Did you know that the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was say goodbye?
Say goodbye when I loaded that crappy, dented car and headed off to college? Watch you pick up box after box, pretending to be happy for me, because you knew that’s what you were supposed to do. Be happy. For me, again.
You’ve always been happy for me. Happy when I got asked to my first Homecoming dance. Happy when I brought my first boyfriend home and mom and dad actually liked him. Happy when I got straight A’s. Happy when I wrote my first application essay. Happy when I got my first acceptance letter. You were always happy. And I was always moving. One thing to another. Always living my life. Always leaving you behind.
Did you know that the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was watch you from that window?
Your nose pressed to the glass, our puppy between your legs, his tail wagging, hoping for a car ride.
You waved. You smiled. You wrote me a letter that I still have saved in the pages of one of my favorite journals. And I thought of you every day. I’d see your face when I got dressed, a photo on my bedroom wall.
I missed you.
You’ve grown up in the last few years. You’ve changed—your face, your smile, the way you walk. You have become a woman. Strong. Beautiful. Confident.
I wish I could go back and erase those years I wasn’t home. Hit rewind to when you and I would play on the backyard swing set together, making picnic lunches or pushing each other down the slide.
Phone calls were never enough. Texts and Skype and letters sent back and forth through snail-mail with your glittery pen and loopy handwriting. They were all special, but so far away. I wasn’t there for your first Sadie Hawkin’s Dance. I wasn’t there for your first friend breakup. I wasn’t there for your first art show. Or for your first time on the Honor Role.
I hope you know I thought of you. All the time.
When I broke up with my boyfriend, I wanted to call you. When I got my first scholarship. When I was lonely.
I was always too scared. You were my little sister. You looked up to me and I didn’t want to show you that I wasn’t strong. You were always stronger, you know. You still are.
As you get ready to head off to your own college and pack the dented car that I’ve handed down to you. As I’m the face in the window, the dog curled up next to me, and you waving from the rearview, I hope you know you’re not alone.
I hope you know that I’m always here—a phone call, a car ride, a plane, a train—no distance too big to travel.
I hope you know I love you. I love the woman you’ve become, bold, self-assured, smart. I hope you know I envy you.
And I hope you know you’ll always be my little sister. The one whose baby-walker I taped a ‘kick me’ sign onto. The one whose hair I always tied in pigtails and dressed in frilly dresses. The one who I sold lemonade with at the street corner, who I dragged to the mall, who I teased about sweaty hands and made Build-A-Bears for. You might be growing up, but you’ll always be the one I’ll want to protect. The one I’ll want to be strong for.
The one who’s the hardest to say goodbye to, even still.