It all started with a CD.
The CD sat on the top shelf, the shelf I was not to touch, in the room I was not allowed to wander into unless I heard the exact words Come in. Even the dog was not exempt from this rule. To be granted permission to enter meant a sneak peek at the world of teenhood. Permission meant I could fumble through her fine-tipped sharpies, poke at her dried-up watercolors, and smell the strange tang of her oil paints. Permission meant I could run my hands nervously across her collection of Anne Rice hardcovers and peer at the depictions of vampires and witches. Permission meant I could admire, even if I couldn’t touch, her latest electronic gadgets and, of course, her CDs.
The album, my sister Christina explained to me while waving it slowly in front of my face, was explicit. My new word for the day. “See this?” she said, pointing with a pencil to ensure my Coke-bottle-sized spectacles were focused in the right direction. “This also says parental advisory.”
I gasped. I knew that one. That was one step below the coveted “close your eyes and hold your ears” rated-R.
“Yes,” she said gravely, knowing she had reached a new level of cool. “You have to have parental permission to listen to this.”
I solemnly nodded, already frantically compiling the list of chores I would tell my father I would complete in exchange. “Permission,” she interrupted, brow raised, “you won’t get, because this is explicit.”
I blinked heavily. “But you get to listen to it?”
“You aren’t allowed to listen to it because one listen,” she hissed, “will scare the pants right off of you! You’ll never listen to a CD again!”
I gasped. “Maybe even never sleep!” she added, an afterthought.
Later that day, I found myself hiding under the desk, trembling with the knowledge of having broken three rules. I wiped sweat from my brow, tasked the dog with sitting in front of the cracked door as lookout (he got to peruse Christina’s trash can at the same time), and plugged her headphones in.
I promptly scared myself silly with the screaming vocals, the screech of guitars that sounded utterly mad, and the pound of drums that sounded like death.
It took me weeks to work up the courage to touch her CD player again. Weeks before I could even think about sneaking it, let alone that particular CD.
Weeks to come to terms with what I had heard.
Emotion in its rawest form.
It terrified me.
I LOVED IT.
Christina has always been a bit mysterious. Being four years older certainly helped to make everything she did seem otherworldly. She had a knack for teaching herself new things. How to draw. How to play the violin. To me, she was limitless. I was (and still am) in awe of her.
Yet whatever she did, I did. I insisted on it. I looked at her and saw myself reflected. It became more important as I got older that she was the mirror to which I asked not who’s the fairest but “Am I strange?”
We spent the majority of our childhood in a small Midwestern town. Small enough that it was commonplace to see a tractor and a car on the same road. Small enough that we played in sewer drains with flashlights and climbed weeping willows. Small enough that I expected to be one of the only black girls in all my classes.
They noticed first.