Pictures of You

The sun rose on an empty room.

I moved to my new room when I was a little girl, barely five years old. The floors were bare boards when I arrived and the walls were cheaply whitewashed. The room was cold and drafty at first, but slowly, piece by piece and color by color, it turned into a bedroom. My sister and I decorated it — pale pink walls, white bedspreads and flowers. The window faced the opposite side of the apartment building, so our neighbors could see us and we could watch them. Most of the time, the busy people bustling away ten feet past our window didn’t notice the two little girls hanging their heads out into the cold and silently watching the mundane tasks that composed their lives. Neither of us had quite mastered how to do simple chores, like turning on the washing machine or sweeping the floor, so watching our neighbors easily performing these difficult jobs was the closest we could come to doing them ourselves.
The clouds vanished and the sun climbed over the pale pink bedroom with the two small children.

My sister and I slowly outgrew the pink walls and flowery curtains. We filled twin bookshelves with books, then filled them again, our tastes changing and growing faster than the shelves. Every art project I completed, every sticker and every essay I wrote, I collected and hung over my bed. My sister mirrored this practice, coating her side of the bedroom with valentines, movie stars and pictures. The walls were individual works, her’s covered with pastels and magazine clippings and mine layered with a collection of newspaper articles, school assignments and watercolors. The flamboyant colors of her side complemented my area’s monochromatic and muted works, turning our room into a veritable rainbow of pieces. Our tastes were different, but the idea was the same–these walls were us. All the memories we had, all the joys and sorrows and triumphs had a place on the wall.

Trees grew and flowers bloomed, and the two young girls living in the pale pink room changed.

The artwork on the walls became more talented. The essays began to have grades scrawled across the corner. The valentines and movie stars changed with the passing of seasons and years. We both ran out of wall space, and painfully removed some of the oldest pieces, immediately filling in the gaps so that the walls were a constant collage. Tendrils of each of our collages extended and met in the middle of the room, joining into the beautiful combination of our lives. My sister and I never discussed this ritual. We never asked the other why she placed her life on display, but we never considered taking the pieces away. They were the comparison and contrast between us, the ties that bound us together.

Thunder clouds covered the sky, and the sun began its descent over the pale pink bedroom with the older girls.

The subject of the fight was uncertain by the end of the argument, but we were both red in the face and furious at its conclusion. Each of us had said things that would never have been voiced by the light of day, but seemed only hurtful at night. My sister eventually stormed out of the room, possibly to tattle on me or just reflect on the fight. In a childish fit of pique, I tore down a picture of her, one that had graced the center of my wall. The action felt strangely good, like the photo was one of the words and names she had called me, or maybe one of the ones I had screamed at her. Pulling and ripping with reckless abandon, I yanked down picture after picture, essay after essay and photo after photo. The years of collecting, the time spent gluing–everything disappeared. Minutes passed and years were stripped away before I sat, sobbing uncontrollably at the foot of my bed, surrounded by the remains of my life.

Twilight fell, and the room darkened around a single sister.

Later that evening, after the room was veiled in darkness and shadows swarmed across the walls, my sister returned to her bed. Both of us knew instinctively that the other was lying awake, staring at the ceiling. And, both of us knew that the other had been crying. I was dreading the next morning–I had destroyed something that was a joint creation, a group effort. I had cut a cord between us by ripping down the pictures.

The sun disappeared from over the pale pink bedroom and nighttime shadows crawled on the pale pink walls.

Eventually, the cold light of morning filtered through the window. I woke up uncharacteristically early, hoping I could re-make my wall. My sister would never be able to discern the slight changes since the collages seemed to change daily. To my surprise and dread, as soon as I opened my eyes, I noticed my baby sister standing by my feet. She was staring wordlessly at my empty wall in stunned silence. My heart shattered as I noticed the tears sliding down her cheeks–tears that I had caused. She looked into my eyes for the briefest second before fleeing the room, leaving the door open behind her.

The moon rose and the stars twinkled down on a single sister.

I tried everything I could to fix the wall. I glued, taped and pinned pictures, but no adhesive allowed the work to stay up. The window stood open so stray words floated around the room and small snapshots flickered past as I worked, blown by the cold wind that howled through the bedroom. Finally, I abandoned my efforts and left the room to look for a stronger glue, something to keep my life ordered on that wall next to my sister’s. When I returned, my eyes were instantly drawn to the ruined wall, so blank and empty and devoid of colorful pictures. I stared until someone cleared her throat in a familiar attempt to get my attention from across the room. I looked over to my sister’s bed, where she was sitting Indian style, her legs twisted comfortably. Something was different about her side of the wall, a glaring change that I should have noticed immediately. My sister’s wall was as blank as mine, and the room was once again uniformly pink. The pre-arranged apologies I had rehearsed died in my throat as I realized the implications of that empty wall. My heart skipped a beat–was my little sister angry enough to tear down her own life as well? Then, I saw her quirky little smile, the one that had been absent since our argument.

“We can put up new pictures.”

Emily Malpass, Age 13, Grade 8, Trinity School, Silver Key

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