Every time you celebrate another birthday, I think of when you were six. Six years old, and you were so sick, we didn't know what was wrong with you, until the doctors came back and told us.
Meningitis. It sounded like a death sentence. I remember how high your fever was, how I overheard one of the doctors talking, saying that if by some miracle you lived, that you would most certainly be...damaged. All those afternoons we spent, you telling me things that only a six year old could know, the way I could make you laugh so hard you couldn't breathe, the one time at four you had taken my hand, and whispered, "I exist. I'm a person. I'm real," and how amazed I was that such a small body could hold such a big heart, a soul like yours.
You made it through. We all prayed that you would, and I refused to believe that you would die. I refused to believe that anything could happen to you, and when you woke up, you were fine. Smart and sassy as ever.
It's hard to believe that I was there when you were born. I held you in my arms more times than I can ever count. I rocked you to sleep, on that front porch swing, your tiny arm around my neck, trusting that I would hold you and keep you safe.
Keeping you safe was a full-time job, kid, believe me. You never walked for a single instant, you ran everywhere, as if knowing how fast life goes, and you didn't want to miss a single instant of it.
We were at your aunt's house, swimming in their new pool for the first time. Everyone went inside to get dried off, and I heard the back door slam. And I knew, I just knew, and I took off running. I didn't see you outside, and I didn't see you by the pool, but I ran over to it anyway. You jumped in, and when I got to the side of the pool, I saw you looking up at me, underwater. You reached for me, and I pulled you out. The trust in your eyes, the way you looked at me, the pure love was the most precious thing I had ever seen. But it didn't stop me from spanking you.
I remember watching you go out with boys, hating it, because I knew that was something I couldn't protect you from. I couldn't shield you from any potential hurt, the way I could when you were three and trying to scuba dive. I remember meeting your potential boyfriends, smiling at them and thinking to myself, If you hurt her, buddy, I've got a shovel and a hundred acres that says nobody will ever miss you.
It was inevitable that I would never be able to really like anyone you dated, because you are my heart, and no one ever born is really good enough for who you are. Two years ago we started to get really close, sharing things about our lives, our experiences. Instead of sisters, we became best friends.
As your best friend, I knew before you did that your relationship was over. I never told you, because I knew you'd figure it out. So, I came over more often, we would spend long, hilarious weekends drinking and watching our show. That perfect show, about two brothers who were all they had in the world, the kind of siblings who would do anything for each other. Like us.
When that relationship died, you handled it with a grace I only wish I had. You put as much of it behind you as you could, and dealt with the rest head on. I remember looking at you, and wondering just when my baby sister had managed to grow up into this woman that continually managed to amaze me.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow you'll be twenty-one. Twenty-one years of your life that I have had the chance to witness. I can't decide what's better, being your hero in your single digit years, or your best friend now.
What I do know is that I love you. We don't always say it the same way as other people. Sometimes it's me calling you Retardo Montalban for driving on the wrong side of the road, or teasing you about being short, or about how you can buy your shoes in the kids section. Sometimes it's you calling Pete Wentz (who I do not love, btw) my boyfriend, or how I got your share of boobs plus mine. Same with height. Sometimes it's punching each other in the boob to say hello. Sometimes it's creating a drinking game to your favorite childhood movie, The Little Mermaid. Whatever 'it' is, we make it our own.
And of course, we fight. We fight like girls, but make up like boys. I love that about us. I like how after we've had one of our fights, one of us will say, "We good?" And that's that. Are we good? And the answer is always yes.
Tomorrow. You're going to be twenty-one years old tomorrow, LaChance. Twenty-one. I almost feel like I fell asleep on duty and just woke up to this, because I'm not ready for it. If you can turn twenty-one, then you can turn thirty. Thirty, like me. But not like me, in the ways that matter.
When you're happy, you shine so goddamn bright. Like you're going to shine tomorrow night. And I will wonder how in the world we ever got here.