TMI Tina—Clark Humphrey

When two sisters are born six years apart, the younger one can expect certain things. 

Such as hand-me-down clothes that look like hopeless relics from the “designer grunge” era, and which were only good for getting torn and stained during strenuous play outside 

And the older sister, knowingly or not, presenting herself as THE example of what the younger sister, willingly or not, will become.

Hardly a day went by in which Tina didn’t say, do, or unspokenly reveal something that made Lotte cringe in fear for her own future. 

Was Lotte doomed, she obsessively thought, to become just like Tina? A slave to her own whims and hormones? Gushing with rapt adoration over some boy one day, furiously raging against him the next, gushing again over him the day after that? 

And that was just part of the yapping. Tina could absolutely Never Stop Talking. Except when she was told to, usually at the dinner table.

Thankfully for Lotte, Tina’s talking wasn’t always about crushes. 

Sometimes it was about teachers who gave impossible assignments and wanted them turned in, perfectly, the next morning. 

Or about Tina’s ongoing feuds with some other, apparently equally vacuous, girls, over stakes that Lotte perceived as completely worthless. (Bragging rights in class, a lead-vocal spot in a talent show, a chance to be homecoming queen.)

Or about the supposed “school slut,” whom, after Lotte’s questioning, TIna admitted had never actually been seen in the company of any guy, but whom “everybody just knows” was the school slut because she dressed and talked and acted like it. 

Or about the guys in school who were rumored to have done the most awful things to girls but get away with it because of family connections.

Or about other guys who would be completely dreamy except for that one grating habit of theirs that every girl knew about but nobody would tell them about.

Or about everything Lotte had to look forward to: breasts (which in this family would always be either droopy or next-to-nothing). Periods (a shock only the first time) and PMS (the “gift that keeps on giving”). The horrifying looks given to teenage girls by some creepy men and even a few women. Guys’ “things” and how they were both ugly and unreliable (at least that’s what Tina’s girl friends said to Tina).

Then there was the unspoken example of future horror that was Tina’s taste (if you could call it that) in clothes. 

If anything, it had gotten worse since when Tina was Lotte’s age. Tina now wore gaudy, borderline-frilly things, in colors out of some nightmare vision of an old Nickelodeon cartoon. Dresses that were simultaneously “modest” and loud, worn to impress the supposedly “nice” Christian girls who seemed to run everything at the dreadful looking concrete suburban high school Lotte was doomed to enter. If Lotte ever had to wear a single neon lavender frock top even once, she knew she would positively DIE.

First silently, then (once their mother could afford a place with separate bedrooms) aloud, Lotte prayed every night. “God, or Goddess, or Whoever’s Out There, please don’t make me turn into another Tina. I mean she’s my sister and I love her, but sometimes I just can’t stand her, you know?”

One night in her room, when Lotte was a still-rambunctuous nine year old and Tina was a ditsy teen (or at least playing the part of one for popularity’s sake; Lotte sometimes couldn’t tell), Lotte came up with a personal slogan, a life’s motto for herself. “WWTD?” Lotte wrote those initials in black felt tip inside of a slash-circle drawn in red felt tip, inside a folded sheet of paper that she placed inside an old greeting-card envelope, that she hid behind the dresser where even her snoopy mom wouldn’t find it. 

Its meaning: Figure out what Tina would do in any given situation. Then do the exact opposite. 

If Tina would desperately try to win a guy by first coming on to him, then backing away before anything got “too serious,” Lotte would, when the time came, express a total and sincere disinterest toward such games, and toward the “prizes” to be “won” by such games.

If Tina would hustle and sell herself to try to get into a “good” college, then try to load up on “easy A” high school classes to ensure a good GPA, then Lotte would take the toughest couses she could, to become the best student she could.

Lotte figured she wouldn’t have to look at her “motto logo” again, just to remember it and never forget it.

Over the next two or three years, she didn’t have to remember it. Lotte went full blown into the phase of the withdrawn, sullen “tween.” The age when all the fun little girl activities suddenly didn’t seem like so much fun any more, but when everything else offered to her seemed just so immature. Certainly the boys her age seemed not to have aged emotionally since, say, age six; and the boys older than her seemed to have even regressed to before that. 

And you didn’t dare get her started on what the magazines and the cable TV shows wanted her to like. From the Disney Channel to the fashion rags, everybody seemed to expect Lotte to dream of someday becoming just the kind of pathetically ditsy teenager Lotte had been rebelling against. 

By age 12, Lotte had become Tina’s mirror opposite. She spoke only when she absolutely had to, except to the family dog, or to make dinner-table pronouncements. In one of those, she said she wanted to convert from Baptist to Catholic so she could become a cloistered nun. 

Only Stepfather #2 seemed to know to stay away from Lotte when she got into one of these moods. Her mother and Tina kept badgering her to be more polite and open up and smile, always to smile. 

Few things made Lotte smile during that year. Not Tina getting only into her fifth-choice college. Not Stepfather #2 switching his own religious affiliation from Jesus to Scotch, then leaving. Not Stepfather #3 turning out to be an authoritarian creep who also didn’t stay long.

Later on, Lotte did forget about the envelope. 

She found it again, when she was 15 and she and her mother were moving to a smaller space. 

She found the envelope in back of the dresser, the last thing to be moved out of her old room. She remembered what it was before she opened it. It looked like the work of some other girl, from long ago and far away.

The hormonal assault she’d long feared had come to pass, and Lotte found she hadn’t had to fear it after all. Her mother didn’t make her wear Tina’s old high-school clothes. She felt neither interest in, or too much pressure to participate in, the games of clothes and gossip. She had teachers who allowed her to be smart (at least some of them did). 

And oh yeah, those hormones. Those showed up just about right on schedule. 

But she had dealt with them. 

When the same boys who had seemed dumb and awkward now seemed dumb and awkward but cute, she let her new reactions just be. 

When she’d felt stronger, more specific desires for one specific boy, she took it in stride, and methodically devised a time/place/situation in which she could explore said desires, and said boy, within the proper balance of solitude and safety.

Tina (still perky, but not insuffrably so; still badly dressed, but not insuffrably so) had showed up that day to help Lotte and their mother move out of the overmortgaged house and into a cozy two-bedroom townhome in a different subdivision. 

Naturally, Tina entered Lotte’s room just as Lotte had opened the old envelope with the motto logo. Naturally, Tina asked (in somewhat fewer words than she used to have needed) what it was. 

Lotte made no attempt to hide the drawing from Tina. She said it was simply something she’d made in a fit of rebellion one night. Lotte tossed it into a big trash bag in the middle of the room, placed there for all the stuff of hers that wouldn’t be moved, recycled, or donated. 

Then Lotte, still a girl of few words, said something she’d never expected to say. 

“Thank you for being you. And for letting me be me. Except for those times when you and mom kept ordering me to smile when I didn’t want to. That sucked.”

Tina grinned and moved in to bear-hug Lotte. Lotte accepted the hug but didn’t smile back.

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on February 25, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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