We are five: always, five, the five of us, the group of us, the lot. “You guys,” “the girls,” “the sisters.” Once, when I was young, someone asked me how many sisters I had and I answered, quickly, without giving it a thought, “five,” as if I couldn’t extricate myself from the larger being, the group, that we made up. I was one of them and they were one of me.
We are a tribe: each loud, brassy, strong, in her own way, each of us born about two years apart so that my parents, presumably, could catch their breath. I was first: curious, playful, shy, quickly carving out my old space in the world, trying, though I didn’t know, to fill the void of a miscarriage two years prior. My next sister didn’t wait much longer—she, born eleven months after my first birthday, arrived with a vengenance. With something to prove. When it was just the two of us, me walking around in a t-shirt, a leaky diaper, and a Band-Aid I affixed to my head because I liked the look, she was still immobile, reduced to sitting in a carriage or crib. I’d reach in and try to play with her. I was three, so I probably tried to eat her: nibbled on her toes, smooched her face, slobbered on her ears. She hated it, my mother would tell us later, and she didn’t stand for it. She’d attack, in the vicious way that babies do, grasping at my eyes and ears to try to get rid of me.
The next two came all at once: twins, which was weird for me, because one day I had one little sister and the next day I had three. They are identical but roundly different, and after a while, even you couldn’t fall for their identical twin switcheraoo. They both called each other “sissy” and carried mismatched stuffed animals around everywhere they went—a matted tiger and a purple bear, called “Tiger” and “Purple.”
Two years later, our youngest sister arrived. We’d all been spoon-fed femininity by then; We had scores of photos of us in matching dresses and hats, each of us looking like discarded swatches in a fabric store, and we were all enrolled in ballet and tap dancing classes at a local studio. Barbies and doll babies littered our rooms, but finally: here was a baby come to life.
We attacked her, relentlessly. We tried to feed her and wash her and poke her and play with her and dress her up and fuck with her and boss her around and protect her. She, now, is the strongest of us all; some of her first words were “Get away from me!” and “Leave me alone!” I am pretty sure she can beat me up.