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Karen and I
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Two years older and the middle child of three, with olive skin, hazel-brown eyes, supple long lashes, and black coarse hair, she resembled a Romanian gypsy, rather than an Ashkenazi Jew. Karen also had an enormous Romanesque nose and was the carbon copy of our father’s beloved sister, Chava, killed in Auschwitz. Both Karen and papi carried their tall frame tentatively, setting down their feet awkwardly like giraffes, grazing the earth and the heavens all at once. Papi’s love for her was unbound. I knew it. She did, too. By the time she was born, mami had experienced two spontaneous miscarriages, and carrying to full term felt like a miracle. My brother Dany, was five years old when Karen was born, and until then, he had enjoyed the privilege of living as a single child.

We might have been born from the same DNA mix but our physical expressions turned out quite different. I resembled mami’s side. White complexion, blue-green eyes, and much shorter. Growing up two-years apart, we were often dressed alike, like two cute dolls, but unclear of the roles we played in our complicated family dynamic filled with the ghosts of the Holocaust. When people pointed out our physical differences, I would feel conflicted. I was happy I didn’t have her big nose, but I couldn’t bear the pain of being cut out, severed, apart. I immediately would retort back, “We have the same singing voice” or “our handwriting is the same.”

We formed an alliance. It wasn’t an easy one, we were competitive with each other, especially for the love of our parents. And yet, it felt unbreakable. I knew every inch of her face. I had studied it from the moment I was born. We slept in the same room, across from each other, sharing nighttime dreams. Mami’s nightly Eskimo kissing ritual, delayed my inevitable fears creeping in. “Felices sueños,” mami would say leaning in, kissing each of my cheeks twice on each side, then rubbing noses back and forth a few times. “Otra vez, again” I begged wanting mami’s skin to never break. “Como los eskimos, like the eskimos,” mami repeated from one of her favorite books of the time, The Long Shadows. “Mami, don’t go!” I would cry out, when she finished the ritual with my sister. My bed faced the half-opened door of the room, a prime spot for shadows sneaking in. I was sure the monster living inside the sliding-door closet would creep out as soon as the lights would be turned off. “Prende la luz,” turn on the light! I cried out to mami and with all my might I avoided looking in the direction of the closet. After mami left, I would whisper to Karen to be reassured, “Karen, no tenes miedo? Aren’t you afraid?” She was older and not about to expose her fears to her little sister, “No hay nada, there’s nothing.”


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