High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sibling Rivalry

The night of many girdles, at least, inspired me to write one of my best college essays.

I gathered Sylvia’s creamy white Maidenform, Donna’s animal-style Nancy Ganz, and Debra’s flesh-toned Spanx in one hand. Then I reached for Debra’s cotton-candy Betsy Johnson cashmere shrug, and said, with a pleasing smile, “I’ll do a load of hand wash right now.”

It was as if I’d just announced my intentions to slice everything into ribbons.

“No, I don’t need it washed, just pressed!” Sylvia grabbed her underwear from my hands.

“No, Ashley, it says hand wash separately! Separately! You know, each piece!” Donna’s baffling logic still stuns me.

“It’s cashmere, Ashley! That’s not cheap,” Debra shouted, hysterically. Like she cared about price shopping. Well, actually, she did care. If something was on sale, it typically wasn’t good enough for her.

(Note: I’m sorry to be so snarky, Kristen—you can take this part out if you like—but snark is a skill I learned long after my time with the Hills, and it’s kind of therapeutic to be able to write it out…I now work with abused teens and it’s very interesting to slow the verbal fencing down in writing and see how my own thoughts actually ran...)

I put all their pet clothes down carefully, stepped away and said, in my own defense, “I’ll be here all night.”

“Well, do mine first,” said Debra. “I’m older.”

“Mo-om,” whined Donna.

Sylvia thrust her garment back at me. “Ashley, I’m warning you. Don’t incite my daughters.” I nodded, just barely enough for her to think I was obeying. But Sylvia was oblivious. She was focused on her daughters, her eyes unusually lively, even moist with excitement.

“Now girls,” she said to The Girls. “Time to get some beauty sleep. One of you is going to win the pro-omm! I just know it!” She was practically singing. The Girls caught her energy and began to bounce. “Enough with this... sibling rivalry,” Sylvia said in an off-hand way as she herded them out of the room, “we just never used to have so much of it before, did we? Did we?” The Girls were giggling now, but I'd caught the verbal dagger. With my stomach. And win the prom? Seriously?

The door swung shut behind the three of them. I went back to folding towels (in thirds, of course), tuning back in to the comforting rhythm of a zipper hitting the insides of the dryer. I was glad to have them out of my space. I soothed myself with rationalizations that I really didn’t mind doing all this laundry, or all the other chores that kept me so busy; I like having a purpose, and I like to see results. I still do. (Linda says I might be a little OCD, and maybe I am, but at least it’s my own standard of perfection.)

But just as I was starting to relax, Sylvia stuck her head back in, her voice weirdly sweet and flowery and fluttery, which should have made me suspicious right off the bat. “Oh, and make sure my silk blouse is neat, too,” she said. “I want to make a good impression on Jack Pupkin, the Squash Coach. We have a very important meeting tomorrow. He’s head of the prom committee, you know.” Like I was supposed to be impressed. Like I cared that the next night was prom night.

As the door swung behind her again, I noticed something. When I moved Debra’s cotton-candy Betsy Johnson cashmere shrug, the phone was under it, sinking into Donna’s pile of fragrant undies. I picked it up and it rang in my hand. Right there in my hand. Sylvia’s footfalls on the stairs paused for a moment, and I answered it quickly so she wouldn’t come back into the room. I wanted her to think that one of the Girls had picked it up.

To my astonishment, the phone was for me.


  1. Ten points to Louise Hart for finding the typo...! (It's not there anymore.)