This year we both face our first birthdays without Mom, and I’m sorry I let you down. Big sisters are supposed to do the really hard stuff first and tell their younger sisters about it so they don’t have it quite so rough. I’m so sorry that because of the way the calendar falls, the tables have turned. I can’t imagine what it’s like to celebrate the day Mom did all the work when she’s not there to enjoy it. I am here to listen to you vent, but I am sorry that I can offer no words of support that would equal what you must be feeling.
But I can tell you that when Mom told me she was pregnant with you, it was the happiest day of my life next to meeting you for the first time. I was too young to understand exactly what “pregnant” meant, so Mom and I spent my bedtimes reading books on “the birds and the bees,” and what it would look like to be an older sister. I wasn’t there for your actual birth, but I remember Mom telling me that she was so surprised that her obstetrician, Dr. Ritter, stayed in her room with her all night, the first to see your seven pound, nine ounce glory.
Our age difference is larger than a lot of siblings I know. I may have not had the specifics down pat, but I did know that our family was getting a new little person… one in which I was old enough to learn to take care of, making sure that your bottles were just the right temperature and your diapers always fresh. Just so you feel safe about this, it was all under adult supervision.
My first real memory of you is dad picking me up so that I could see you through the nursery glass at Methodist Hospital… and then everything fades until a few months later. You were sleeping soundly, and I sneaked into your room and put a teddy bear under your arm.
By then, we were living on Galveston, and I remember that every time we went to the beach, you would approach the water cautiously, and as the waves rolled in, you would run away from them, yelling “don’t! Don’t! Don’t!” After the crash, there you went, running back into the water just enough for it to lap over your toes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I started kindergarten the September after you were born, and I remember you and Mom coming to pick me up every day at Parker. It was the highlight of my day to see you in your Muppet Babies leotard and tights, complete with headband just like Jane Fonda.
After that, my memory goes to Baybrook Mall, where we had an airbrushed sweatshirt made for you that said “HYPERWOMAN” in a jittery font. You wore it until it was in rags, because it was you. Getting you to be still in any capacity was (and is) beyond my capabilities. But when you made the choice to sit still with me and actually talk, it meant more, because I knew how much effort it was taking on your part.
The next thing that comes to mind is the chicken pox story.
You got what you called “the chicken pops,” and Mom made a cake that had a little blonde girl with red hots all over it and invited all the kids who hadn’t had it yet for a party, because their parents were eager to get it over with, too. I admired your strength, because it was the worst case I’d ever seen. You had them both externally and internally, the most uncomfortable being down your throat. But did that stop you? Nooooo…….. You were the life of the party.
Come to think of it, you are the life of every party.
Taller, more muscle mass, and faster than I’ll ever be is the inspiration that gets me out of bed in the morning. My younger sister is someone (I have) to look up to. Not only is your career inspiring, I’ve always been a little bit mad that you can reach the top shelf and I can’t.
But despite that “anger,” I’ll always jump in. I will never forget going on our cruise when you were three and I was nine. We were sitting on the ledge of a saltwater pool, right beside a sign that said “four feet deep.” You fell over backwards like a SCUBA diver, and I have never moved so fast. I jumped in without thinking. The water was so deep that I thought I might drown trying to get you to safety, not having had the clarity to think, “ok, I’ve got her. NOW what do I do?” We were so close to the edge that I swam under you, your diaper pressing against the top of my head, and kicked my legs to propel you upward. You popped up on the deck like some sort of magic trick (oh, hey, look…. flying baby) as I tilted my head and set you down. My neck hurt from the strain, but that was sort of the good part. It burned that memory into my brain, saving it for a time in my life that those years are slipping away.
Mom & Dad will never know how much danger we were actually in, because they weren’t there… but the superhuman strength of seeing your sister in danger is limitless. I will always be the tiger in your corner, claws sharpened, because now Mom will never be there. I can’t replace your loss, but I am always here to help.
I hope you know it’s a strength that will last a lifetime. I will always jump in, I will always protect you, I will always bite the ankles of your enemies… no matter the personal cost. This is because just by being around you, I become a better me.
Again, I’m so sorry that of all the things I didn’t do before you, going through this is one of them. I wish I had more to offer you than words on “paper” and a piece of my heart. It’s not much, but it comes from a completely unique store.