The Princess and the School Teacher
That time my sister slapped me in front of two hundred people.
She stepped to the microphone to the sound of champagne flutes chiming around the hall with a feral smile on her face.
My sister, Sara.
“There have been some great speeches tonight, but a sister can only take so many good things said about her little brother.”
A smattering of chuckles broke out.
“So I’m not going to give a speech, I’m going to tell you a story. I call it The Princess and the School Teacher.”
“Oh fuck,” I muttered under my breath, “I thought she forgot.”
I refuse to allow my sister to tell you her version of this story because she left out some key details. Namely, all the ones that made her look as foolish as me.
The real story starts the summer my sister binged watched a VHS box set of Anne of Green Gables and decided she was going to be a school teacher. Now, I’m as big a fan of Gilbert Blythe as anyone, but this idea to be a teacher struck my ten-year-old sister hard and our mother, an actual teacher, was enchanted.
Soon my mother had found a small wooden desk that set in one corner of Sara’s room. Not long after, a green chalkboard that had castors so you could roll it all over the damn place. Diaries were no longer diaries, they were ‘lesson planners’, and weekends were no longer Saturday and Sunday, they were school day six and school day seven.
For who? You might be thinking.
Me, school seven days a week, for me.
You see for my sister being a budding educator wasn’t enough, she needed pupils and the only one available twenty-four hours a day right across the hall was her younger brother by two years.
While you lot were eating captain crunch and watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was doing multiplication tables and freaking long division. While you were running and playing in the sunshine, I was practicing cursive as if I hadn’t done so for the five previous days.
‘S goes like this, Jimmy, not like that.’ I can still hear her chirp cheerfully.
And I played along because I loved my big sister. If she wanted to be Anne Shirley, who was I to stop her?
Right until she took it too far. Way way too far.
One morning I stepped into her ‘classroom’ and my eyes immediately darted to the bold letters drawn five inches high across the top of her green chalkboard.
SARA THORNE’S SCHOOL FOR PRETTY PINK PRINCESSES
“What’s that?” I said, pointing at the letters.
“My new school,” Sara said.
Confused I made to sit down in the little wooden desk.
“You have to put your uniform on first,” Sara said primly and gestured to something laid out on her day bed.
It was hot pink with gold filigree all over the front, and big poofy shoulders as big as my head. Next to the dress was a two-foot-tall cone-shaped hat with a white train dangling off the tip.
“You want me to wear that?”
“Yes, silly,” Sara sighed, pointing at the name of her new school because that obviously explained it all.
Any little brother who can walk and talk will tell you sometimes you wear dresses for your older sisters. It’s a thing, trust me.
Five minutes later I was staring at myself in Sara’s full-length mirror, looking very much like a disgruntled highlighter.
In my sister’s version, she said I looked like a dildo.
Now a princess and very pink, I needed to be pretty and waited patiently while my sister applied fifty layers of the absolutely most lurid red blush in our mother’s arsenal.
“Vicky’s coming this afternoon, so we have to be done with school by noon,” Sara said absently, applying layer number fifty. “You’ll have to play with Anna.”
The Parma sisters always came in a pair. Victoria, my sister’s age and very best friend since birth and Anna, two years younger than me. The older girls would always lock themselves in Sara’s room, doing whatever it is that older girls did. Anna was six, and the only human I knew younger than me, but she had good ideas for games and didn’t mind digging in the flower beds for worms.
“Okay,” I said, holding out my left cheek to be painted.
“That reminds me,” Sara said, “Vicky and I have decided we want to be sisters.”
“That’s nice,” I mumbled.
“So you’re going to marry, Anna.”
I recoiled so hard my cone hat nearly flopped off my head.
“What?” I hissed, balancing the hat back into place.
“You’re going to marry Anna, so Vicky and I can be sisters,” Sara said, matter a factly.
I felt the heat on the back of my neck rise dangerously. It was absolutely preposterous. I was eight and Anna was six. I was in third grade and Anna in first. We were practicaly different species.
Not that I didn’t like Anna.
She was really clever and threw a baseball pretty well. Never complained about getting dirty, and was small enough to climb to the top of our apple tree. Anna had a pair of black eyes that always seemed to be laughing at me, and if I squinted really hard she looked a bit like Princess Jasmine.
Not that it mattered, Ariel was the best Disney princess, everyone knew that.
“I won’t,” I growled.
“You will,” said Sara. “and you’ll like it!”
Denial not working, I tried bargaining.
“Why don’t you marry Anna!?”
“I can’t stupid, I’m going to marry Joey Lawrence!”
“You’re stupid.” I cried, tearing the cone hat from my head and dashing it on the floor. I caught one brief look of myself in the mirror, pink from head to toe, couldn’t even tell I was wearing fifty layers of lurid red blush by the color of my face. “Marrying Anna would be stupid!”
I jumped up onto Sara’s day bed, rising to my full four-foot three inches. I was no longer the willing pupil, nor the pretty pink princess. At that moment I was Moses on the mountain top proclaiming the first and most important of his gods commandments.
“I’ll never marry Anna Parma,” I shouted, shaking my tiny fist at my sister’s smug face. “And if I do…I’ll…I’ll….”
“I’ll let you slap me as hard as you can!” Sara shouted to the raucous laughter of all two hundred of my wedding guests.
“You put her up to this,” I said leaning to my left.
“I did,” Anna said, laughing at me along with everyone else. My boss was there for fuck’s sake. Even my grandmother was egging my sister on.
“I want a divorce,” I grumbled.
“There is only one way out of this now, James Thorne.” Anna purred near my ear.
Cursing my eight-year-old self, I stood and straightened my back, preparing to navigate the dozen or so tables of guests who suddenly resembled a crowd as bloodthirsty as any at the roman coliseum.
My younger self didn’t know that clever six-year-old girls grow up to be exceedingly clever women. He didn’t know that black eyes can have far more confounding things in them than laughter. He definitely didn’t know that one day he would watch — slack-jawed — as Anna Parma navigated a pas de deux variation of Arabian, in The Nutcracker, looking exactly like Princess Jasmine.
No squinting necessary.
“Come on, Jimmy,” Sara said, while she made a show of taking her rings off. “I’ve waited twenty years for this.”
I want to tell you Sara took pity on me, and only patted my cheek and kissed the other — but she didn’t.
They had to Photoshop her hand print out of our first dance photos.
My sister — now a fourth-grade teacher — might have been right all those years ago, but sometimes it’s worth it to be wrong.