Iowa Writes

ELENA CARTER
Excerpt from the essay The Volcano Under the Snowcap


I often hesitate when someone asks, "How are you different from your twin?" I could mention that my favorite movie is Trainspotting and my sister Corrina's is All About Eve, how I like spicy food and she can't handle it, little details that can't possibly get at the fundamental differences between people. But then again I could simplify the discussion by mentioning our different sexualities. Corrina could be labeled "the lesbian one" and I the "straight one."

Corrina came out early in our sophomore year of college. She told me over the phone. It was early evening. I remember lying down on my bed, processing the phone call. I was attending UC San Diego. Corrina was an hour and a half drive away at UC Irvine. We briefly considered attending UC Berkeley together, but in the end decided on Southern California and separate colleges.

I wasn't exactly surprised when Corrina told me she was a lesbian. But after she came out I thought back to the times I'd failed my sister, moments as early as elementary school when she mentioned having crushes on other girls and I laughed it off. Like the time she told me about Mary, the short, dark-haired, studious girl in her fifth grade class, with whom she was often partnered for science experiments. They raised silkworms together. I vaguely remember laughing at her and asking, how can you like another girl? She recanted, said she was just joking, that Mary was nothing to her. She still remembers that day. That day I had the luxury of forgetting (almost). I wonder how things would have been different if I hadn't laughed. Would she have come out sooner?

I often hesitate when someone asks, "How are you different from your twin?" I could mention that my favorite movie is Trainspotting and my sister Corrina's is All About Eve, how I like spicy food and she can't handle it, little details that can't possibly get at the fundamental differences between people. But then again I could simplify the discussion by mentioning our different sexualities. Corrina could be labeled "the lesbian one" and I the "straight one."

Corrina came out early in our sophomore year of college. She told me over the phone. It was early evening. I remember lying down on my bed, processing the phone call. I was attending UC San Diego. Corrina was an hour and a half drive away at UC Irvine. We briefly considered attending UC Berkeley together, but in the end decided on Southern California and separate colleges.

I wasn't exactly surprised when Corrina told me she was a lesbian. But after she came out I thought back to the times I'd failed my sister, moments as early as elementary school when she mentioned having crushes on other girls and I laughed it off. Like the time she told me about Mary, the short, dark-haired, studious girl in her fifth grade class, with whom she was often partnered for science experiments. They raised silkworms together. I vaguely remember laughing at her and asking, how can you like another girl? She recanted, said she was just joking, that Mary was nothing to her. She still remembers that day. That day I had the luxury of forgetting (almost). I wonder how things would have been different if I hadn't laughed. Would she have come out sooner?

Today I'm not bothered anymore by the fact that my sister and I have different sexualities. What bothers me when I think back to that phone call is that my twin, my confidant, waited so long to tell me that she was a lesbian. I was forced to consider the possibility that we were not as intimate as I imagined us to be.

During winter break following the semester Corrina came out, Corrina and I went to Safeway to buy flowers for her room. Corrina had started having panic attacks severe enough that she dropped out of college and wasn't planning to return for the next semester. I was home for two weeks. Most days Corrina didn't leave the house. She didn't ask for much. Some days, for me to watch a movie with her. Some days, a case of watermelon beer. That day I drove her the five minutes to Safeway. She chose flowers green and deep green, orange and slick in cellophane. I held the flowers for her as she rummaged for change through her new yellow shoulder bag, the one that read "I like chicks" beneath cartoony drawings of three baby birds walking in a row, when the woman behind us in line addressed my sister, "Why do you have to advertise your perversion?" My sister, saucer-eyed in the split second it took her to realize what was said, chose not to defend herself. And I, in my meekness, did nothing to defend her. We left as quickly as possible.

At the time, I thought this was my sister's first outing with her new bag, a first attempt at signaling her sexuality in a public sphere. I realize now this was merely the first time I had seen such an attempt from her. Later, I stood in the doorway to Corrina's room, watching her place her flowers, one by one, into a dusty, plastic vase. They were cheap and garish to me. I wanted to ask her what she saw in them, but I could tell she was trying hard to take care of herself and said nothing.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


ELENA CARTER

Elena Carter is a graduate student in The University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program.

This page was first displayed
on November 07, 2014

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