And then there was my father’s 40th birthday party last year, which was just supposed to be a small family gathering, until Uncle Crusty showed up with his new girlfriend, Brenda, who spent the entire night complaining about some woman named “Hot Sue,” who had stolen her “signature fragrance” on some cruise she’d taken last summer or something. Brenda had the look of someone who was voted Most Beautiful in high school 20 years ago and had decided that the best way to keep that title was to not change a single thing about her style.
“She really thought she was some piece of ass, that Hot Sue,” Brenda said, shoving shrimp in her mouth and rolling her eyes. I noticed that she had a relatively new-looking tattoo on her leg of a princess crushing a toad. “You like my tattoo?” she asked. “Guess who the toad’s supposed to be?” I didn’t have to guess.
Right before my mother brought out the cake, Brenda and Uncle Crusty had a fight. Shrimp was thrown. Will and I sat on our deck, watching the action in the backyard from above. Uncle Crusty said the word baby like 85 times, and then the fight was over. That’s when the making out began.
“I’m going to vomit,” Will said. This, I should note, was before Angela came along.
My parents, meanwhile, just laughed at all of this. “It’s not a party without Crusty,” my dad said, right before shoving a piece of his “Big 4-0” cake into his mouth.
“He keeps us young,” my mother said. She gave my father a big kiss and smeared frosting on his face.
“More barf,” Will said.
Uncle Crusty raised his 80th beer (or that’s what seemed like it) from the backyard and proposed a toast: “To the best damn friends in the world! Forty ain’t nothin’! We’re gonna rock forever!”
My parents lifted their glasses. I think my mom made a “woooo!” noise, and I know for sure that my dad screamed, “Hell yeah!”
When we were growing up, Will and I had to deal with a bunch of our parents’ weird friends, though most of them fell off over the years, fading away into other lives, other families, other adventures. Uncle Crusty has been the one constant, and whenever he arrives, my parents—a calculus teacher (Dad) and an orthopedic surgeon (Mom)—pretty much lose their minds, becoming 19-year-old versions of themselves, the people they were before they were parents, before they were ours.
In retrospect, I guess we should have seen this coming.
Can you have a midlife crisis when you’re 16? I think you can. I mean, nobody knows how long you’re going to live. I guess that’s morbid, though, to think of the end at 32. Maybe they should just be called life crises instead. That way everyone can periodically lose their effing minds, forget who they are, and come around again, without attaching arbitrary age limits to it. Or maybe that’s just, like, life in general.
I’m technically older than Will. He came into the world 1 minute and 37 seconds after I did, so by rights I should be the more mature one. Yet he has the girlfriend and the, uh, experiences, and I have 18 journals filled with poems, half of which rhyme “pimple” with “not so simple.” I am really tired of waiting for my life to start happening. I haven’t even kissed anyone yet. Not that there haven’t been offers. OK, offer. But it came from Ryan Dooley, and he asked me while staring directly at my boobs. Ryan Dooley would make out with a cardboard box if you drew a set of boobs on it. So thank you, Ryan Dooley, but no.
I’ve spent this entire year trying to figure myself out and coming up empty, like there’s nothing decent to find, and I’m just that one hopeful idiot at the beach with a metal detector, hoping to strike gold and coming up with dented bottle caps instead. I read once that you find who you are the second you stop looking. It was in a book about finding yourself. Eff that book, seriously. I paid $14.99 to find myself and all I got was instructions to stop trying? Ugh. Sometimes I just hate everybody. I’d make that my thing, but constant negativity is too exhausting and I’m lonely enough as it is. I used to be a something: a twin. And now I’m just “Will’s sister” to the majority of the school, as if I have no name and twin and nothing to do but be related to someone they deem worth their while.
In the gnarly Brenda tattoo of life, some people get to be the princess, and some people get to be the toad.
Uncle Crusty doesn’t even bother knocking. He just opens the door and drops his duffel bag and a 30-pack on the living room floor. “FISHERSSSSS,” he yells, “Come out and play-yayyyyy!”
“What the hell is he doing here?” Will whispers as we make our way in from the patio. “We just saw him last summer!”
“Maybe he’s suicidal and he wants you to bore him to death with stories about Angela.”
“Oh, very nice.”
Uncle Crusty spots Will first. “Billy Boy! My man!” He fake-punches Will in the stomach and laughs, his sweaty ponytail hanging down the back of his leather vest, a bandana tied around his head. He is wearing black boots, a T-shirt that says YOUR DRUM MACHINE SUCKS, and jeans that look like they used to be black.
“Princess!” he says to me, using a much-hated nickname that he bestowed upon me at birth. “How you doing, darlin’?”
“Fine,” I say. “Where’s Brenda?”
“Probably eating steak with some chump named Alan in Reno,” he says, still smiling. “But that’s love for you!”
“Our parents are out,” says Will, stating the obvious.
“Good. I need you two to help me unload the van. I got a big surprise for your mom and dad.”
Will shoots me another look of terror. This time, I return it.