Nick and I had a secret relationship with Rose when she was little. Most of the time she was stand-offish, and people would tire of cajoling her. She didn’t smile and twirl, didn't care about getting attention. She sauntered around in sweat pants, no shirt (if the boys didn’t have to, then why did she?), and a backwards baseball cap. Nick and I understood her. She was actually the funniest thing on two legs, you just had to give her some space. The hat she wore was his.
When she was about three and a half years old, she decided that she wanted to learn how to whistle. She’d sit at the bottom of our stairway, the epicenter of the house, pursing her lips, blowing, blowing, blowing, every day after nursery school. I’d hear that hollow, breathy sound, daily. She was really too young to whistle. I encouraged her, but it was her own determination that kept her at it. As the light darkened into dinner time, she'd join us at the table, but for her this was little more than an intermission. She returned to practice as soon as chores were done.
"You know you’re adopted, Rose,” Nick would tease. “You are really an Eskimo. Look at your brown skin and tilted eyes.” When I asked him where in the world he got this idea, he told me she didn't look like the rest of us, a cagey smile on his face. "It's fun to tease her because she never shows that it bothers her. I'm just trying to get a reaction." I told him that wasn't nice. He told me he knew she liked it, or he wouldn't do it.
Well, one fine day she started whistling. It had taken three weeks. Pretty soon she could whistle anything, from Beethoven to rock and roll. She could whistle like the wind.
“Hey, come here, Eskimo Girl, and whistle for these guys,” Nick would beckon. He’d bet his friends a dollar she could do any song. He was still the leader of the pack, back then, and they all fell for it. He shared the money with Rose.
She would look alternately at the ground, and then solemnly up at her charming brother, never smiling. She was happy just to be part of it, but she never let on.
Greta Garbo in a backwards baseball hat, whistling 'In A Gadda Da Vida."
When Nick was sixteen he stood, toes at the brink of a high, high cliff, full of endless potential.. Below him the landscape a verdant, mossy, rocky mystery waiting for him to figure out. He was just beginning. Inside his head: another mystery, waiting to reveal itself.
Sometimes when I am in an airplane, I see the earth configured in shapes that look startlingly like illustrations of the human brain. From high above the land resembles patterns seen also under microscopes.