merely reflected you. I hated you for it. Every street lamp, night light, and fire lit in my darkness was an ode to you and an insult to me. Appreciation for your beauty discounted my own. I carved holes into myself that I filled with the worst things I could hear about myself. I convinced myself that while they would drink and dance with me, they would never rejoice for me the way they would for you. I was too scary for most of them. So I fell into the feeling that I would be nothing more than a fun friend to party with or the supporting actress for werewolves and missing children, vampires and break-ins. When they didn’t pay enough attention to me, I left them in darkness. They built ships to reach me, but I threw rocks in their way and spun before they could reach me. Nice try, I would think. But no one gets close to me.
I was jealous of you, so I ignored you in a way that steered everything I did. I felt you miss me and burned red with anger. I streaked green and purple into the night to compete with the way you changed the leaves. If people praised you for a beautiful day at the beach then I snapped my fingers to rile up the seas. At night, I feasted on their howls. You see, I was never enough for me.
I waxed and I waned and complained, more often than not. Everything was so hard when I painted myself into your shadow. I made myself bigger and smaller in response to my own ego as I thought of you, the star of the day, hot as fire, the sign of hope and growth. I decided that I was nothing but compared to you. You, more; me, less.
Hating you was exhausting. Hating myself was worse. Missing you was overwhelming.
And so it was, for a very long time.
Then one day we made eye contact across continents. A small moment that changed the world. I saw the heaviness of your job upon you. I felt you miss me. And with universal understanding we saw what had happened.
I said, Sister, I’m sorry. Sister, I love you. Sister, I’m here.
You smiled slowly and I felt your warmth. Our first conversation since before we helped begin time. How strange it was to hear my fears coming from your mouth.
You said, “I’m sure I should take it as a compliment, that they destroy the layers between them and me.
Maybe they just want to get closer to me. But all I feel is more pressure to perform, and I’m so tired, and you know that when I’m tired, I get angry, and I can’t control my anger. They need me and I’m not enough for them. Or I’m too much for them. They blame me for sun burns and making them blink in pictures and for killing their crops but they yell when I leave. They asked to be warmer, to have more water to swim in, but they didn’t want as much of the ice melted as I thought and now I’ve ruined that. I do nothing but mess up. I just wish somebody could see me as I am and let that be enough.”
We looked at each other and smiled, laughing through wide crescents of relief at being heard, and I said words I needed to hear as much as say: “You are beautiful. You are not too much or not enough. You are everything you need to be.”
I said, “I’m so proud of all that you do. You inspire me.” You nodded and said, “Sister, thank you. I feel the same way about you.”
We decided that we are different and beautiful. We are opposites united. Together, we light the sky.
Now, we make time to celebrate each other. For your birthday one year, the stars and I worked together to make you constellations, big, beautiful pieces of art to honor stories you told me when we were small. You invited me to work one day and now I stand beside you when I can, laughing, listening, and learning from you. When people ware on you, I support you. When my night terrors come back, you encourage me. We tell each other, take your time. Shine when you are ready. I am so proud of all that you have done and all that you will do.
And when the day ends and it’s my time to rise, we come together in a sunset, painting the sky as we dance to a song of tomorrow, together.