I tossed and turned in my twin bed glancing at my clock – 9:30 p.m. My 9-year-old self needed sleep before the first day of fourth grade. Across from me sat my older sister, Elizabeth, working on her homework that was “actually hard since she’s in high school.” Next to her, our pink lamp with the tattered shade lit the room. I had grown to despise that lamp that kept me from falling asleep each night. I sat up and shouted at Elizabeth to turn off the light. When she didn’t, I yelled for Mom because she always took my side.
Four kids and two parents in a four-bedroom house. This meant two of the kids had to share a bedroom. The lucky winners of the upstairs bedroom and its airplane-sized bathroom were Elizabeth and me, since my parents decided we seemed most compatible compared with our other sisters. Even though sharing a bedroom forced us to be closer in quarters, it drove us apart.
Elizabeth is five years older than me, but I used to like to pretend we were the same age. I was the younger one who stole a peek at her older sister’s Christmas list and secretly asked for the same thing. When Christmas morning came, Elizabeth couldn’t help but give me a dirty look when we opened our gifts; coincidentally, we had both gotten North Face jackets, only mine was black and hers was pink. I sat beaming, because I was the sixth grader with the same jacket as a sophomore.
When we were younger, many arguments began as something small until we sat screaming across our beds at one another.
“You should have enough time to clean the room, all you do is play tennis!” she would yell.
“Well at least I’m good at tennis!” I shouted back at her.
Mom, or if we were really in trouble, Dad, would soon come bounding up the stairs into our bedroom to call a cease fire. I never cared that we had disrupted the whole family, I just wanted the last word. One of us would have to “take the high road” and go downstairs because we simply were not allowed to spend any more time together. On my way out, I kindly reminded Elizabeth that I hated her and I closed the door behind me before she could say anything else.
Elizabeth finished high school in 2013 and moved to Lawrence. Even though I technically had the room to myself, it was never mine. She came home frequently on weekends and always made sure I was aware that it was still her room too. When she came home, I would find every shirt, jacket, or whatever else I had put on her bed shoved onto my desk.
Last year was her junior year of college. The KU School of Nursing is in Kansas City and happens to be only fifteen minutes from our house. I hated this arrangement, but she found it convenient to live here while she drove to and from Lawrence. We shared that bedroom up until the day my parents decided to renovate our upstairs. Adding two more bedrooms to the upstairs meant we would get our own bedrooms for the first time in our lives.
When Elizabeth moved into her apartment, I moved us out of our bedroom so the construction could start. I packed up our floral bedding and pulled down our old American Girls dolls off the shelves. I boxed up my desk supplies, chuckling when I found a pair of sunglasses Elizabeth stuffed behind my books because she didn’t want them anymore.
Eventually I saw that the bedroom was empty and only the chipped light purple paint remained. The wall in our green bathroom was torn out and another doorway was carved into the side of my wall where the dresser we shared used to be. I stood in the center of the room, remembering all of the good and bad times we spent together in there. I suddenly realized I missed her.
I began to miss the nights we stayed up past midnight to tell me stories about college. Elizabeth told me about her first horrible roommate, who kept her wardrobe on the floor and left dirty dishes in their sink. I think she missed me too.
Over the years I got to visit Elizabeth in all of her new rooms, miles from me. From the seventh floor of Corbin Hall to the second floor of the apartment on Rainbow Boulevard – I know she will always have a place for her first roommate on Fontana St.