Michaela is the girl I would have been if I had been born in a fictional family. We are a lot alike. The main difference is that I have real memories and real pictures of my childhood. She doesn’t. All she has are stories. Linda Sue, who is smart and pretty, is her sister. Here is one of Michaela’s stories that she asked me to write down.
I’ve always been the early bird of the family. One of the chief advantages of that is being able to eat my cereal in peace and put just as much sugar on top of it as I please. Linda Sue, on the other hand, always sleeps in if she can.
In Sunday School, they taught us that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. Apparently there were no crowns left when it came my turn; all I got was straight, brown hair. Linda Sue got the crown — long, wavy blond hair like the angels have. To keep it from getting tangled and matted while she slept, she always braided it before going to bed.
The first time I cut her hair for her was early on a Saturday morning. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I couldn’t have picked a better day. Mother had to spend most of the day helping grandma pack up boxes because she was going to move into an apartment. She left before Linda Sue woke up and didn’t get home until after supper. My stepdad, Mr. Frank, never paid much attention to either one of us. All he cared about was my bratty little brother, who is his son.
I don’t know where I got the idea to cut her hair. I surprise myself sometimes with my ideas. When I crept into the bedroom, Linda Sue was sleeping with her mouth open as if she were surprised too. Each of her braids had a good inch and a half of hair below the rubber bands, so I held each one gently, cut off the bottom part, and put about an inch of her glory in my pocket. Doing both braids only took a few minutes; the hardest part was trying not to laugh. Mother was gone and everyone else was still asleep, so I ate breakfast alone. After adding extra sugar on my cereal for good luck, I finished up by drinking the milk out of the bowl. Then I went to the empty lot on the block behind our house and threw the hair out for the birds to use in building nests for their baby birds. That was something that Linda Sue had read in a book, and for about a week, she would take the hair out of her hairbrush and throw it outside on the lawn, like a princess throwing her gold to the peasants.
On Saturdays, Linda Sue didn’t usually undo her braids until evening when we took our baths. When Mother got home, she ran the bath water for us, but we bathed ourselves. Back then, Mother washed my hair, but Linda Sue did her own. Mother never noticed anything until she started combing out my sister’s wet hair.
Two years ago, Linda Sue cut her bangs by herself and did a terrible job. Mother told her to never, ever touch her own hair again with a pair of scissors, or else. In the midst of combing Linda Sue’s hair, Mother stopped and said, “Linda Sue Branson, have you been cutting your hair?”
“No, mommy,” she replied truthfully. No one believed her, including me.
“Well, somebody’s cut it; it’s all jagged at the bottom. I told you about this Linda Sue; you are not to cut your own hair.” Mother was starting to squint, which meant trouble. Use of your full name while squinting put a capital “T” on that trouble. It would always start with a list of grievances we had caused her. I was hoping she didn’t get going in that direction because her list of grievances against me were much longer, and I didn’t want to be dragged into this, even though I had done it.
Linda Sue, who cried easily, started whimpering, “But mommy, I didn’t cut my hair.”
“Linda Sue, if you didn’t cut your hair, then somebody else did. And if somebody else did, then you would’ve known it.”
You had to admire that kind of reasoning. That left me off the hook in her mind, but not in Linda Sue’s. Mother sent me for the haircutting scissors, which sent Linda Sue into a real sobbing fit. She hated to have her hair cut. She had read Rapunzel and wanted hair that went all the way down to the floor. I came back trying to look duly chastened from witnessing the evil deed committed by my sister. I, at least, had learned the lesson: never cut your own hair.
She wailed and managed to sob out, “Michaela did it, I know she did.”
Mother, who had already decided that Linda Sue did it, was fed up with her whining and said, “Stop it, Linda Sue. I don’t want to hear another word about it. You will not be able to play after school for a week.”
For once I was the good sister, and I hoped that Linda Sue had learned her lesson. She hadn’t, because three weeks later, I did it again.
For some reason, a wall had gone up between Linda Sue and me. Whenever we were alone she would say, “I hate you.” She wouldn’t walk to school with me anymore or even let me step into her room. In Sunday School the following week, I was so glad the story was about how Jesus was falsely accused. When the teacher asked if anyone knew what it felt like to be misunderstood and unjustly accused, I raised my hand and looked over at Linda Sue. She just sat there glaring at me.
The second time I cut her hair, I did it in just the same way. I was in the middle of my second bowl of sugary cereal when my little brother woke everybody up. He had peed the bed and was crying, which woke mother up. She wasn’t too happy with him and was never very happy in the morning before her coffee. She decided that if she had to get up early on a Saturday morning when she should have been allowed to sleep in, then everyone else should get up, too. She proceeded to bang the linen closet door, yell at my brother to get his wet things off, and talk as if he were hard of hearing. Then Mr. Frank woke up. He must have thought that even the neighbors were hard of hearing. Within just a few minutes, everyone on the block must have known that neither of them enjoyed getting up early on their day off. Mr. Frank helped David with his bath.
The first thing mother said to me when she came into the kitchen and saw the sugar bowl next to the box of frosted cereal was, “Michaela, I’ve told you a million times that you don’t need sugar on that kind of cereal. Throw that away right this minute.”
It’s no use arguing with mother in these cases. All the starving children in China couldn’t change her mind. So I dumped it out and tried to quietly sneak out of the kitchen while she clanged around making her coffee.
“Get right back here, young lady, and wipe that table off. There’s sugar everywhere, and I’m sick of it.”
It was a wonder mother hadn’t died yet of all the things that made her sick, but in order to prevent the early death of either of us, I meekly came back to wipe it off.
“Michaela, come here. What’s that in your pocket?”
I couldn’t believe that mother could see through my clothing. I had fooled her too many times sneaking things out in my pockets. All I could think of was that maybe Linda Sue’s crowning glory was now glowing and shining around my pocket just like the halos around all those angels in the picture Bible. But it wasn’t the hair she saw. It was the scissors.
“Come here, I said. What are you doing with those scissors?”
I knew exactly what to say. Mother had told us not to tear the inner liner of the cereal box with our hands. It always tore straight down, and the cereal would come out in a burst of oats or corn or wheat spilling onto the table and into the cardboard box. ”And what is the good of that?” mother would holler. “It’s good for nothing, but the roaches, that’s what!” Use scissors, she told us, and cut straight across so the cereal pours out like God intended. I might have convinced her that I had the scissors for that purpose if Linda Sue, the accuser, had not come into the kitchen just then.
I don’t know what it is about angry parents. Once they get fired up, their five senses are enhanced and suddenly they smell, feel, hear, and see every little thing. Mother stood there a moment looking hard and close at Linda Sue, and her eyebrows started to pull in together like she had a stitch in her forehead.
“May I go outside now, mother,” I asked in my most simpering voice. I even used “may I” instead of “can I,” which my mother insisted was bad grammar. But even good grammar couldn’t save me.
“No,” she said with her eyes in narrow slits. Then to Linda Sue, “Come here and let me see your hair.” Maybe I had taken a little too much this time because her braids did look a lot shorter. Linda Sue grabbed them, and she could tell right away that some of her glory had departed. There was a lot of yelling, and after the scissors were retrieved from my pocket, my charitable offering for the poor little birds was also discovered.
The spanking was worth it, though, because Linda Sue had to have her hair cut again to make it even. That was all I have ever wanted anyway, to make things even.