I’m never more proud of my little sister than when I’m recalling all the times in our adolescence when she used to beat the crap out of me. What usually began as a hissing spat over a pair of jeans or whether I had the authority to tell her when bedtime was would usually end in a scarlet-faced brawl, my pointed diatribes withering under the might of her pure physical force.
Even though her height clocks in at “5’1,” I always get the feeling Lucy is towering over me. She cusses fluidly, with the gusto of a beer-swilling lumberjack. She knows how to jump-start a car and could probably change a tire in 10 minutes flat. On hiking trips, while I dragged my feet and tried to find faces in the moss, she leapt from stone to stone, hollering until her lungs gave out “to scare off bears.”
Our shower was right next to my salmon-pink bedroom, and she never missed an opportunity to run past my open door stark naked and yelling so that I’d look up just in time to catch a glimpse of her pale round bum streaking around the corner.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer; spelling is Lucy’s Achilles heel. Over and over again I’ve watched her arch a soccer ball in a perfect swoop into the corner of a goal; I once sobbed at the prospect of 15 pushups. We’re close in age. She’s a little over a year younger than I am and is nearing the end of her senior year in high school. Strangers can never really decide whether or not we look alike. The shapes of our faces hint at similarity, but there are too many factors which distort us from one another: my full lips as opposed to her thin ones, her frighteningly blue eyes, her equine blonde hair which she can braid into intricate twists down her back.
I love her so much I could squeeze her and squeeze her until she exploded into a billion shimmering bits and I’m terrified of losing her forever, because all my sister wants to do is join the Marine Corps.
We grew up steeped in military lore. My grandfather is a decorated Vietnam hero; a helicopter pilot who once descended from his craft on a rope ladder into a storm-riled river to rescue 17 people from a sinking houseboat; whose homecoming to my unsuspecting Nana is the stuff of family legend.
In case you’re wondering: He showed up at her doorstep unannounced like a desperado, half his head hidden by bandages, his face and eye ravaged by flying glass (a separate incident). Growing up, still in diapers, Luce and I played surrounded by model airplanes and lovingly drawn blueprints of vast, proud ships.
My baby sister is tough, too; hardened by years as a defensive wall on soccer team after soccer team. I’ve seen her shake off vicious slide-tackles and elbows to the face like a puppy shaking off water, but nothing causes her more agony than having to sit still. She’s torn her ACL twice since beginning 9th grade, both times in the same knee, and spent what should have been the prime of her athletic life on the bench.
You try telling that girl to stay home, though: she became varsity’s unofficial matriarch, ferrying her teammates to games and practices in her huge white truck, lugging massive tupperwares full of orange slices, painting her face and dying her hair blue, sometimes on crutches, sometimes not.
She is noble and hardy in all the ways a soldier should be. She salivates at the notion of serving her country; her blood sings with anticipation at the thought of the friends she’d make in the pulsing, muddy throng of Plebe summer; her dreams are drenched in stars and stripes.
That’s the problem. She is too good for the military. Too pure for the churning engine of American imperialism that chews up men and women and spits them violently back out into the real world, only to let them sway and topple. My sister, my boisterous sunspot with lungs like parachutes, she’s too wild and wise to be made to turn corners at right angles and to only speak when spoken to.
I’m very young and for most of my life I’ve been very sheltered, perhaps even more so than I’d like to admit. I’m only beginning to be enlightened to the realities of how America was built and how it continues to be structured. Heck, I pay full tuition to New York University, recently crowned as the most expensive college in the United States and which gobbles up as much real estate in Manhattan and overseas as it can afford.
However, I’ve done enough reading to know how damaging the distinctly American notion of exceptionalism can be. I’ve studied how our government and its military has asserted itself excessively time and again under the guise of promoting democracy and building nations and ending terrorism. I’ve seen the direct results of these actions dotting my daily walk to class: homeless veterans, tossed aside by society and left to spiral into mental illness and drug abuse and misery. They were sunspots too, once, brimming with as much energy and joy as the only sister I have.
Maybe I’m being dramatic. It’s true that the number of homeless vets is dropping -- maybe the biases I’ve developed from years in a democratic, liberal little corner of Massachusetts have clouded me from seeing the whole picture. After all, only a few years ago my sister wouldn’t have even been allowed to enlist, let alone dream of becoming a general.
“I want to make it so that anyone who wants to can join,” she told me over Thanksgiving break as we drove together towards Cape Cod. “I want to change the face of the military.”
In just a few days, my sister has a meeting with a Massachusetts congressman, standard operating procedure for hopefuls of the United States Naval Academy. She’ll talk about where she comes from and what she believes in and why she wants to renounce the typical college experience for a life of rules and regulations and restrictions.
Even though I believe my sister has a good chance of being accepted, I hope she isn’t. I know how selfish that is, but I don’t care. I don’t want anyone or anything to warp her into the darkness of the world, least of all the American military.