Our street was in a perfectly average neighborhood, if on the downside of shabby. Older houses—all of them with porches and swings. Rough green yards, huge trees. Like everybody on the street had agreed that they would tidy up later.
"It looks so normal," I said to my older sister, Jayne. She and I were in the second seat of the Station Wagon—Mom driving, following Dad, who was solo in the U-Haul. Somehow, after six hours in the car, Jayne managed to look beautiful, her blonde hair in symmetrical, fluffy feathers, her skin miraculously sweat free, her clothes unrumpled to catalog perfection. Some would think this would conjure up some sort of jealous spark in me, but it's really more of a sense of wonder. Being jealous of Jayne would be like being jealous of a butterfly, who has no more control over its beauty than Jayne does. Everything about Jayne is effortless. Not just her beauty, but her kindness, her goodness. In a way, we are everything each other is not, so we stick together in our weak spots. And that's important, because in this family, you need a hand to hold in our spinning vortex of chaos.
The moment the big truck turned onto what Mom called "our" street, Jayne and I each rolled down our windows, trying to guess which would be "our" house. There was no sign out front, and since it was the middle of the day, plenty of driveways were empty. But then, the huge truck with all of our worldly possessions drifted to a stop, and Dad hopped out with all the fanfare a middle-aged man could muster. Mom pulled precariously into the narrow drive, and we were home.
Our place in Phoenix looked like every other house in Phoenix. Small, square, tan. A front yard full of rocks. Little rocks, big rocks. But this—it looked like something out of one of Mom's movies-of-the-week, where the story is about some young woman inheriting an old house, then there's a montage of painting and hammering with some hunky carpenter before—voila!—the essence of quaint Victorian architecture is restored. But we had a dad who, as far as I knew, didn't own a tool belt, and a mom whose housework didn't extend beyond doling out chores to me and my sisters. So, really, I didn't know if the house was sadder to see us than we were to see the house. While I knew it was nothing more than two stories of brick and wood and windows, I swear I saw it take a deep breath and sigh as we piled out onto its lawn. Never before had I felt compelled to apologize to a domicile. But for the time being we belonged to each other.
We are what has been called a "sprawling" family. Mom and Dad, Jayne and me, and three other sisters besides. Yes, five of us. Five Nebbitt Girls. Jayne, as I have mentioned, is beautiful, but that's not nearly an accurate-enough descriptor. She is sixteen, a Junior, and looks pretty much like she should be in the pages of Mademoiselle magazine. "Five Quick Fixes to Take You from Tolerable to Tantalizing!" Our younger sister Lydia is thirteen and also pretty, but in a much more cautionary way. And by "cautionary," I mean—lock up your little brothers. Between her long, spiraled hair, her short shorts, eye makeup, lip gloss, and—um—figure, she could pass for at least seventeen. But the only thing "seven" about her is her grade. As in, seventh. But only because she had to repeat kindergarten. I know for a fact Mom finagled the rules to enroll her in eighth here in Northenfield.
There are two others, too. Mary and Kitty. The Littles. One is six and one is eight; one likes to read and the other likes ponies. I don't know much beyond that. They're always just kind of there, you know? Filling chairs at dinnertime, using the last of the toothpaste, hogging the TV. Jayne and I love them, of course. The way you love a pet—not like a puppy or anything, but more like a couple of hamsters that can capture your fancy for an entire afternoon before becoming nothing but rustling, squeaking noise you have to remember to feed.