A Tale of Two Sisters
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
My siblings are one of the greatest joys in my life. There are six of us, a ridiculous number that I can only blame on my parents' insanity and religious zealotry. In true Lord of the Flies fashion, we divided ourselves into subgroups; alliances and partnerships that shifted over the years. One of the longest-running duos was myself and my youngest brother. Both quiet, both bookish, and both severely addicted to K’NEX, we spent many long hours deep in philosophical discussion while building rainbow-hued towers in the living room.
My younger sister, Sam, was another breed entirely. Loud, brash, and prone to deviant behavior, she was the subject of countless eye rolls and frustrated sighs. With a face full of metal studs and her eyes outlined in heavy liner, she could saunter into any room and immediately engulf it in chaos. My brother would often jokingly refer to how the family was split into halves; three intelligent children and three derelicts, and how my sister was the most boorish of the bunch. In retaliation for my laughter, I later found my prized Limp Bizkit CD slashed to pieces.
Time spent with Sam was avoided at all costs, and usually only occurred at my parents’ request. We could hardly manage fifteen minutes of each other’s company without a fight breaking out. Still, one muggy summer day, we found ourselves walking our dog, Boone, through the woods of our small town. Black bear sightings aren’t uncommon in Massachusetts, and my father had insisted we walk Boone as a pair for protection. I had no doubt that if a bear actually did rear its head, Sam would abandon me without a moment's hesitation.
Boone’s search for the perfect spot to defecate led us farther into the woods, along dark, twisty trails that snaked their way into the distance. The summer humidity was oppressive, and mosquitos danced around us, biting our sweaty arms and necks. Finally, like a desert oasis, the trail opened up to a blue-gray lake.
Sam and Boone rushed forward, eager for the cool relief of the water. As she ran, Sam peeled off layers, striping down to her underwear.
“What are you doing?” I hissed. Teenage awkwardness and insecurity had taken its toll, and I found her lack of self-consciousness unnatural.
“What does it look like?” she asked. “I’m cooling off.” She jumped into the water, Boone close behind. Even with a pool in our backyard, neither of them had ever learned to swim, so they frolicked in the shallows. I rolled up my pants legs and waded into the water, letting it lap up my shins. A sudden splash to the face made me cry out in surprise.
“Stop being such a dork,” Sam yelled. “Just take off your clothes and get in!”
Getting berated for being uncool is one of life’s great adolescent tragedies, even more so when it’s by your delinquent kid sister. With a quick backwards glance to confirm that we had the lakeside to ourselves, I tugged off my shirt and shorts and tossed them to the grass. Arms crossed over my stomach, I waded into the lake, craving the modesty of the dark water. A natural swimmer, I glided out into open water, relishing the calm and quiet so far from shore. Nearly a quarter mile away, deep in the middle of the lake, stood a small, brush covered island.
“I’m going to swim to the island,” I announced. Clearly, I’d already inherited my adult sense of bravado. The island was far away, there was no one around to call for help, and I had yet to learn the value of proper physical training.
Sam rolled her eyes. “Right. And I’m just supposed to wait for you to—” Her words were cut short as she spotted something in the bushes. She rushed out of the water and into the trees, a gleeful smile plastered across her face.
My mouth dropped into an “O” of surprise as she emerged, her thin arms yanking a metal rowboat from the brush.
“Sam, no!” I cried, running after her. She was not above thievery, whether it be my favorite hoodie or a pair of department store sunglasses, but stealing someone’s boat was a step too far.
“This way, we can all go to the island together,” she explained with a huff. “I’m not sitting here with the dog while you go for a swim.”
“This is stupid. Why don’t we just go home?”
“Why are you such a nerd?”
I bit back the flow of obscenities that were threatening to spill forth. How could she not see how foolish this was? What if the boat's owner came back? What if Boone got spooked and jumped out? What if the police caught us and hauled us down to the station--in our underwear? But I knew that asking any of these questions out loud was sure to be met with more insults, and frankly, I was at my limit.
“Fine,” I spat. I grabbed the edge of the boat and yanked it toward the water while Sam pushed from behind. At the lake’s edge, Sam jumped inside and whistled for Boone, who leapt onto the bench beside her. The interior of the boat was a mess of garbage and rotting tree branches, but there were no oars in sight. I heaved the boat into the water then jumped inside, using one of the rotted branches to paddle away from the shore.
“You gonna help?” I grumbled.
Sam gave me a sickly sweet smile. “You’re doing just fine on your own.”
We dropped into silence. Sam let her fingers trail along the surface of the water while I paddled forward, my tree branch making minimal progress in our quest for the island. I was sure that at any moment, the wail of a police siren would alert us that we’d been caught.
These thoughts were interrupted by a cold rush of water over my feet. I glanced down at the floor of the boat, where the bottom few inches were now submerged. With so much garbage beneath our feet, we hadn’t been able to feel it steadily spilling in. I suddenly realized why nobody had bothered to lock up the boat, or even tie it to a tree for safekeeping. It was a hole-ridden piece of junk, and only two fools would’ve stolen it for a joyride.
“We’re sinking!” Sam yelled. She fished through the pile of garbage and pulled out a broken soda bottle. As she attempted to bail water, Boone got his first taste of wet paws. The sensation sent him scrambling over the boat seats, searching for high ground.
I looked between the shore and the island, trying to determine which was closer. Boone was a pitiful display of a dog, and could barely keep himself afloat. In water this deep, I wasn’t sure how well Sam would fare either. I grabbed my tree branch and made an executive decision.
“We’re going back,” I announced, spinning the boat back to the shore. “Boone, sit!” The dog was now in the throes of panic, racing between us, unsure of who could offer him any sort of comfort.
Sam scooped water frantically out of the boat. “You just had to go visit the island!”
“This was your idea!” I shouted.
Half the boat was now submerged, as though our rough attempts to drain it had just made it take on water faster. The distance to shore was too far, we’d never make it before the boat sank. And in addition to drowning my dog and my sister, I knew we’d be grounded, and hit with a hefty littering fine. (Have I mentioned that I wasn’t very cool?) I shoved the branch in Sam’s hands. “Paddle!” I ordered. Then I leapt from the boat.
The cold water engulfed me, blocking out Sam’s cry of surprise and Boone’s terrified barks. I swam to the back of the boat and slammed my hands against it, trying to give it some forward momentum. Unsure if I was making any progress, I grabbed the back of the boat and kicked like mad, pushing as hard as I possibly could.
“It’s working!” Sam yelled. Over the sound of my splashes, I could hear her branch slapping the water as she paddled. I allowed myself to believe that we were going to make it. We could slide the boat back under the tree, grab our clothes, and walk home like nothing had happened.
But just then, from the depths of the boat, awakened by the rising water, came the spiders.
All shapes and colors and sizes, each more horrifyingly ugly than the last. And all of them seeking refuge on the driest land available, which just so happened to be where my hands were resting. With a disgusted shriek, I let go of the boat, shaking the critters from my knuckles.
“Push!” Sam screamed. She was now standing in the boat, branch tossed aside, given up as useless.
“But the spiders…” I whimpered.
“I. Can’t. Swim,” she growled. She saw me hesitate, her face darkening at the realization that I might actually let her drop into the water. She quickly switched tactics. “Boone can’t swim,” she corrected.
I groaned. Dumping Sam in the lake was one thing, but how could I let my already terrified dog sink into the cold, dark water? Eyes averted, I placed my hands back on the boat, unwilling to look at what was crawling all over them. I kicked as hard as I possibly could, the metal boat sinking lower and lower into the depths. Giving up her paddling as a lost cause, Sam turned toward the shore and boosted one leg up on the bench, Captain Morgan style.
"Avast ye mateys!" she cried, whether in support or mockery, I have no idea. "Scuttlebutt and shiver me timbers! Land ho! Land hooo!"
The top of the boat dropped beneath the water's surface, settling with a dull thunk on the lakebed below. With a startled yelp, Boone leapt into the water, now only a couple feet deep. Still posed like a flamboyant pirate, Sam turned her face back to me expectantly, as if to ask why I had stopped pushing. I gave the sunken boat a disgusted kick in response.
"C'mon," she pleaded. "Like Jack Sparrow?"
Who was I to ruin a great cinematic moment? I dug my heels into the sticky mud and pushed the waterlogged boat until it was close enough to shore for Sam to walk straight onto dry land. We collapsed onto the beach, her in a fit of laughter, me with exhaustion. Boone circled us, nuzzling our faces, ecstatic to be back on the grass.
In the years that followed, we slowly overcame our aversion to one another. I dropped the teenage angst, and Sam gave up the rebel-without-a-cause routine. She's now happily married with a family of her own, and one of my favorite people to spend time with. Looking back, I think our day at the lake was a turning point, the moment we realized that we're better as a duo. Sometimes, all it takes to move beyond a rocky past is a shared misdemanor and near-drowning. Who knew it could be so easy?