Ronja Rövardottar | Ronia the Robber’s Daughter – Astrid Lindgren
On the fifteenth winter of Ronia and Birk’s lives, Undis’ prediction is finally coming true.
It’s absolutely beautiful, a slow unfolding of Birk and Ronia falling in love. My childhood self is in raptures.
+ It’s almost 2012; I am ringing in the new year with my cousins Esme and Ethan, who are 12 and 10; we’ll be watching family-friendly movies and I will probably be drinking unless I can convince them to watch Anastasia. I’d talk a little about the year that’s gone, but I got carried away below, so: next time.
+ My sister Midge, who is also my roommate and BFF, is getting married on Cinco de Mayo. I’m standing up with her in the wedding, and Midge has given me carte-blanche with regards to my clothes—I’ve been pretty unconcerned about the whole thing, but last night I dreamed that it was the day of the wedding and the ceremony was being held in my bedroom instead of at the church. I still didn’t have a dress, and so, as everyone waited by the bay window, I stood in the entryway to my room, in my underwear, trying on everything in my closet. I woke up in a panic, stumbled downstairs, and started looking up dresses. I still have no idea what I’m wearing, but at least now I’m worried about it. Anyone have any ideas? It’s a morning wedding, and it’s in church, so I need to keep my shoulders covered. Let’s be real: I am not above wearing a cardigan.
This morning, Midge and mom and I sifted through a huge box of photos from my grandmother Rita’s wedding (in, I think, 1945, when my grandfather Aly came home from the war; he was a meteorologists until the day before the wedding, when he quit to go to plumbing apprentice school. It’s a long story) and my great-grandmother Ellen’s wedding (in 1917). Midge is using GGEllen’s veil, and we were trying to figure out how it was fastened, because it’s just a long piece of embroidered lace. (Turns out, she had her hair in a Gibson-style bun, with the veil tucked behind it, and a beaded headpiece kind of perched atop the front of her head—I don’t wear fascinators or anything, but it’s pretty fancy.)
Of course, as always happens, we found more photos of my parents’ wedding in the early 70s, and stacks of prints from when my three siblings and I were young.
The 90s were, I think, an odd time to grow up in Middle America, but the family Speedwell made it odder by living as though we were from a full decade or two in the past. We wore a lot of baggy, brightly colored hand-me-downs from our older cousins (who did come of age in the 80s), and we all had vast quantities of unmanageable hair.
It’s funny, looking back, to notice that my brothers and I were quite skinny children, and pale (we have a luminous quality, tempered by the dark circles beneath our eyes); Midge, referred to for the entirety of our childhood as the pretty one, has darker skin and eyes, and she is soft-featured and full-figured, even as a girl. I think she’s lovely, to be honest, but I also didn’t grow breasts until I was almost nineteen; her shape just seemed to match the shapes I saw in art history. Midge used to straighten her hair, and in most pictures she looks serene and polished. Nowadays, she is rawboned and skinnier than I’ve ever seen a need for; it’s a reaction, and, I suspect, a side effect of all her disordered eating (my people are big on disordered eating. It’s less a hobby and more a drive).
One of my mother’s great flaws is that she took me aside and told me I would never be as pretty as my sister, so it was a good thing I was smart. (She said the opposite to Midge: “You’ll never be as smart as Veronica, so it’s a good thing you’re pretty and can talk to people.”) Looking at the photos of myself we have strewn over the kitchen table, I can see her point, even as I indulge in some small vanity: I was skinny and pale and I had a tremendous amount of bushy dark hair that was almost always in my face. But in a way, I was quit pretty, if you could ignore the oversized sweaters and wool socks. In almost all of the photos, I’m wearing wire-framed glasses and smiling tersely, close-mouthed: I had crooked teeth, and was ashamed. In one photo from 1995, when I was eight, I am windswept, my hair pulled away from my face, and I am staring straight at the camera. I look unkempt, maybe, but also determined. Midge pulled this photo out of the stack and told me I looked striking. Something about the eyes; mine always looked bruised.
It’s funny how we’re caught and presented on film, and I wonder what it is about the 90s that has all of us looking haunted, even though I know the timeline of every terrible thing. One of the biggest fights I had with my mother was when she found out I'd made a habit of destroying photographs I found particularly upsetting or unflattering; what's the point of holding on?
It’s funny to look at the record of my childhood alongside the pictures of my grandparents, who are dead now, and who I was never close with. Rita and Aly look smaller than ever in the basilica where they married, and the attendants’ names aren’t written down at all, though my mother thinks they are probably cousins. (All the women are beautiful, fascinators clipped in place and liplines dark and specific, even in black and white). They look completely guarded, in these instances of joy; you can’t see how they’re crippled. Their faces are full of light.