In childhood, my Octobers belonged to my younger sister, Bella. When she was little, our family celebrated her birth month instead of her birthday. It was my mom’s only way to divert Bella’s obsessive year-round birthday ramblings. Because her birthday is the day before Halloween, the entire month was spent in ecstatic anticipation. We lived in service of that benevolent god: October 30th.
In fourth grade, October was rainy and my dad was in nursing school. At that time, my thoughts were primarily occupied by long division and Percy Jackson, so I was somewhat distressed to be called down to the office during Independent Reading Time. My dad was there, grinning, with three sandwiches in a Tupperware container in one hand, and three tickets to Six Flags in the other––a birthday present for Bella.
She was already in the car when I climbed in. That day, like every day, Bella woke up with her head hanging off the side of the bed. She immediately commenced a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that was only somewhat broken-up by each night’s sleep. Bella could talk while eating rainbow Trix yogurt, while cartwheeling, while doing her hair; she even sleep-talked. Now, in the car, she was delighted to have a captive audience, and unleashed her most precious conversational weapons, namely bottlenose dolphin facts, would-you-rather questions, brief singing performances (her dances were tragically hindered by her car seat), and extensive ruminations on the topic of her birthday, which was just one week away. It’s incredible how much material can be delivered in an hour-and-a-half long car ride with a speaker so talented as Bella.
Now, I mostly remember the theme park, cold and wet and empty except for the ragged actors stumbling through the park. Their zombie moans, attempting to walk that thin line between pornographic and undead, were somewhat successful. I remember the thrill of looking up at the biggest rollercoaster my sister and I were allowed to ride (being only forty-eight and fifty-one inches tall, respectively). It was a great rush, loud and purple and moving as fast as it could.
When you’re the only people in line for a ride, they let you go as many times as you want. I don’t think we had to run back out through the exit then all the way back in again, at least not every time, but we did anyway. We went around and around, again and again. The world was only us, only that thrill. I think it was raining. I think we got wet. Our matching purple raincoats were soaked through. I don’t think we noticed.
It’s fitting that my sister was born at the tail end of fall’s peak. That whirlwind time of year when everything goes from green to orange to brown in three weeks. Did you think you had gotten enough change? Well, you haven’t: Bella is here today, and tomorrow is Halloween. A breath of life before the slow march to December.
Bella, to me, is perpetual metamorphosis. As a child, she tumbled in and out of costumes and storylines. Now she leaps between conversations and favorite meals and themed house parties. She is change of name, spirit, mind, body. She doesn’t sit still, except when she changes to briefly become a person who does sit still. Life is always in motion with Bella. It’s the way you feel after a day with her. Kind of windblown and with the impression of just having left the world’s best party.
It delights me to witness her. In her poem “Tango,” Louise Glück writes, “Of two sisters/one is always the watcher,/one the dancer.” With us, there is no question who’s who. In high school, I obsessively visited a stream in the woods behind our house. Sometimes the water moved slowly and sodden moss grew on the rocks. Sometimes, after rain, it was fast and delighted, leaping over the pebbles I’d drop in. Or there was ice, and it almost stopped, and I could only hear its quiet noises. It mesmerized me, always new. Each drop of water I touched, I would never touch again. Bella is the same way, enchanting, and every iteration of her obsolete the second you look back. I love her in the same way I loved the stream. Nobody knows better than Bella that there is only this moment.
The terror of change is unavoidable. It is a thousand nano-deaths. The things you love will never come back again. One second you’re nine, soaked to the bone on a rollercoaster, running past the zombies with your eyes closed. Then you blink and you’re twenty-one, and you take an umbrella everywhere, and you can see the streaks in the zombie makeup that reveal a sad grown-up. You will not ever be that young again. This nauseates me.
Here is what is constant: my sister. For all her changes, she will always be here. No matter how many times I visited that stream, it never vanished. By the time you read this, she will be twenty. A million past Bellas are inside of her like rings in a tree. And when I am with her, I can feel the past mes vibrating inside of me, too. The high schooler bent down in the woods. The sodden child on the rollercoaster.