In the photo my sister, Sara looks determined. She’s only two, and yet, it is clear. She wears an oversized red shirt, water-filled diaper, and a white bonnet which during the day protected her from the sun’s rays, but since it’s dark, protects her from nothing. Sara tries to pull the bonnet off, but my mom keeps fashioning it on her head. My mom always had a thing for bonnets.
Sara pulls a green raft into the water. In and out, in and out. She is not who she will be. There are no expectations on her life, no hurts, no across-the-world-wanderings, no blonde haired children of her own following her around insisting they are the White Stripes.
In a few months, my dad will discover his business partner and family friend embezzled all the money and that my mom wants a divorce. In a few years, our parents will affirm what everyone thought. They’re too young. They will never make it. Michigan is pretty, but you can’t live off the scenery. Life will become loud.
But not yet. Tonight the waves whisper as if to quiet what’s to come.
Tonight, we are the family who closes down the beach. We rinse off the sand and huddle close in wet towels. We stop at the liquor store and my sister and I each pick out one piece of candy. I decide on Nerds, and she grabs a Whistle Pop. Then we drive home and feast on Banquet Fried Chicken. I call dibs on the chicken legs, and we watch The Dukes of Hazzard.
This is before my mom turned twenty-three and discovered she’s both stunningly beautiful and good at bowling.
In the photo, my two-year-old sister looks strong. In life, I will know this to be true.