I don’t really know what I’m doing when I carry my surfboard toward the Costa Rican waves that crash down at my feet, but I carry it the way I see all of the surfers do it in movies and figure I’m doing it right. Our instructor turns around and asks us, “Who’s going first?”
This is my favorite question, because I already know the answer: me. Some of my friends know too, and shout out “Sami” at the same time. It’s more of an instinct than any kind of real rationalization as to why I should go first, and it happens all the time. Sometimes it results in success; other times in falling off a surfboard and tumbling into the heavy force of the ocean. (Spoiler alert: the latter happens more often, but no one has to know that.)
Perhaps I should have expected it though: I’ve never surfed in my entire life, and I’m not even very good at boogie boarding. But I am a do-er because I’m a pretender. I like to pretend that I’m the best. Ice skating? I’m the best at ice skating. Scavenger hunts? I’m the best at scavenger hunts. Okay, not really, but doing helps me to pretend a lot better than watching does. If I act like I know how to do something, it’s almost effortless to pretend.
Usually. Because here’s the thing: when I’m a little sister, I am a watcher. My brother challenges me to a game of Set, and I say, out of instinct, “I’m the best at Set,” and he says, “Well I’m the truth at Set.” We play a ridiculously intense game of Set, and he wins.
I didn’t understand it this way when I was little, but that was why I loved to watch. I watched countless Little League games like they were the major leagues. I watched video games like they were TV shows. I still do.
Watching is a different kind of pretending. When I do things, I can pretend that I am the best, but when I watch, I can pretend that I can, someday and somehow, be the best. Because watching my brother allows me to pretend that perfection, the best, really does exist. It’s a kind of magic that only he holds, and one that I might miss if I ever became too busy doing.
The sun sets after dinner in my grandfather’s backyard, and my brother wields my dad’s old BB gun. I sit on the sidelines, soaking up fleeting warmth from the concrete beneath me. My brother drops a shiny silver pellet into the gun and pumps the barrel with strength I may or may not have. He squints into his scope, aiming at a low-hanging kumquat because he’s a show-off. The next couple of moments are filled with anticipation: I hold my breath like I’m the one shooting. The kumquat falls as soon as I hear the shot. “Are you sure you don’t want to try?” he asks me.
“Nah,” I say out of instinct. “I’ll just watch.”