A Fairytale’s Moral
On the first day of freshman year, after calling out my name for attendance, my homeroom teacher said, “Oh, you’re Sarah’s little sister. I had her, she was great. Do you play soccer too?” I had heard this comment on every first day of school, and for the past eleven first days, I responded to them all in the same way. For the eleventh time in my life, I smiled politely and shook my head no. I never expanded on that further than a shake of my head, because I was determined to show them that I was different than my sister, in a good way. They had yet to understand that being Sarah’s Little Sister was the only similarity we shared.
There are pictures all over my house of me and my sister as little kids. In most, we are wearing matching dresses, looking at the camera with the same sweet smile.
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Throughout the years of our childhood, she was the best older sister I could’ve asked for, with a 4.0 GPA, varsity-level athleticism, and a certain charm about her that made her unforgettable to everyone she interacted with. I loved her not just because she was my sister, but for everything that she was, yet I also resented her for her seemingly perfect life. There had always been an unspoken comparison between us that made me feel constant pressure to have the same goals and accomplishments as her. Throughout our childhood, I felt as if she was taking giant leaps forward while I was taking tiny steps. I struggled to live up to the title of Sarah’s Little Sister, and I no longer wanted to be so heavily connected to her name. So, after the first day of high school passed, I worked hard to show my teachers, my classmates, my parents, and myself that there was so much more to me than what they’d automatically assumed. By the time my last first day of school rolls around, I hope my homeroom teacher calls my name for attendance and tells me that they have heard so much about me and is eager to get to know me even more throughout the year.
That’s why I always looked forward to bedtime when I was a kid. It was a time that my dad reserved just for me. I never felt pressured or judged to be someone I wasn’t. Most of all, my dad didn’t have to share his attention between my sister and I; it was all mine. The last time my dad read me a fairytale, I was seven. Already tucked in for the night, I promised myself that I wouldn’t let sleep take over before the end. After all, the endings of the fairytales were the best part. Instead of reading off the page, my dad would close the book and make up his own version of the story, and I would laugh and clap at his cleverness night after night. The endings weren’t always happy, the princesses didn’t always find their prince, and the evil witches weren’t always banished. But they were original and inspiring and made me feel something that the words on the page never seemed to be able to do. I would always ask him why he never read the real ending, and he would always reply with the same answer: “Because I can make up my own.” And to this mysterious statement I would spend a couple of seconds trying to make sense of it all,and eventually give up and contently let my eyelids flutter closed, dreaming about the princesses and evil witches.
Eventually, I grew less and less excited for storytime. I seemed to be growing out of the fairytale phase, as it seemed less important to me. Although I no longer used storytime as a reassurance that I held a special spot in my father’s busy schedule, I still felt stuck behind my sister.
Once I got to high school, my book of fairytales had collected an inch-thick layer of dust. People always say that a lot of changes happen in high school, and looking back, my first day was the moment I realized the subtle purpose behind my father’s made-up stories. So as I sat in an unfamiliar classroom and let my teacher wait for an explanation she would never get, as I had done so many times before, I noticed how the universe shifted ever so slightly, a difference only I could comprehend. I was permanently freeing myself of the expectations and standards I had always worked so hard to satisfy. I realized that I needed to focus on who I wanted to become, not who others wanted me to become based on my sister. I realized that I needed to make my own mistakes, earn my own triumphs, and experience fear and love and failure all on my own. I was in charge of how my story played out, not my sister, not expectations, and certainly not a book of fairytales. From that day on, I held a quiet confidence in my heart that I could handle all of life’s witches and villains.
Seven years from the last time my dad slipped my book of fairytales off the shelf, I remembered exactly how it felt to listen to him writing his own ending and fall asleep to the sound of his voice. For the rest of my story, I would do exactly what my dad had done for me: write my own ending. An ending where I discover life through my own mind and heart. For everything that I hope to achieve in life, I can remember how my dad waited seven years for me to understand that someone else’s ending had no influence on how I defined myself and my dreams. So if anyone ever asks me why I closed the book forever, I will think of my dad when I say, “Because I can make up my own”.