I grew up certain I had a twin somewhere, thought she had been lost, discarded, logic not so much an issue at five. What's your name? adults would ask, and I'd answer Penny or Heidi depending on how recently I had watched Shirley Temple living with her grandpa on top of that black and white mountain. (Strangely enough my twin had no name or names, but I was fairly postive she wore red yarn in her hair like I did and thought Penelope Pitstop the bomb.) My brother was always telling me our parents had found me in a gutter; I am not sure why it never occurred to me that I might be the other side lost in my make believe world where somewhere there was someone just like me.
I was born a sibling. It's a girl!daughter!sister!Susannah! I still have my birth announcement, into the world second born a done deal. In my family, there are three names for boys that are passed down and roman numeralled: Andrews Dimon (my brother, my uncle, my great-uncle), Henry Edgar (my dad, my cousin, my grandfather), and Farish Allston (my uncle, my great-uncle and then some). All of them oil paintings with eyes that follow a room.
There are no names passed down for the girls.
And so it was that I was named after the doctor who delivered me, Dr. Clay whose mother's name was Susannah. They thought it was pretty: Susannah Clay. (At first my name was Amanda, but my parents thought it was too rhyme-y sing-song with Andy. Andy & Mandy, and so I became Susannah without eyes that followed, but dictated by roman numerals just the same, another song entirely.)
As the youngest I have no memory of a time before Andy, born as I was to a mom and a dad and a brother. It trips me out as the youngest/egomaniac/blogger to think of the family before me. Yet as the mother of one considering two I know it is not only possible but very real. Bryan, Zoey and me. We are a family, and maybe, just maybe we will have another one, but if not? That's fine, too, our family not a before but an is.
How can this be when I, myself, am an after?
My brother says he does not have any memories of before I was born. Because I asked. Because I do that. Because I am the baby... when you asked me to write my memories of when you were born, I had to really think about what was truly my memory versus the memory of a memory, the memory of a photo album, the memory of cute stories...
The result was anemic.
I only have one memory that is 100% mine.
I have no true memory of Mom being pregnant. No memory of a pending you.
What I do remember is waking up in my room in our home in San Francisco.
My room had bay windows. The last room to the right. Down a short hallway.
Across the hall, Mom and Dad's room. I remember standing in that hallway
between the two rooms.
But Mom and Dad weren't there. Instead...
When I was seven my brother gave me a stamp he had made of my signature. It wasn't hard, probably, since I practiced my signature on anything that didn't move. Susannah Clay Jenkins, The Only, and I had that little circled R for registered. The only story I know began with my brother standing in that hallway between two rooms.My earliest memories are of yellow curtains, that thick yellow from the early seventies? Shag carpet and Speed Racer, my brother leaning with the curved track on tv. I told on myself as a kid, before Andy could, and I told on him, too. Together we tossed cod out the window and swore that we ate it, splintered doors when the other was on the phone. He gave me his Styx tape, Pseudo Echo the semester after he was an exchange student in Australia. In high school we coasted down the driveway past curfew, and one time? He stopped the car on a busy street and made me walk home. Dick.
One of Zoey's New Year's Resolutions was to "concentrate on how to make a baby." The other one was to learn how to swim, but so far I have only told her about how when a man and a woman love each other very much... Don't tell that story, mom, she said, it's weird.
Today is my brother's birthday and true to form I am telling on him; he is 40. Remember when? he says, or me: who was that woman in Florida that time? As adults we sit for hours and try to piece it together, the hallways and music, the people, the conversations we heard through the heating vent downstairs, where were those yellow curtains? Why does mom do that? he says, or me: does dad say that to you, too? The other side to my lost without red yarn maybe, but following the same trail of bread crumbs just the same. How did he know to give me my signature anyway? Susannah Clay Jenkins, The Only. Not a twin but a sister, a sibling, the youngest, The Only in a family of tenses. My brother now 40, Zoey's resolution has become my own (and I already know how to swim.)
Happy Birthday, dear brother. I am forever grateful we come from the same gutter.