I’m embarrassed, I really am. I know this isn’t something I should be putting in a letter—and I know that nobody really writes letters anymore, anyway— but I just don’t know what else to do. God only knows that I don’t have the courage to actually confront you about it. I shouldn’t even be doing this… but I guess I have to. It’s my responsibility as your older sister. I’ve never wished more than right at this moment to be an only child.
Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m not trying to hide anything here. You know I wouldn’t do that.
According to the average “high school standards” it’s pretty obvious that you’d be considered… well, prettier than me. And yes, I know how that must make you feel. You’re all tingly inside, aren’t you. Proud of something that has absolutely no real connection to who you are as a person. It has less than nothing to do with your smarts, with your happiness, with your skill, or your talent, or your worth. And yet, hearing it makes you shine. You’re pretty, I won’t deny it. Somehow, in the great big gambling game of DNA, you drew a better card than me. And I’ll admit, sometimes it bugs me. I’m done with the denial. I’ve been jealous of you before. Really jealous. But I’m over it. I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot.
You know, there’s nothing wrong with being pretty. Nothing wrong at all. You’re easy on the eyes. I don’t hate you for that, but I don’t love you for it, either. The way you smile, with your teeth all shiny and beautiful and perfect, it makes a lot of people admire you, it really does. And I guess you have every right to be a little proud of that. It’s your body, after all. Everybody deserves to take pride in something so mysterious, something so strange, something so magnificently alive. So I don’t blame you for that. I never did. At least that’s what I tell myself.
But there’s something else. Something I’m surprised nobody has told you already. I guess I understand why it’s taken you so long to understand it yourself. You’ve grown up in a world where everything is perfect. The Earth bends to your every whim. People do whatever they possibly can to make you happy. It’s perfectly understandable for you to be a little bit spoiled. A little bit stuck up. A little bit mean. But things have been getting out of control, lately. A lot of things. And it’s time for me to tell you to stop. Because it’s recently come to my attention that nobody else has even the slightest inclination to do it. Sure, the girls may whisper behind your back about how much of a whore you are, some of them your best friends, but every time you turn to them all they ever do is smile and wave and giggle at every little thing you say. It took me long enough, but now I understand that as much as they say they want you to change, not a single soul is really willing to do it. But I’m your sister. I know you, and as much as you screech and cry and tell me you hate me, I’ve learned that I just can’t change that. I need to look out for you. And this is where I’ll start.
I really don’t know how to say this. But I have to. So I’ll just spit it out.
You’re a complete bitch.
Look, I know how crazy that must sound to you. How unbelievable. And I can’t blame you for that. You’ve been told you’re an angel for your entire life, and old beliefs die hard. I know that from experience. And I have a lot of that, let me mind you. Two years more than you have. And considering how much more thinking I’ve been doing for all my years, I’d say that I have a little thing I need to share with you. One secret. Ten secrets. A hundred secrets. A thousand. A million.
But let’s just start with one.
You’re no god, Agnes. You’re no angel. Let me just start with that and go from there. Sure, you may look like one. Sure, your skin may glow like one. Sure, your teeth may flash like one. Sure, your eyes may shine like one. Sure, you’re undeniably and inconceivably beautiful. Everything they say about you is true. But I know something that they don’t. While they remark over how soft your hands are, I notice the things that they’re doing. While they giggle about how plush your lips are, I listen to the things they’re saying. And just a sisterly word of advice, Agnes, maybe you should pay a little closer attention. Because I don’t like what I see, and if you saw yourself the way that I see you, I don’t think you would either.
Can you honestly say that you’re proud of the way you treat people? Like inferiors. Like a pack of wild dogs fighting over a piece of meat, which just so happens to be yourself. Are you really proud of the way you act? As if your beauty somehow makes you superior? Let me tell you something, dear sister. You are no god. You are no angel. In fact, when you look at yourself in the mirror tonight—and I know you will, you always do—I dare you to look a little deeper. Maybe then you’ll see that, really, you’re just a devil in disguise.
Okay, now that that’s all taken care of, I’m sorry. I’m really, truly sorry. Please don’t take this too personally. You know I love you, you know I always will. But these words are coming from the heart and soul of a sixteen-year-old girl whose spent the last fourteen years of her life in the shadow of her younger sister. And as you can imagine, there’s a lot of pent up anger that I needed to just release. Just let go of. And I spewed it all on this thin little strip of paper like some projectile vomit, acidic and bitter in my mouth. God, I’m sorry. Forgive me sister, for you are not the only one who has sinned. I’ve been jealous, and I can’t deny that anymore.
Please, for only a moment, just try to imagine how it feels to be me. Feel a little empathy, for god sakes. I need that from you. For once in your life, please pull through.
Just imagine. A little girl, barely eight years old, is wearing a little red dress. Unlike her sister’s pure, golden locks, the girl’s hair is a muddy brown. Dark at the roots and dripping down like the murky waters of a sod-written creek. The little blond girl beside her wears a pretty red dress that matches her own, but for some unknown reason, she’s getting far more compliments. And before you get mixed up—I know you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer—the brunette was me, and the blond was you.
“Oh, you look so darn adorable in that!” I heard a stranger saying, leaning down towards you as you beamed at him with your perfect, rounded teeth. I remember gripping on to mommy’s hand, waiting for my turn to be praised, but it never came. And our dear little mother didn’t even notice.
“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed happily, “I know what you mean, isn’t she just the cutest thing? She’s my little angel. Look at that perfect little nose!”
I just stood there awkwardly, suddenly feeling very self-conscious about the large, bumpy nose that I inherited from dad. I took my hand, which was red and raw from climbing on the monkey bars all day, and rubbed it almost instinctively over the bridge, feeling how stiff and long it was. Not for the first time, and definitely not for the last, I felt ugly. Have you ever felt ugly, Agnes? I didn’t think so.
And then fast forward a few years. I was thirteen then. My hair was still muddy and brown. My nose was still big and bumpy. But I’d learned to live with that. At least that was what I told myself.
I was talking to my best friend at the time. A skinny redhead with green eyes and freckles scattered across her face. You know the girl, don’t you? Her name was Lacy.
“Are you ready to go to the mall?” I asked with a tingling of excitement in my voice, showing her my braces in a large, open-mouthed beam, “I’ve saved up my babysitting money for a month! I’m so ready for this!”
Instead of jumping up and down and babbling with excitement, as I had suspected she might, Lacy only gave me a very guilty little grin.
“Erm, sorry Melanie,” she said to me awkwardly, “I can’t come anymore, I’m busy.”
My eyes went wide with surprise. “Why not?” I asked with concern, “What happened?”
“I… um… have to babysit my little brother today. Sorry,” she said after a moment of hesitation, “Maybe next time.”
I can specifically remember nodding, my head feeling as though it weighted a thousand pounds as I tried to hide the wave of disappointment beginning to wash across my face. “That’s okay,” I said, “Next time. Definitely next time.”
That afternoon, while I was wondering through the mall feeling alone and abandoned, I saw Lacy. She was in a group of popular girls, laughing and giggling as though she was having the time of her life. And guess who was the head of that little group? That’s right, you.
I couldn’t wrap my head around why Lacy would betray me like that. I just stood there, speechless, unable to move. And the group of girls walked past me as though I didn’t even exist. Except, of course, for the queen bee. I caught your eye just as you were entering Abercrombie and Finch with your friends, looking like a blond princesses in all that pink. And then, almost as if you knew everything that had just happened, you grinned at me. An evil, teasing grin. A grin that said that this was a game, and there was a winner and a loser. And little ol’ me was most definitely not the winner. Maybe that grin might just have been to gloat about how many more friends you had with you that day, but it sure did feel as though you knew exactly what had happened to me. And that made it hurt even more. I went home that night and sobbed into my pillow. Not even dad came to comfort me. ‘Girl problems,’ he said, and then he went back to reading his newspaper. And I guess, in a way, he was right.
Now, let’s skip to the present. And, if I were rating this all—which I’m not, don’t worry—I would have to say it was the worst.
I was sitting at home last Friday night, as I always do, chugging down a bowl of ice cream and watching some stupid dance show on TV. Sometime during a commercial about some acne fighting cream—which does not work, by the way—my shirt slipped up slightly, revealing a soft, pudgy belly. It wasn’t an attractive sight, but I guess nothing about me really is anymore.
Just then, my phone started buzzing like crazy and I realized that someone was calling me. I expected it to be Jessica, the freshman with the lisp whose been hanging around with me lately, but it wasn’t. It was a lot, lot more.
“Uh… hello?” a deep, masculine voice said, his nervousness apparent.
“Hello?” I responded, “Who is this?”
“It’s Michael. This is Melanie, right?”
I think my heart literally stopped at that moment. Michael was, and is, the absolute cutest boy in my AP trigonometry class, and I’d had a major crush on him for the short span of a century.
“Yeah… this is Melanie. What do you need, Michael?”
I heard him stutter in response, and I’m sure it made me blush deep red. I’d never had a boy stutter for me before.
“Well, I’ve noticed you around lately, and I’ve just been wondering… are you free this Saturday night? Maybe we could… get some coffee or something? At Starbucks, around 8:00?”
I seriously couldn’t speak, my mouth was numb. But I forced myself to. I needed to answer.
“Of course, I’d love to.”
And it was true. I really would. Even if I didn’t really like coffee.
The next night, as you know, I was all spiffed up and ready. You were the one who sent me off, not even trying to hide your surprise, and I still remember that snarl on your face and the smirk on mine, to think that I had finally beaten you. I’d spent an hour getting ready—the longest it’s ever taken me. Soon, I was sitting at a little round table in Starbucks, sucking down my third hot chocolate of the night. It was 8:15 now, and still the boy was a no-show. I’d been here since 7:30, and my bladder was beginning to feel like a leaky pipe.
Finally, after far too long, the boy walked in. He was wearing a jacket with a pair of nice, black loafers and his hair was done in a way that made my cheeks flush. I waited for him to come over, but for some reason he just stood there. Looking around. Almost as if he were lost or confused. A little concerned, I called him over.
“Michael!” I said, waving to him, “I’m over here! Sit down!” I smiled broadly, and he gave me a look like I was freaking crazy. Like he didn’t even know what the hell was going on.
“Erm... hi. Who are you?” he asked as he strutted over, confused as ever. I was pretty sure he was joking. He had to be.
“It’s Melanie!” I told him with a bright smile, “Come on, sit down.” Michael just looked at me like an idiot. I was beginning to feel sweaty. I wished that I’d have worn more deodorant.
“But…” he began, stuttering again, “You’re not Melanie. You’re Agnes, right? Her sister or something?”
I shook my head, and my stomach all the sudden started to feel hot and queasy.
“I think you’re mistaken,” I said as sweetly as I could, pushing back the tears that suddenly and inexplicably began to well up in my eyes, “I’m Melanie. My sister is Agnes.”
The boy just stood there. Not for long though. In a few seconds, he burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” he croaked between his hoots, “I’m sorry. I must have mixed up the names. It’s just that… she seems so much more like a Melanie. And you seem so much more like an Agnes. You know? Haha, nevermind.”
Of course I didn’t know what to say, so I stood silent, dying on the inside as I watched him laugh. I knew exactly what he meant, though. I’ve always found it quite ironic how the pretty one ended up with a name so bland and blunt like Agnes, while the ‘other’ one got called such a delicate little thing like Melanie. Even my name seems to mock me.
Finally, Michael calmed down enough to speak properly, rubbing the tears of laughter from his beautiful, blue eyes.
“Hehe, sorry Agnes. No hard feelings, right? Just a little mix up. I’m gonna head on home if that’s alright. Tell your sis about me.” And before I could even think about anything to do or say, he was just gone. Just gone. And that was it. I haven’t seen him since.
Look, Agnes. I don’t blame you for any of this. In fact, this really has nothing at all to do with what I’m telling you today… but I just needed to say it. You have to understand. I know this letter may hurt your fragile self esteem, but just remember. No matter what I say, no matter what I feel, you need to focus on the positive. At least you’re pretty. At least you’re not me.
Because, and let's face it here, you're a pretty little butterfly, and I'm just a moth. You flutter and dance in the air, full of color and joy and beauty. And below you I lurk in the shadows. Colorless and ugly and bland. Attracted to the light, the only thing I cannot have. I'm pathetic, I know this, I really do. But at least I know enough to understand that there are things more important than beauty. Things more important than what meets the eye. And maybe I'll always be too ashamed to really embrace myself for who I am, even if I know this. Maybe I'm unfixable. But the one thing I know is that you're not. I can fix you, I know I can. I can show you the other side. The side that's been invisible to you your entire life, always just beyond the reach of your vision. I may just be a little moth, Agnes, but I can enlighten you, the way that you've always lightened me. Because, and as much as I hate to admit it, I love you, my sister. You remind me that the world is beautiful. That even among a group of ugly ducklings, there may emerge a swan. Even in a world full of moths, there may emerge a butterfly. You bring light to those who live in darkness. But please, don't abuse that power. I'm not sure I can take it anymore.
Just… be nicer to people, okay? That’s all I’ve really been trying to say. Play nice, Agnes, and you should be fine. You should be fine.
I’m not so sure about me, though.
Your big sissy,
P.S. I'm sorry. I really am.
"I'm sorry." Out all the things I've read tonight--and I've read every single word you've written, trust me--those two words would have to be the most shocking. The most atrocious. The most unbelievable. Those two words have made me angrier than all you're other words combined. And you know why, Melanie? Because you are sorry, you really mean that with all you're heart. And you shouldn't. You claim that you're smarter than me, but when it comes to yourself, you really have no clue, do you? Look, Mel. If there was one thing I'd want to say to you after that little rant of yours, it's this.
You've got it all mixed up. When it comes to our relationship. You're the butterfly, and I'm the moth. Not the other way around.
I... really don't know what to say. I guess I understand how awkward you must have felt writing this. It's just weird, I guess. I've never written a letter before. But I figured I probably should. You don't understand how much yours meant to me. I'm going to keep it forever, as a reminder, and I want this to be one for you.
You're beautiful, Melanie. Let me just make that clear. Look, I'll be honest, I know you're not that skinny. Your skin isn't that clear. Your hair isn't that sleek. Your teeth aren't that white. But you're beautiful, you really are. Please trust me on that.
Your smile. Your smile has always made me jealous. I know you may not believe this, but it's true. Sure, my teeth may be shiny and white, and I've never needed braces, but next to yours, my smile sucks. Because yours is real. You may not know this, but its goddamn angelic. When you show it, it lights up your entire face. It's kindness and modesty and bravery all wrapped up in one perfect package. I'm not sure how, but it is. If only you'd stop worrying about being pretty, and just stopped and smiled ever one in a while, I know everybody else would have realized this, too.
The point is... Mel, you're a butterfly. I know you may not feel like one, but you are. And me? Well, let me just say that the colors you see, the beautiful pastels that glisten off my wings, it's all just paint. Sure, it looks real, but all you gotta do is add a little water to see what lies beneath. And just like you told me, just like you made me realize, what's underneath is not pretty. Not pretty at all.
And your wings? They're just covered in dirt, that's all. The dirt of your own jealousy, your own broken self esteem. If you just cleaned yourself up a little, showed a little confidence once in your life, I have no doubt that underneath all that brown and gray is something beautiful. Something magnificent. Something precious.
Thank you, Melanie. Thank you so much. You've really changed everything for me. You don't know how much of me you've saved. And you don't know how much I'm dying to return the favor.
Your little sissy,
P.S. If you ever feel the need, come to my room and maybe I could help you polish up those wings a little ;). I love you, too.