When my little sister and I weren’t fighting, we were always playing. It didn’t matter where we were, or what toys we did or didn’t have. Our imaginations were so vivid, we could transport ourselves to any place, or any time. We even spent the entire day outside once, painting the tree in our front yard with mud, so that “if a robber came and tried to climb the tree he would slip off and we could catch him”. When we were really small, our favorite toys were little plastic animals. My go-to was a wolf puppy (I think his name was Wolfy) and Anna’s was a lizard, who was definitely named Fatty because of his big round belly. It did not matter that Wolfy and Fatty would never be companions in the real world; little kids don’t see in terms of segregation, even when it comes to large carnivorous mammals and tiny reptiles. Sometimes we were given Barbie dolls as gifts, but we always preferred the animals, and if we did play with the dolls they were usually given evil characteristics, and ultimately would become the villains that the animals would have to thwart. The end result was Barbies with shaved heads or Sharpie tattoos, and our parents soon figured out not to buy them anymore.
Eventually we progressed to Beanie Babies. We grew with our toys, in that the issues they would deal with really began to mirror our own. Instead of two, we had a regular cast now of dozens of animals, and every day different soap-opera dramas would play out on our bedroom floor. The Beanie Babies all belonged to different cliques, they formed friendships and hobbies, and had crushes on one another. There were two different “bands” and with the help of my boom box, one band always performed country songs, while the other performed Backstreet Boys, Nsync, and Britney Spears. The animals all got along to some degree, but mostly the cats hung out with the cats, and the dogs with the dogs. The animals typically did not date outside their species. The cats were always up to something, the dogs were typically the kind, loyal friends and the most talented singers, and the other animals each had their own eccentric ways. One of the most devastating occurrences would be when Dotty and Sparky, the two Dalmatians and all-around most beloved couple, would fight and occasionally even break-up. Whenever this would happen, all other Beanie Baby drama would come to a halt and everyone would discuss the failing relationship in hushed whispers and speculate if Dotty and Sparky would ever truly find happiness. Whenever the celebrity couple inevitably reconciled, the entire kingdom would rejoice and usually celebrate with a rare adventure outside into the “wilderness” or by going to the amusement park (sliding down the stair banister).
The older we grew, the more our imaginations shrank, and the Beanie Baby dramas become further and fewer between. We progressed to more outdoor activities, which usually involved me and my best friend Jeri ganging up on Anna, or Anna and her friends ganging up on me. Sometimes we would play “Cowboys and Indians” which basically came about when my stepdad helped Jeri and I make tiny bows and arrows and we chased Anna around and shot at her (the Cowboys never got weapons). One time the three of us dragged every single item out of my garage and made a giant “pirate ship” in the front year. My parents weren’t too happy about that one. When we got old enough that using our imaginations seemed like a silly thing to do, we started riding around on our bikes or razor scooters, or playing tag or shooting hoops.
My little sister and I had bickered our whole lives, but whenever we would start playing together all the attitude would fall away and we would just focus on our toys. It was like escaping into an alternate reality. So around middle school when we really began to be brats, we were really starting to lose touch with the barrier that kept us from killing each other.
One summer, not too long before it was time to go back to school, Anna paused outside my door. She looked at me with a slightly guarded, hesitant expression.
“Do you want to play with our Beanie Babies today? It’s been awhile since we have.”
I’d be lying if I said I remembered the exact circumstances leading up to that day. I’d be willing to bet, though, that we’d had a pretty brutal fight recently. And at that age I was more stubborn and prideful than I am today. Whatever the case may be, I probably relished the opportunity to have the upper hand.
I turned up my nose and said, “Nah not today. Some other time.”
If you told me then that more than a decade later I’d still remember that exact moment, I probably wouldn’t believe you. But the slight flicker of disappointment that shone in my sister’s eyes because of me is something that has stuck with me. It was the last time she ever asked me to play with her. I don’t know how old I was. I don’t remember the drama that ensued during the actual last play session, because of course we didn’t know it would be the last. I don’t know if Dotty and Sparky ended up living happily ever after or not. All I know is that we don’t ever know. We don’t know when it’s our last opportunity to be a child. We don’t know when it’s the last time our mom ever reads us a bedtime story or we sit in our grandfather’s lap. And we won’t know when it’s the last time our own children ever ask us to play with them. The moments just pass and then they are gone. I’m not relating this memory to make anyone sad, or to preach to you to live every day as if it’s the last. This is just life, and for every last we experience there’s also a first. It’s unrealistic for me to tell you to cherish every moment. But maybe we can remember to let go of some of the pride, some of the stubbornness. Maybe we can just realize that there are plenty of happy moments in every day life, but they are fleeting and we often take them for granted. My sister and I have become a lot closer as adults, but I know that days sticks with me for some reason, as some sort of lesson. And I know I’d give anything to go back and say yes, and end my childhood with the most badass Beanie Babies’ concert there ever was.