I believe my older sister Kay is a space alien. I have reached this conclusion because there is no way we both came from the same gene pool and she is not the type of person you would say has been immaculately conceived. Not that she isn’t a good person, but I just can’t see my mom being a vessel for anything too holy.
Kay lives in El Salvador, where she is saving the world, at least that is what I tell people when they ask, “El Salvador? Why does she live there?” Explaining that answer is far too complicated, so saving the world allows the questioner to fill in the blanks.
Why would anyone leave the comfort of the United States to live in El Salvador? Mental illness is always a possibility, but I can assure you that Kay is somewhat sane. There was a time during college when I wondered if she had gone off the deep end. She lived in a house I termed “the commie house” with other students who had traveled to third world countries and returned to the US with an appropriate amount of guilt for being an American. I visited her once while she lived in the “commie house” and it was the kind of place that gives you the creeps if you thought Ronald Reagan would make a better president than Walter Mondale.
Kay didn’t start off saving the world. She started off going to elementary school, getting good grades and wanting gumdrop glasses. She played sports (not very well), liked boys and started using big words much too early for a child.
Junior high is when I noticed that my sister was pretty smart. It was straight A’s city for her, while I did my best to put forth as little effort as possible to get B’s and C’s. She ran for ASB offices and won because she was the smartest kid and other kids thought that would be a bonus for political office. (Too bad that doesn’t translate to the national stage.) She still played volleyball, basketball and ran track, but again, she was not a natural athlete. She was too analytical to be a great athlete; you could almost see her making decisions about everything she was going to do before she did it which never really works in fast-paced team sports.
When we moved to New Zealand for a year was when it hit me that my sister was a space alien. I spent the first week of school in a complete fog. I had no idea about anything these New Zealander kids were learning. They were in their fourth year of French, I had heard of France. They were doing advanced Algebra; I had no idea where this x in my math equation came from. Every class I went to was more confusing than the next. Even PE was confusing to me, cricket? Rugby? Soccer? They called track athletics, they ran miles and miles, they played a game called netball; we even spent days taking tests and notes on physiology when I would have been out playing dodge-ball in the US.
My sister had no problem with any of the classes. She learned 5th year French. She did the math. She wrote. She did homework and studied. I decided to become a juvenile delinquent. I hung around with the wrong crowd, tried smoking, lifted girl’s skirts and got kicked out of French class.
The seeming ease that she made this transition did not amaze me at the time, it just made me mad. She was making me look bad. I was never going to ever put forth the effort to get straight A’s and it would have been nice if my sister would have helped the family effort of slacking, but it just wasn’t in her space alien genes.
When we came back to the States nothing changed, Kay got straight A’s; I did as little as possible. Teachers expected me to be like my sister, I’m sure most of them were disappointed. I did my work, but I would never sink low enough to study. Kay studied every night.
When she ran for an ASB office it didn’t surprise me. I assumed she would win and slowly begin taking over the known world. In her first attempt, she tied with the guy she ran against. I don’t remember what office she was running for, but I know she tied. I remember this small fact because I didn’t vote (information that didn’t go over too well at home).
Thinking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t vote. It might have been that I had something important to do, but it was probably because I had to decide whether I should go vote, or get in lunch line early. Lunch was a huge priority in my life and I wasn’t about to skip it to go to the polling area.
Kay didn’t give me much grief, but my parents gave it to me with gusto. Maybe they realized that the fate of all of mankind rested on this election, if Kay did not win the election she might have gone into a deep depression and started using IV drugs. She was fated to win the election, and therefore won after a run-off.
Her rise to power had begun.
Kay’s senior year she was ASB president, she was valedictorian, she had a 4.0 GPA and my life as a student was a living hell. By now most of the teachers knew not to expect me to be my sister, but my parents assumed I should be getting the same grades as Kay. They figured since we came from the same gene pool, we should get similar grades. What they didn’t realize was that my sister was a space alien.
Kay’s high school graduation prepared me for future embarrassing graduations to come. Who got to speak? Kay. Who got the most awards? Kay. Who looked like a fricking Christmas tree with all her awards strung around her neck? Kay. Who was going to look like a big loser next year because he had done nothing? Me.
When Kay ventured off to college, I missed her. I wrote to her a few times, but most of the time, I was too busy. I had sporting events to attend, girls to date, lies to tell my parents, incredibly stupid stunts to attempt and classes to barely pass. When it was time for me to choose a college, I decided to apply to the same college that Kay was attending hoping that her reputation would get me in under the line, it did. It was no Ivy League school and I don’t even know why she decided to attend, she could have gone just about anywhere.
That summer we both worked at a church camp near Yosemite. I cleaned dishes, recycled cans and cleaned toilets. I enjoyed cleaning the toilets most, people left me alone and I had a fair amount of unsupervised time to goof off. Kay, on the other hand, had the responsible job of being a lifeguard. Away from school Kay was a normal person and therefore infinitely more human in my mind. When she didn’t have to study, or worry about school, she relaxed. She was still wound as tight as a rock-star’s jeans, but she managed to have fun occasionally.
When I went off to college it was strange. Most kids spend their entire teen years longing to get away from their parents and then when it happens they get a little scared. I was no different. Kay helped me pick classes and I would see her around at times, but most often, she was studying. Needless to say, I was not studying. I was doing everything my parents forbid me from doing while I was living at home. When the first semester was over, I was hanging on by the skin of my academic teeth. Kay cruised through with straight A’s again and then left to go to school in Mexico.
I really don’t know why Mexico was calling her name, but apparently it was. So she went to school in Mexico. She got straight A’s. Even though everything was in Spanish, she got straight A’s. I had enough trouble with school in my own language.
When she got back, she showed me pictures, but it didn’t help me understand why she went or anything else about the whole “school in Mexico” thing. Looking back on it now I can see how Mexico changed my sister’s life.
For the longest time I had assumed my sister would take over the world through the political process, but after her time in Mexico I sensed a change in her approach to world domination. Instead of taking over the world, she was now going to save the world. My focus was solely on saving money for the weekends, saving the world was far beyond my hopes and dreams, but for Kay it was a possibility.
The next year Kay was off to Central America. She went with a group from the college of about 20 people. All of those 20 people would return to our college changed. I don’t know what they saw, but when they came back to the US they all were different.
Reagan was president, Iran-Contra had yet to be discovered, and countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala were on the evening news each night. These small countries, which most people in the US had never heard of before, were now places we heard of but never wanted to visit. Aside from the poverty, random violence and disease, it sounded like an okay place to get a tan.
The Central American group, or as I liked to call them “the commies”, had an opportunity to present what they had learned on the trip to the entire college in a weekly class called Forum. To me Forum was like a good dose of Nyquil and I spent most of my time wondering how I would get to lunch early.
The day the “commies” presented was entertaining if your sister wasn’t the one on-stage crying. Kay told a story about a guy who was shot for doing something to an American flag. The whole story escapes me, but she said, “And they killed him for a piece of cloth” and then started crying and I was horrified. Not horrified as I should have been that some idiot had killed someone over the flag, but I was horrified that my sister was on stage crying, embarrassing me.
A few years later, my friend Eric’s sister embarrassed him in a similar manner and we decided we should form a support group of guys embarrassed during Forum by their sisters. It would be a small group, but isn’t that what people said about Jesus and his Disciples?
Kay finished her undergraduate degree with a 4.0 GPA. They gave her a trophy called the president’s cup and recognized her during the ceremony as an outstanding student. There would be no such recognition for me; in fact, I didn’t attend my graduation because the Lakers were playing the Jazz in the playoffs and I couldn’t miss the game on TV. A man must have his priorities.
With her graduation Kay was off to choose from hundreds of jobs, I assumed, but she ended up taking a position as a lifeguard for the YMCA in Seattle. It confused me a bit that all the effort in school would amount to watching kids secretly pee in a pool in Seattle, but Kay always marched to her own freeform jazz band.
After the summer came to a close, she started working as a paralegal helping Central American refugees. I am not sure what she did. I don’t know if she did translating, or their dishes, I just know when people asked me I gave them the answer, “She is a paralegal working with Central Americans.” Often the people asking about her would want me to pass on a hug or a “Hi” and I always said I would, but never did.
What she did in Seattle didn’t interest me as much as what she had in her refrigerator.
Once, when I was visiting, I looked in her fridge and saw she had gourmet ketchup. It seemed extravagant to me to have gourmet ketchup, but I longed to have a job where I could buy gourmet ketchup. I was still a destitute college student who stole all his toilet paper from the library and got all his ketchup from fast food restaurant bins that were left out for pillaging. Kay having gourmet ketchup was a bit of a paradox, here was a girl/lady who spent her days and nights helping people who were escaping horrible situations in their countries and somewhere in her day she thought, “I would really like some gourmet ketchup. I will have to pick some of that up on the way home.” It just didn’t’ fit: Fighting for justice against the huge military industrial machine and consumer of gourmet ketchup.
After her experience in Seattle, she decided to move to Los Angeles and do her paralegaling there. Los Angeles is the Mecca of Central American refugees and she would be kept busy there I figured.
She got a job working for an organization called El Rescate and even with my limited Spanish, I knew what that meant.
The next part of the story is the most improbable part; it is the part where Kay falls in love with a guy at work.
Kay had dated a number of guys, each one of them a loser in some way or another, but she never seemed too interested in them. I discovered one guy reading with her when I dropped by her dorm room unannounced. He was reading Shogun and she was probably reading some book with a title longer than this sentence. I teased her relentlessly about how this guy was reading her the dirty parts of Shogun when I interrupted. I’m sure the whole thing was perfectly innocent, but Kay blushed nevertheless.
When Kay fell in love, my wife and I drove down to LA to meet the new guy and find out what made him so special. We all got together at the International House of Pancakes, which seemed oddly appropriate because Kay was saving the world and IHOP is all about making the world a better place through pancakes.
Oscar, the object of my sister’s love, was not what I had expected. I had pictured some bookish-brainiac type; Oscar was a warm, engaging, smart, funny guy. His smile made you feel comfortable and welcomed. We talked over pancakes and coffee and then went back to their office where we found out Oscar was the boss.
He had escaped from El Salvador and come to the US. He didn’t have all the 4.0 nonsense my sister had, but he had done some incredible things since arriving in LA. He met movie stars, politicians, movie stars who were politicians, politicians who thought they should be movie stars and various other big-shots. All of his schmoozing was done so he could get money to help Central American refugees. After spending three hours with Oscar I had decided he was probably a space alien too, but a nice space alien sent to help us on planet Earth.
The strangest part of the day was when Kay and Oscar told us that they were expecting a baby.
Now I had a very difficult time seeing my sister as a mother. I could imagine this poor kid bringing home a B+ on his first-grade report card and getting sent to his room with no food. The poor kid would never get to play sports or go outside until he had done all of his homework and read one book each day, but as it turns out, my sister and Oscar are very good parents, who now have three very nice, well-adjusted kids, as far as I can tell.
After Kay had her first son, she finished her MA at UCLA, with a 4.0, and got some special “service to the community award” recognition at graduation, again. Some day she will get her PhD and put me to shame again, but that is a future embarrassment for which I will have to wait
The whole family moved to El Salvador 10 years ago and started saving the world from a more centralized location. They talk occasionally about returning to the US, but I think they are very happy there. I imagine it is easier to see progress in El Salvador than it is in the US, and therefore the work is more satisfying, or it could be that the space aliens on the mother ship get less radio interference when contacting my sister.