Register Saturday | June 15 | 2019

An Open Letter to My Little Sister

Dear Corey,

So now you are engaged. This is not just a good thing; this is a great thing. This is a wonderful thing.

I knew that this day would come. Of course over the past few years as you and Zach have grown closer it seemed more and more inevitable, but I also knew this day would come in general. Kind of like I felt you would inevitably end up married one day, and that, perhaps, stems from the belief I have that you deserve great things in your life. Probably more than anyone else I know, I wish for you to be happy. Even with all we saw growing up, there was this belief in me that you would get married one day, and that the event would make you happy.

I remember when we were little kids and you would steal my socks to get my attention. Actually, I don’t remember that at all, but the stories been repeated so many times that it’s become my memory. I can even picture it, even if I know better, but perhaps that’s because there’s some picture of it somewhere. You pulling the ragged end of some sock to a point, my face probably curling in anger. That image perhaps defines our younger years as much as any other, even though I have no real memory of it, just some implant effect from family lore.

There is a picture of the two of us that I love more than any other. It’s a series of pictures taken at Dad and Robin’s wedding a few years ago. In the top one you are leaning an elbow on my shoulder and I am looking off in another direction. The second in the series shows me leaning into your ear, probably whispering something conspiratorial. That’s something we do together often, make fun of the people and events around us. There is no cruelty intended in the exchange, just a brother and sister having an inappropriate laugh. That’s something we mastered over the years, probably an effect of Jennifer leaving us, a mother walking out on her children. It doesn’t make any sense, even still, and I think one of the coping mechanisms for us both was to learn to laugh at the crap that comes our way. We share an inappropriate sense of humor. We find things funny that most would find tasteless or tactless, but let them do so. They didn’t go through the things we did. The third photo, the bottom one, is my favorite. My head is reared back slightly, a deep, bodily release, a huge smile on my face. You are leaning to the side, mouth open, letting go.

That photo says so much about how I see our relationship. You leaning on my shoulder. You always leaned on my shoulder. You were always around me, poking and prodding, just letting me know you were there, looking up. I couldn’t get away from you when I was a kid; never have wanted to get away from you as an adult. Funny how those things can change.

Another thing that changed was in the way we remember things. You have this uncanny attention to detail. I seem to capture things in broad strokes. Many of our conversations go like this:

Me: “Remember that trip we took that time when we did that thing?”
You: “That wasn’t that trip. That was another trip. The trip you are talking about we did inexhaustible detail of trivial event somehow remembered over time and the other trip was with how the hell do you remember this stuff. Remember?”
Me: “No.”

I think I lost my memories somewhere along the way. Maybe I gave up on them because they tasted wrong in my mouth, or maybe it’s something else.

You have always been my little sister. I will tell you something I haven't spoken about, but was probably pretty obvious over the years. When Jennifer left I made two promises to myself, and only two. The first was simply: I was not going to let Jennifer beat me. I wasn’t going to buckle and give up just because she had left. I was going to make it, almost in spite of her. Maybe to spite her. Who knows? The second promise was more complicated: I remember looking at your face one day and how stone set it was. Like you’d Botoxed yourself, only Botox wasn’t really around back then, and no 17-year-old takes Botox anyway. But I looked at your face and promised myself that you were never going to lose like this again, not while I was around. I promised that, if nothing else, I was always going to be there to protect you where I could and to help you through where I couldn’t.

I knew at the time this was impossible, but it just became so important to me to never let you down. If anyone was going to be there for you, if there was ever going to be anything you could count on, it was going to be my presence and the fact that I was your brother.

You know how friends can sit around and ask the most absurd hypotheticals? I remember one time being asked this question. “Who would you be willing to die for? If someone held a gun to your head and said there is one bullet in the chamber, and you can choose who it’s for, who would you be willing to trade places with?” Of course I took this game seriously. I looked around at the people in my life and found compelling reason after compelling reason why they were going down. Saved my own ass, really. They were lame justifications, but what it came down to was the simple fact that I really do value my own life over any other. But then I came to you. I sat there for awhile before realizing the simplicity of it. “My sister,” I answered. “That’s pretty much it. I’d take a bullet for her. I’d like to say there are others, but she’s really the only one.”

I didn’t know who you’d be when you got to this point, but I take enormous pride in saying you’ve shocked the hell out of me. I remember in college looking at you and thinking, “Fucking hell, how is this person going to function in life? How is she going to make her way?” It wasn’t a question of whether I thought you had it in you, I worried that you didn’t believe in yourself enough. I worried that you would hole yourself in, find some place you thought was safe and just stay there. You’ve always been a pack rat; you’ve always been a nester.

My God how you have surprised me. You know I don’t define success by the same measure as others do; it’s not about money or status or any of that, but more personal things. But by both standards, by any standard, you’re at a remarkable place right now. The best way I can say it is this: I think you are not just good at life. I think you are graceful at it. You are fluid and easy. You are the tortoise that saunters and actually does end up ahead.

I meant what I said when I hugged you the other night. I’m just so very proud of you. Almost in awe of who you have become. You are still my favorite person in the world.

There is a part of this that is hard. I knew the moment Zach came into your life that he was different in your eyes than the others. I knew that meant I had to be different as well; not as aggressive in my manner towards him, not as skeptical and prickly. But I also knew that meant something else.

Over the years I have been the one you came to when something happened. I was the first call, the one you sought out. From the time you were 10 and those girls were cruel to you on the playground at La Entrada and you found me near my locker and told me all the things they had said. And I went out the basketball courts and let loose on them. Hell hath no fury like the brother of a sister scorned too, I guess. There was the time in high school kids were using their $1,800 psychologists to give them pills and untimed tests, when you struggled so much those first 2 years. Remember the article I wrote in the high school paper that I titled “Maybe You’re Just Stupid” that berated the fakers for taking advantage of a bullshit system? I remember being so pissed that they were getting away with something when no one came to your defense.

Little things too. Bad phone calls with friends. Times that Dad pissed you off. Hell, times that I pissed you off. Over the past few years I’ve watched as you turned to Zach in those instances. I wish I was bigger and could say I was okay with that, but I hurt to see that part of our relationship change. But you should know this: I never would have allowed you to come to me, not after Zach came along. Those things are supposed to change. He’s supposed to be the one you go to now. Now and forever.

I cried just a little bit Thursday night when I got home, just sitting in my apartment after Thanksgiving thinking about everything.

And that tiny loss has been replaced by the strangest of things. Nothing between you and me, but rather a growing friendship between me and Zach. I don’t think I’m ready for the whole “brother” thing, but I will say that like him a lot. I respect him a lot. He’s become a friend of mine, and that is no small thing.

People often tell me I’m one of the more complex people they know. You should get to know my sister, I often think. There was one thing, and only one thing I’ve ever wanted out of your future husband (aside from someone I could watch sports with), and that was that he get you.

You are such a complicated person. All angles and hypocrisies with some hard edges, but there’s just so much there. I always felt that if someone would take the time to get past your defenses it would be worth their lifetime.

That, more than anything else, is what clued me in that Zach was the right guy for you. He took his time. He was patient. He accepts you for how strong you are and doesn’t make you feel stupid when you are not that. As your brother, I could not ask for anything more.

We were in a plane one time, flying back to New York together when we hit massive turbulence. The craft started bucking and kicking across the sky. A bolt of lightening hit the bottom of the plane. Everyone could hear it explode. I looked back at you and saw the terror in your eyes. I walked back and sat next to you. I held your hand for 30 minutes as you gripped mine, digging your nails into my skin as you used to do when we were kids and you wanted to get me into trouble. My point is that no matter what happens to you from here on out, no matter where this life takes you, no matter the good or bad things that lie ahead I know Zach will be there with you. And I know that I will always be your older brother. That never changes.

I’ll always be here, watching. Always in reach. I love you very much, Corey. Congratulations.

After Words,


[Editor's Note: At the request of Jarret, the comments for this post have been deleted and all comments closed.]