When you were five your older sister screamed a lot. She was – is – five years older than you, and at exactly twice your age her door slammed and her hands pushed your forehead and her voice screeched down the hallway calling for your mom because you just wouldn’t leave her alone. One day, playing with tiny metal cars the size of your fist, you hear mommy say that she’s just upset. I don’t know what to do, she says. She won’t talk to me. Your cars pause for a moment and the quiet vroom vroom stops. You lift your head. At this age your eyes are always wide and your little mouth likes to hang just barely open. They told you at school that upset people like hugs. So you push yourself up, a car in each hand, and clamber up the stairs and down the hall to your sister’s room.
When you get to the door it’s already cracked open, so you just let yourself in. Your sister’s room has more clothes in it than you remember. Her favorite shirt is hanging on the back of her chair and there’s jeans and skirts all around the doorway. Your sister is curled in the middle of her bed with her knees to her chest and her phone clutched in both hands. There’s tears gathering in the corners of her eyes and her mouth is set in a wide line and her forehead has gone all wrinkly. You plod over then climb up on the bed and drop the cars in her lap. Cars are good. She wipes her eyes and tells you to go away. Just leave her alone. She doesn’t want to play right now. But you don’t leave her alone. Because she’s upset. And upset people need hugs.
When you wrap your arms around her she just starts to cry more, so you squeeze tighter. Her tears land on your head and roll down your hair onto your shirt sleeves. She keeps wailing so you squeeze tighter and tighter and tighter; you hug her as much as your chubby five year old arm allow. Then, eventually, she stops. The wails become sniffles and she lifts her face out of your hair. You look up. Her eyes are red and she has wet streaks on the sides of her face, but at least her forehead isn’t wrinkly anymore. You still hold onto her, though. Her body’s gotten all warm, and you don’t know if she’s done being upset or not. She leans forward and extracts and arm from your hug. You squirm when she digs through your hair. Her fingers grab onto a few strand by accident, gently tugging on them. She pulls out a long piece of bright red string. It dangles in front of your face. “Isn’t this part of my friendship bracelet kit?” she asks, then she laughs. You giggle, then let go and take back your cars. Laughing means the upset is gone.
You’re about to hop of the bed and leave before she can yell at you to get out when she pushes the string at your chest telling you you can have it. You take it by the middle with three fingers and stare at it for a while. Then you hold it out. “For you,” you say with your five year old wide eyes. “For hugs. When you need them.” She gives you a smile and rubs your head and says thanks. It reminds you of something she used to do before being ten. This time, though, her eyes maybe looked a little sad. You almost give her another hug, but instead you bounce yourself off the edge of the bed and plod out the door.
The bed was really squishy.