Virginia Elizabeth Wills

My sister was excellent at coloring. Remember how this used to be a quality one looked for in one's friends? We're talking around age 5 or 6, here (oh yeah, not admirable anymore, no siree, never impressed by that now that I'm an adult and have more important thing with which to be concerned) when you'd look over to that certain someone's desk as they labored over a coloring book similar to your own, and see that amazingly contoured section of pure color, evenly distributed with barely-perceptible strokes that nonetheless enhance their portion of the drawing, lending it an illusion of depth and texture. That good. And I -- as will no doubt shock those of you familiar with my "handwriting" -- I, was not. Am not, to this day. But when I was around age 8 or 9, I felt something had to be done about this sibling disparity, and so I convinced Jenny (don't ask about the nickname; that's a whole other story I never quite get right) that it was in fact far more fun and creative to make a horrible, ecstatic mess on the page.

Siblings have uniquely fascinating relationships, I find, and it's difficult to write about my sister without writing about myself, but I'll try to keep the Jeff-ness to a minimum. It's been said that theatre (and art in general) holds a mirror up to life. In this sense, I think siblings are a kind of interactive theatre to one another and -- especially in the case of just the two siblings, close in age -- there's an ongoing argument about who's in the audience, and who's got the stage.

My sister and I almost never argued when we were younger. (We've more than made up for it in our supposedly "adult" years.) We fought a bit, occasionally vying for control of the space, but by-and-large we didn't have it in for one another. Competitiveness (mostly my own) was the only stumbling block I can think of now, and even that circumstance rarely occurred; we had and have one another's backs. In fact, the only other competitive moment I can recall from our shared youth was when I discovered what a naturally great actress she is. And that doesn't really count because I knew, right away, I couldn't hold a candle to her, so no need to compete. I remember very clearly her performance of a couple of small roles in some select Shakespeare scenes during her junior high years, and being totally shocked at how believable she was. Jenny wasn't acting, she just was, and as if this isn't impressive enough in an adult actor, she was something like 12 years old, that time of life when ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY is awkward and either pretentious or oblivious. And so, when in the next year she starred in another junior high production, this one Beauty and the Beast, and the high school drama teacher I was trying so very hard to impress made sure to say to me, "Well, we've got to get her," I wasn't at all surprised. Frustrated as hell, sure, but not surprised.

I could keep on this tack of things at which Jenny is amazing, but no longer does much of (I guess I can't say for certain about the coloring...) were it not for the fact that she's gone on to commit herself to doing incredible and important work. Jenny committed herself to more school than I can even fathom contemplating, and is now a nurse practitioner. You know about nurse practitioners, right? Those are the ones some people are opting for going to instead of doctors now-a-days because they're qualified, open and often more involved. Smarties, with a lot of influence. And she's not any ol' NP, my sister. No, she's a neonatal nurse practitioner, meaning she's dealing with the most delicate of lives and most harrowing of circumstances. Sometime amidst her near-decade of higher education, right around when she moved to New York, Jenny began going by her given name of Virginia. This was strange for me for a long time but, though she offered utterly pragmatic reasons for it at the time, it makes a perfect kind of personal sense. She's a different person now, one dealing with life-and-death decisions daily in a theatre I wouldn't set foot in, even had I her training and emotion for it.

My sister Virginia is still blessed with a kooky sense of humor, a passionate commitment to her perspective, powerful intelligence and sense of right and wrong. She still makes inappropriate observations in far too loud a voice, and illustrates a fervent disdain meeting me on time, ever. She's still far prettier than she realizes, and far more empathetic than is good for her, and she still is rather immediately liked by just about everyone she meets. She is different now, too. In the first place, she has taken control of her life and overcome some remarkable personal odds in a way that has taught me a lot about setting a good example for one's own family. In the second, she's recently left New York for a promoted position at Johns Hopkins, which involves authority and driving a hybrid car and all different sorts of things I as a near-naturalized New-York artist can no longer make much sense of.

And in the third, today she turned 30.

Happiest birthday, kiddo. Thanks for coloring outside the lines with me.