twenty.

i swear she’s still six.

My earliest memory of being with my sister was when I was six years old and she was three. We were playing in our basement, and we were pretending I was Little Orphan Annie and she was my dog Sandy. We were on the run from the bad guys who were going to split us up and put me in the orphanage and her in the dog pound. We tried our best, but we were split up. They had caught me, and they were going to take me away. I remember we had hidden ourselves in a corner under a table and we were saying our good-byes. I looked at her, and in her make believe world she realized that we were no longer going to be together.

She began to cry.

And so did I. We cried because we had just started our lives together, but we had lived so much. We cried because we were best friends and we were never going to be together again. We cried because we truly believed this world we were in and we had never felt this kind of loneliness before.

We cried because we loved each other.

Later I remember trying to separate myself from her. “Oh, she’s my little sister,” I would toss away to whomever was around to hear. We were the new kids trying to make friends. She always made friends so easily. She always found someone who had a dog or a bike or video games and she always had a new friend. I was much more cautious, shy, and bookish. I would stay in my room and read or write stories, while she played Kick the Can all night long. While distancing myself from her, I shut out my world of new friend opportunities. She was always the friendly one. You could hear her laugh down the street.

When I was eight and she was five I used to babysit her after school. She didn’t like having me as a babysitter, and would use her kung-fu moves to keep me away from her whenever I told her to take a bath or eat her lunch. I hated getting kicked by her, and would hide myself in closets until she had gotten wrapped up in a television show. She was strong, and she didn’t need me to tell her what to do. I was a wuss, and didn’t want to assert myself. I always felt that if I did, I would hurt her, and I would never forgive myself if I had caused her pain.

One day (I guess I was about twelve) she came into the house and told me that I had to beat up her friend because she was being mean to her. She had told this girl (who was the largest seven year old I’ve ever seen) that I was going to kick her butt. I had never been in a fight before, and this seven year old was larger than I was… and tough… and completely prepared to annihilate me. I went out into the front lawn, and chickened out. I was turning to go back into the house when I saw the look of fear and disappointment in my sister’s eyes. I had no other choice.

“Get over here on my property so I can kick your butt!” I yelled to her. She came over, and we kung fu’d each other until a neighbor told us to knock it off and go home. My sister seemed proud.

But after that, she fought her own battles. She didn’t need me anymore.

Today my sister is twenty years old.

Twenty.

I still feel like she should be so much younger than I am… but she’s not even a teenager any more. I can’t make that claim that she’s just my little sister. She’s become her own woman. I am no longer an influence. I am no longer a babysitter. I am no longer her best friend. But I will always be her sister, and with that comes certain rights and privileges. I will always be the one to listen about her problems with my parents. I will always ask her about her boyfriends, and try to listen without interjecting my disapproval. I will always be there to stay up all night with her on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa Claus to bring our presents.

And I will always remember the sadness I felt when Annie and Sandy said goodbye under a card table in a basement in Virginia seventeen years ago.

Happy Birthday, Natalie.

I love you.

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