“No, Brie — I’m not a jack-o-lantern.”

“Sammi is pumpkin?”

Brie squinted curiously at my toothless grimace and reached for the thread holding my lip together.

“No, Brie — I’m not a jack-o-lantern.” I shook my head.

“Owwie. No touch.”

“Correct. Don’t touch the thread. It hurts.”

“Sorry, Sammi.” Brie hugged me carefully, giggling when the stitches thread tickled her cheek.

“It’s okay, Brie. It’s not your fault.”

“Sammi is no pumpkin.”

Raf popped into the kitchen. “Time to go to the dentist, sis.”

“Thanks for picking me up, bro.”

“Of course. There was no way you could drive on pain meds.”

Four years ago, Halloween was on Saturday. Most people were going to Jacksonville for the UGA vs. UF game, so we celebrated the prior Wednesday. After stopping by my friend Kelli’s party, Ames and I headed downtown with two of our Young Dems friends.

Ames was a flapper. Pre-Halloween festivities were the perfect time to wear my cowboy boots with four inch heels, so I was a cowgirl. (The boots were impractical for anything but a costume.) Our friends were a glittery faced Edward Cullen from Twilight and a mobster.

As the night progressed, the boots pinched my feet. All of us (except Ames, who was driving) did rounds of shots at each bar, which numbed the pain. After last call, Edward offered to give me a piggyback ride. As I jumped onto his back, he lost his balance and I tumbled face first onto the pavement.

MY TEETH!” I stared at the fragments of my teeth and blood splattered on the sidewalk. Two teeth were pushed an inch back, digging into my tongue. My lip was split, bleeding onto my dress.

Ames snapped into her lifeguard handing an emergency mode. “Try not to touch your face. Don’t let your tongue move your teeth back any further.”

Ames drove us to the hospital. I left my dentist a rambling voicemail about my busted teeth. Once we sat in the ER waiting room, our costumed crew got weird looks (even from a guy who was there because he got stabbed). Edward apologized profusely, but I couldn’t help laughing (weakly) at his face, sparkling underneath the fluorescent lights.

After I got stitched (and doped) up, I saw that Dr. M left me a voicemail. He cleared his schedule to work on my teeth and was available as early as I could get there.

“Everybody’s staring, sis.” Raf jerked his head toward the onlookers in Dr. M’s waiting room.

“They probably think I got run over by a bus.” I continued watching the flat screen TV across from us. Dr. M always displayed a slideshow (portfolio, really) of his best work on that TV.

Dr. M winced when he greeted us. “Raffy, you can go home. Sam will call you when we’re done. This is gonna take awhile.” He pulled his goggles down and his gloves up. “Sam, do you have any pictures of your teeth before this happened?”

“Yes.” I fumbled through my purse and found my camera. I showed him a close-up that Ames and I took at the beginning of the night.

After taking a “before” photo, x-rays, and shooting anesthesia into the roof of my mouth, Dr. M gravely explained, “I’m gonna pull the two left teeth forward, do a root canal on and put a crown on the front right one, and then put a brace behind your front seven teeth.”

I squirmed anxiously.

“Ready?”

I nodded.

Several hours later, my smile was fixed. One of the dental hygienists took an “after” photo. I wept with gratitude. Dr. M dabbed his brow with a handkerchief and patted my shoulder.

“Come back in three weeks so I can check to see that everything is healing properly.”

“Will do.”

Months later, I sat in Dr. M’s waiting area before a regular cleaning. My teeth looked better than ever. The scratches on my face and lip healed. Two older ladies sat beside me, making small talk.

Tired of reading Shape magazine, I turned to the flat screen with Dr. M’s best work slideshow. The next pair of photos were my teeth before and after he worked on them.

The grey-haired lady gasped. “Dr. M is a miracle worker!”

The bespectacled lady clucked worriedly. “I wonder how that happened to that poor girl.”

The poor girl accepted a piggyback ride from a drunk Edward Cullen impersonator. She’s never trusting a glittery vampire again.

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“Bro, there is such a thing as too much information.”

Raf and I are two years apart, less four months. Since his birth, our mother forced us to cultivate a friendship instead of a sibling rivalry. While this is a positive thing most of the time, there are times when Raf crosses the boundary and shares too much. (He inherited that tendency from our mother.)

Text

I was preparing invoices at work, when an iMessage notification popped up on my phone. Raf randomly sends funny memes while I’m at work, so I didn’t think twice about opening it. I should’ve known better.

“I just got a burger and handmade salt and vinegar chips from O’Brian’s. It smells like white girl pussy. Lol!”

“OMGGG.”

“At least it tastes better. Lol.”

“Whyyyyy?! I don’t need to know this!!!”

“Just sayin’.”

“Bro, there is such a thing as too much information.”

Photo

“Hey sis, check this out!”

I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “What is it?”

“A picture of a cute puppy.”

I exhaled in relief. “Okay, show me.”

Raf handed me his phone.

MY EYES!” I tossed the phone back at him in disgust. “Who is that and why is she sending you naked photos?!”

“This girl I met at a party last weekend –”

“You need to talk to Kevin and those guys about shit like this.”

“– who I went home with –”

“Can’t hear you.” I started walking away.

“– and we totally hooked up which was — ”

Hastily, I crammed my earbuds into my ears and drowned out the rest of the story with Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” album.

Conversation

“Bro, why did Mom call to tell me that she found your ho’s panties in your room. And that y’all were sleeping in your room together.”

“Sis, first, Roxie is not a ho –”

“No, you’re both hos. Seriously, bro — shacking in Mom & Dad’s house?!”

“We weren’t even doing anything! At the time…”

“I don’t know why you and Mom feel the need to tell me these things.”

“Really, sis — Roxie and I were cuddling and accidentally fell asleep. I mean, we did have sex earlier –”

“NOPE.”

When your little brother knocks

When your little brother knocks on your bedroom door,
(sobs wracking his gangly frame)
open it & sit beside each other on the floor.

“What’s wrong, bro?”
Everything.
“That’s not very specific.”
“I think you…”
“I would what?
“…would be better off without me.”

When your little brother’s eyes are bloodshot,
(a never-ending stream of tears flowing)
hand him the tissue box & wring your hands.

“That’s not true. Why would you think that?”
“I’m a burden. I’m always messing up.”
“You’re doing great in band! Your grades are decent, too.”
“If I was dead, no one would have to worry –”
“I’d have to go to a cemetery to see you.”
“But — “

When your little brother teeters on a ledge,
(more often than not these days)
carefully pull him back to safety.

“Dad thinks I’m worthless. Mom will never be proud of me, either.”
“You can’t leave Brie & me.”
“It’s all so pointless.”
Promise me.
“I know, Sam. I promise. I won’t.”
“Good.”

When your little brother’s confidence flourishes,
(years later, but it couldn’t have happened soon enough)
let go of the breath you didn’t know you were holding.

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

This refrain was repeated throughout childhood. At an early age, my siblings and I learned that regardless of the amount or type of food that was on your plate, you ate it. No questions asked. Kids who wasted food were rude — repugnant, even. Our friends were judged for being picky eaters.

It’s no surprise that the three of us have had weight issues at different stages of our lives. After years of hearing “clean your plate,” learning moderation was (and still is, at times) difficult. Even now, my mother is a relentless food pusher.

“I’m trying to eat healthier.”

“So? You can have ice cream. Then you can just run later.”

“I would rather just skip dessert.”

“Just listen to me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Except, my mother doesn’t know (about this, or anything she hasn’t actually experienced).

In elementary school, I was the chubby kid on the country club swim team. To say that the kind of girls who lived in that neighborhood were cruel shallow bitches would be an understatement.

“What size do you wear?” Maddie asked as I wrapped a towel around myself after practice.

“Why do you want to know?” I quickly packed up my tote bag.

“So I never let myself go like that.” She followed me to the parking lot.

“I have a slower metabolism than you do.” Don’t let her see you cry.

“Maybe you should lay off the fatty foods, then.” She flipped her hair and sneered.

We were eleven years old. I waited until I bolted out of my mother’s car and into my room before crying and eating a stack of Chips Ahoy cookies. I found solace in food and books. Though my mother insisted I was beautiful as I was, she added that I’d outgrow my chubbiness. I did in middle school, but eating my feelings was a habit that persisted.

Now, I’m unlearning the association that only wasteful assholes don’t clean their plates. I’ll never be a waif, but I’m working on being healthier. I’m not perfect and I’m okay with that.

I’ve never been able to talk my way out of a ticket.

I’ve never been able to talk my way out of a ticket.

Cops sense my disdain for them. I can’t help it. The ones I’ve dealt with in the South have reinforced the fact that they profile people. Plus, I’m not smooth enough to bullshit reasons for why I was speeding or why I cut off incoming cars while making a left turn.

The only time I was able to avoid a ticket was last summer when a cop was posted by Ceddy’s old place near the Highlands. The cop pulled over every person who rolled this one stop sign, in an attempt to catch drunk drivers. I hadn’t drank a drop that night, so I just got a warning.

In college, Labor Day was a cursed holiday. Every time I’d drive to Alpharetta for the long weekend (or when I’d drive back to Athens), I’d get a ticket. That year, it was a particularly stressful weekend of dealing with our parents, so Raf and I wanted to get the hell out of Alpharetta and back to Athens as soon as possible.

Once traffic slowed, Raf fell asleep. After crawling down GA-316, I maneuvered around the wreck that had caused the delay and sped up the hill past The Georgia Club. From what I could tell, I was going with the flow of traffic…until a cop’s sirens blared and lights flashed in my rearview mirror. Groaning, I pulled to the side of the road and rolled my window down. Raf jerked awake.

“Sis, what happened?”

“I got pulled over.”

“Shit. Are you gonna get a ticket?”

“Probably.”

The cop leaned onto my window.

“D’ya speak English?”

My eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “Yes.” Better than you, asshole.

“D’ya know how fast you were goin’?”

“75?”

“Nope. 83. Gonna hafta write you a speeding ticket for that. Gimme your license and registration.”

I sighed and complied.

The cop squinted at my shoes. “Are you Native American?”

“No, why?”

“You’re wearin’ moccasins.”

“They’re from Macy’s.”

“I didn’t know Native Americans sold their goods at Macy’s.”

Before I could reply, Raf coughed loudly and shot me a look. Don’t make it worse, sis!

Fine. But he’s a racist moron.

“Sorry for speeding.” I said flatly.

“Just watch it coming up that hill, next time.” The cop smiled, “Your English is great, by the way.”

“I was born in New York, but thanks.”

Twenty-five

Twenty-five is comprised of
(four) pink nail polish
(sixteen) eclectic music taste
(twenty-one) a penchant for whiskey
(thirteen) writing out emotions
(six) teaming up with siblings
(eighteen) relishing freedom
(twenty-two) evading parents
(eleven) being sassy
(fifteen) leaning on real friends
(twenty-four) finding a happy ending life.