Layers... this One's for You, Oldest

Our oldest left for college last fall . . . and her sister, whose room was designed as a baby nursery attached to the master bedroom, moved into her room. We’d allowed Oldest to write on her walls throughout her childhood; her pen of choice was Sharpie. I loved reading her poems and quotations and learning about who she was and what was important to her.


But now it is Younger Sister’s room (apparently they had agreed to the swap a few years back over email, and Oldest felt obliged to honor the agreement). And the very day Oldest went to college her sister cleaned out that room, with a vacuum and 409 and rags . . . when she finished she said she also wanted to paint the walls.


I felt sad at first, because these walls filled me with a sense of awe. Sometimes I would go in Oldest’s room when she wasn’t around and marvel at the breadth and depth of her mind; she was so young but so old too—she’d lost a great deal of her childhood to a devastating illness, but had come out strong.


After I had photographed every word on those walls and filed the images in a google drive, I was able to say “okay” to painting. I had preserved them, yes, but I also knew in my heart that every word Oldest had ever written on those walls would be there for always, right beneath the surface. And I understood that Younger Sister needed space to spread her wings.


It took five coats of primer to cover that Sharpie . . . with every coat, I wondered what other layers were beneath Oldest’s, layers I couldn’t see but nevertheless were there, like the layers in all of us.


The walls are now Diamond White, the choice of Younger Sister, and I don’t think she plans to write on them. My loss. But also my gift, because the act of painting over these words gave me space to reflect on Oldest, how much hope I have for the world because people like her are out there in it now, ready to make it better with their gifts.

Holly McGhee