Author’s note: Originally written for my Creative Writing class, it also won best Fiction piece for the literary edition of my school’s newspaper.
Of the two of us, my little sister was always the smart one. I was the dreamer; she was rational. She’s a law student now, working as an intern in the big city. My life, however, turned out a little different. Looking back on how I lived my life, all I can wonder is: did I do enough?
. . .
On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. I had seen how alcohol can destroy lives. My parents died during a heavy snowfall, in a five car pileup on the Thruway after some guy who had too much to drink lost traction and slammed his pickup into a tractor trailer, which jackknifed. My parents weren’t the only ones who died in that crash, but they were the only ones I knew, the only ones I cared about. My sister was two years old and understood mostly none of what happened. I was nine and understood too much. She wondered why mom and dad weren’t coming back, where they went; I wondered how someone could get behind a wheel drunk, putting other people’s lives in danger, and not think twice. He lost his life, and I felt like I lost mine. Eventually, my sister became my life.
. . .
We were alone, my sister and I, so my grandparents took us in. Bless their souls; they certainly had their hands full: my sister was just beginning to be potty trained, and I was still learning how to break out of my shell of shyness and talk to others. But we were tough, the two of us, and we learned how to survive. Every day, we taught each other the ways of the world, and in the process, learned more about ourselves. I was the one who taught her how to tie her shoes, who helped her learn to ride a bike. I taught her how to stand up for herself and when to walk away. I told her not to believe everything she sees on TV, but I also told her to believe in magic. In the process of being an older sister, my little sister taught me how to find joy. She taught me to take time to laugh, and that the curiosity of a child is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, all you need to get up in the morning, when the day ahead seems like too much to bear, is a simple reminder that you’re not alone. She reminded me every day.
I was the one who reminded her over and over and over again what happened to Mom and Dad, why they weren’t coming back. My sister was too young to remember them, so I had to do enough remembering for the two of us. I told her Dad’s favorite jokes, which were plenty. He knew how to find something humorous in every situation. In our small town, he was known for his ability to make up jokes off the top of his head, pull them out of thin air—like a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. I thought he was Superman: invincible except for kryptonite. If kryptonite is snowfall, alcohol, and a pickup, I guess I was right. I was the one who sang my sister to sleep every night, watching as she closed her eyes and drifted off to the same words that once graced my mother’s lips: the wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again. I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and I hoped to God I would be like her someday.
My sister is the spitting image of my mother, with her big blue eyes and long blonde hair and ringlets cascading down her back. Dad had the dark hair, tan skin, dark eyes. “My Italian Prince,” my mom used to say. Somehow, I inherited his dark hair, tanner skin, but I have my mother’s eyes. Of the two of us, my sister definitely inherited my dad’s funny bone. She made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry. And she could impersonate anybody and anything. A weird old man used to live in our town. He had a southern twang, and used words I’ve never heard of, and when he talked, he used every part of his body. Every time he spoke, it looked like he was dancing, or at least having a seizure. Anytime we needed a laugh, she did her “Southern Man impression,” and she played him better than he did. My sister always told me that I have the prettiest voice in the world, and I would be famous someday. I always wanted to believe her. I wanted to make her proud of me, but what I failed to realize was that she was: she wanted everybody in our school to know that she was my sister. I guess she got her wish, I’m famous now, and everybody knows she’s my sister.
Yes, we were close, my sister and I, despite the seven years between us. I was never sure which was better: being so close that your younger sister copied everything you did, or being so distant that you hardly ever talk.
My sister and I talked for hours every day as we were growing up. We talked about boys, the future, and the funny happenings of life, but we also talked about serious things: I gave her the sex talk, which was awkward, and we also talked about death, what we thought heaven was like. We talked about almost everything. When I was eighteen, I recorded a demo of my Mother’s lullaby. It got me a recording contract, so I moved to the big city. Even then, we talked every day.
My sister wanted to be just like me. One time when I was fourteen, I found my sister in her room, pinching her stomach, disgusted at how she looked. My heart broke. I had done the same thing just a few minutes before; she had seen me do it every day for four years. What a hypocrite I was: I had always told her not to compare herself to others, and yet, there I was, comparing myself to all the girls I deemed prettier than me. I was never confident in my own skin. My sister and I were close, but I had never told her about my insecurities before that day. Open communication about everything started right there and then. I told her about all the anger I had toward that driver who killed our parents those six years before. I told her about how the mirror was never my friend. Then I told her how I was beginning the painful process of letting go of the anger I had, and in that process, I was learning how to love myself.
. . .
On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I were out celebrating, not drinking. Instead, my friends and I went midnight bowling in fancy dresses—something I had missed out on doing after my Junior Prom. My sister had called me earlier in the day, and I told her to keep her eye out for a letter that would be arriving in the next few days, and after the “I love you”s and the goodbyes, we hung up and promised each other we would talk again tomorrow.
It was the best night of my life.
On the evening of my twenty-first birthday, my friends and I left the bowling alley. I heard tires screeching, a horn honk, and my friends screaming. I saw a bright light, and then everything went black. My last moments alive, I was surrounded by friends who loved me, but my sister wasn’t there. I regret that.
. . .
Four months after my funeral, my friends and family sat in a big city courtroom facing the man who hit me. Before the verdict came down, my little sister said she wanted to read the letter I had written her for the first time. The letter was dated my twenty-first birthday, and upon seeing this, she began to whimper softly. But after a few seconds, she somehow found the strength inside of her to begin reading:
Dear Little Sis,
If I timed this letter correctly, it should be your first day of high school. Congratulations! People are going to tell you a lot of things about high school. Don’t listen to them. It’s not the best for years of your life, and you don’t have to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Don’t let anyone define you or put you in a box. It’s not for them to decide who you are and who you are going to be. Dream big. Reach for the stars. Defy gravity. Learn to embrace irony; life is riddled with it. If you want to travel the world, travel the world. Don’t live life with regrets. Learn how to love yourself, because there was once a time when I did not, and I spent so much time worried about what others thought of me, I didn’t define myself. I tried to please everyone, and it made me unhappy. Learn from my mistakes. Life is too short to let others dictate your life choices. If you ever see an injustice being done, fight. Fight hard. Fight for those who have no voice. Fight for those who are weak. Fight for yourself, but also learn when to walk away.
I’ve learned that anger is a powerful motivator, but it’s also toxic, corrosive, destructive. It almost destroyed my life. But I learned that forgiveness is more powerful than all the wrongs done to you. Love is more powerful than all the evil in the world. If you ever find yourself angry at the world, take a step back, take a deep breath, and find the strength to forgive. Find the power to love. If there’s ever a day when you find it hard to get out of bed, when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember that an ant can carry things 6x its own weight. You are not an ant; you’re not alone in life. You have family and friends who love you, and a big sister who is more proud of you than anything in the world. And no matter how many miles separate us in the future, remember that I will always be with you. There are some chains distance can’t break: the love of a sister is one, because boys will come, and boys will go, but a love of a sister is forever.
Talk to you soon,
Your Big Sis!
The courtroom was quiet as the verdict came down: guilty on both counts—vehicular manslaughter and driving while Intoxicated.
. . .
Somewhere on a stretch of road, the pavement is stained red, serving as a reminder of how fragile life can be. Somewhere, in the cemetery of a small town, a twenty-one year old law student sits at my grave, her older sister, a singer known for one song, a lullaby; a singer who became famous only after her death. This woman sits in silence and listens as the whispering wind sings the words to her mother’s lullaby.
The wind knows a place where the stillness is, where the world seems to stop, and time stands still. Close your eyes, and in that moment, we’ll be together again.