It was April 6, 1991.
You are my first memory. I don't remember the first time I saw you or heard you, but I remember that suddenly you existed. My sister. The one who would become my closest companion growing up and also the one whom I would hate more than anyone, thankfully, only for brief moments. Our father made sure to teach us how to say sorry and perhaps more importantly, how to forgive. And forgive we did, over and over, just as sisters should.
I was two at the time, almost three. It's strange to me that I have a memory of myself at two years old. That I existed as the same person I am today, 26 years later, but in a small body and with a mind I didn't fully understand. I remember dad putting me in the car. I was scared–bewildered, is perhaps a better word–but even though we were leaving the hospital (or were we going there?), dad had a huge grin on his face. Perhaps the biggest grin I have ever seen on him. He was my Trust, and that is what I did, I trusted him The fact that we were at a place where only sick people went to, things were going to be okay because he was smiling.
And of course, he was smiling. For you had just been born.
You are my first memory.
Therefore, my life could not exist without you in it. I didn't know a time before you came into the world. I didn't know anything before you existed. You are my first memory, my first understanding that I, too, existed as a small child.
I remember you getting your ears pierced before me, and finally deciding that I could do it, too. If my little sister could do it, so could I. My little sister, or, perhaps, my big sister. I remember sneaking upstairs from my basement room into your room, climbing into the bunk beds. I was too scared to sleep alone, and so I slept next to you, my little sister. My big sister. I remember when you first came to school and I wasn't so sure how that worked. You were near me, but there you were, down on the playground, far. You had your own set of five year old friends, and I didn't quite understand how that worked. I thought we were one unit up until that point, but now I saw that we were two different bodies existing on our own. How does this work? I thought you were mine.
But we were each other's. I remember laughing in bed with you–was it two twin beds, or was it one double?–in our grandmother's Montana home. We had already moved away from Montana, and so we were back visiting. We wanted to find our thing together. Something only sisters shared, something more than blood, apparently. We were giggling as we came up with nicknames for one another, and somehow, in a way only an eleven and eight-year-old could ever understand, we landed on Wisconsin Cheeseburger. I've still never been to Wisconsin.
I remember jumping on pillows in our basement, careful to avoid the lava on the carpet. We were each different colored Yoshi characters. I don't remember our colors now. I remember slapping you across your bare chest when you could barely form a full sentence. I wanted you to leave my room but you refused, and now how desperately I wish we could be in the same room together forever. I miss you.
I remember playing solitaire together on dad's computer at church, waiting for him to finish up work. I remember walking our dog together and running through the forest to school. I remember when games like dress up and paper dolls were no longer fun for me, and not being able to understand or explain to you why I no longer wanted to play the games that were once so much fun. We were growing up.
I remember playing in our backyard and riding bikes together. I remember long car rides to California, and back to B.C. I remember painting our faces with makeup and trying to embarrass our parents. I remember you trying to embarrass me. It worked, every time. It still works, just as well as how you still fall for all of the fake stories I tell you. We laugh about them later.
I remember when you were diagnosed with scoliosis. At fifteen, I was enthralled with boys, and I used them to distract myself from the pain I felt from not being able to protect you anymore, like when we were younger, and a girl was bullying you. I told that girl if she messed with you again, I would break her other arm. Now, there was a pain I couldn't fix or take away. I distanced myself from you, and it's one of my biggest regrets. I think you distanced yourself from me, too, though.
But I also remember being at the hospital with you. It was a few years later, and I knew I couldn't keep running, I had to be there for you, however difficult it was, and difficult it was, as the doctors broke your back in half to straighten it with poles. I danced in your hospital room, hoping to get even one smile out of you while you came in and out of consciousness from the drugs. You did smile, you were also annoyed at me at times, but I didn't care, your smiles were worth it. You had changed, though. You had a new sense of empathy that was much greater than I was capable of experiencing.
It makes me worried that I can't remember as much of our childhood as I would like to. Perhaps if I had some photographs in front of me, I would better be able to relive our moments. Instead, many of these moments have been replaced by our experiences together as adults.
I remember when I decided I had had enough and abandoning my home and entire life in San Francisco. Thousands of miles away, I crawled into bed with you, yet again. I told you how all of my nightmares had come true and you listened quietly to me. I don't know if you didn't know what to say, or if you were simply in the nightmare with me, but you listened, your gentle and calm self, and stood by my side until I had enough strength to pick myself up again. My little sister. My big sister.
Again, in the bedroom, it was the night before my wedding. You asked if I wanted my own room, my last night as a legally single woman, and I said no, I wanted you next to me. We crawled into bed and listened to the wind whistle. We cracked jokes and made funny faces at each other and talked. When you fell asleep, I woke you up with all of my excitement about what was to come. Or perhaps it's that I didn't want the night to end, you laying next to me. Us, as sisters, one entity splitting further into two.
Of course, I remember your wedding day. How beautiful and calm you were all morning up until you saw your almost-husband when suddenly your silly side came out again. My favorite side, too. I remember watching you walk away with him, arm in arm, and realizing now that someone else was watching out for you, but that that was okay. You were the prettiest and most elegant bride, but also the most lively and courageous bride. My little sister. My big sister.
Time continues to pass, and I realize 26 years have happened since my very first memory–you–and I wonder how it is possible for time to continue in the way it does when I desperately want to hold onto our moments and make them last forever. Mostly, I am just grateful, that on this day, I get to think about you and celebrate you. You are one of the biggest blessings in my life. You have made my very life exist in the way it does. You are a part of me, and you are a part of whom I wish to be.
And now here we are. You, in one country, and me, in another. I will call you later today to wish you a happy birthday. I will wish so badly that you and I could be sharing a bed together instead, coming up with practical jokes that we could play on our parents or sharing our deepest and darkest secrets. My life revolves around your existence. My memories began at your first breath. My little sister. My big sister.
I remember sitting with you at the top of Glacier National Park knowing that everything was right in the world because I had you. My little sister. My big sister.
I love you. Happy birthday.