At a certain point he realized that I was sticking around (no matter how often he told me I was adopted and should run away). He reluctantly accepted that he would have to put up with my pestering questions and should probably try to ameliorate my lameness in the process. I asked him what Cypress Hill meant by “Tell Bill Clinton to go and inhale” and he rolled his eyes and made the international sign for “smoking weed” by pressing his thumb and forefinger to his lips. I nodded like I understood, which I did not. Two years later I asked him what Alanis Morissette meant by “go down on you in a theater.” He let out a sigh that communicated, You’re such a loser wanting to know this stuff and you’re an even bigger loser for not knowing already, and then made the international sign for “blow job” by pumping his fist in front of his mouth and pulling a slack-jawed, idiotic expression. You know, like all girls do when they’re giving a blow job. I nodded like I understood, which again I did not.
He protected me, too. When I was ten, our dentist needed to take impressions of my teeth. To do this, the bored dental hygienist stuck a mold in my mouth that felt like it was the size of a grapefruit and told me to stay still for about two minutes. I tried, using hand signals, to protest that I was about to choke and die. She rolled her eyes and told me to breathe through my nose. When I vomited all over the station she started screaming at me, but at least she took out the mold and I could draw enough breath to start crying. Mike was having his checkup in the next room and rushed over to me. Then my twelve-year-old brother marched out and told our dentist that he was going to kill him.
Deep down, he loves me.
When we were really little Mike showed me a neat trick that he called “Drama.” He screamed as loud as he could and when our babysitter ran into the room in a panic, he said, “Just drama.” And thus, the seed was planted.
When he was seven I followed his lead again. Mike enrolled in dance classes because he wanted to learn to “rap dance,” which probably meant however Vanilla Ice was dancing. After his first lesson, he came home in a pair of baggy pants with a geometric neon pattern, knowing how to do the running man. For the first time, I knew the cold sting of being the biggest loser on the planet.
I cried to my parents that I wanted to take dance lessons, too. My parents were bona fide masters of letting us think we were in control, especially when it came to keeping the peace between my brother and me. They presented me with the option of taking tap and ballet, which meant prettier costumes, and I agreed that hip-hop class with a bunch of boys did not sound like the best fit for me. Had it not been for Mike and Vanilla Ice and those baggy neon pants, I might never have discovered my calling.
Little Orphan Anna
At five, I had a plump face and dirty-blond curls, and people would often tell my parents that I looked like Shirley Temple. I knew nothing about Shirley Temple, but she’s like me, you say? Well, she must be marvelous! I adore Shirley Temple! My dance teacher said the same thing when I started classes with her, and once I revealed my secret power to grind dance class to a halt by randomly singing at the top of my lungs, she suggested that I sing the Shirley Temple classic “On the Good Ship Lollipop” at the recital. Tap, ballet, AND a solo performance?! I was stretched so thin, but my public demanded it.
(Incidentally, Shirley Temple made like seven movies at the age of six, which is straight-up child abuse, but kind of badass.)
The recital was just your run-of-the-mill clusterfuck—children screaming and running around backstage at a local high school auditorium. My big number was going brilliantly until halfway through the second verse, when I got to the bit about landing in a chocolate bar. It was my favorite part, and I gave that mediocre piece of wordplay the kind of hammy treatment that would have made the overworked Ms. Temple proud. Lesson: if you start congratulating yourself mid-performance, you are about to screw up.
Moments before disaster.