I was the youngest out of five daughters in a makeshift family--my older sister, Abby, and I inherited three step sisters at the marriage between my dad and his new wife, whose sugar-blond hair and sweet pea cheeks seemed to me the pinnacles of womanhood and secrecy.
It was never a competition between my sisters and myself because I always came in last. I was last to buy a bra, last to get my period, last to learn the language of flirting. Even at fourteen, my toothpick arms met at the center of my plank board chest. I wore a 28AA.
I never really chose to be an outsider. I wanted to hang out and talk about boys. I wanted to make weird home movies and have inside jokes. There's a family photo of us: the camera captures the backs of three of my sisters, all holding hands walking down the sidewalk, me in the grass trying to keep up.
With my nose pressed against the window, I grew up watching them thrive and rage their way through adolescence. There would be glimpses--moments of acceptance into their pack--a trip to the pizza shop, a pleasant car ride on a family vacation. But it was at this brink between knowing my place as the unwanted little sister and the hope of their acceptance, that my stance would teeter, unstable. I'd say or do the wrong thing and fall back over the edge, back again to the outside of the window looking in.
To this day, it's rare for me to have female friends. A very small handful. It's always been easy to make the initial connection with other women--an extroverted personality makes for quick acquaintances. But it's always in that in-between moment, the teetering between acceptance and watching from my window, that I retreat. I say the wrong thing, I start acting weird. The ghost of my fourteen-year-old-self stirs somewhere deep within me, telling me to keep my distance, that I don't know what I'm doing and it's not worth the risk of a likely rejection.