When Shelby and I moved home for the summer, we spent a solid two days unpacking our bedroom together. For the most part, that entailed the major things -- finding corners of the house to hide our dishes in, laundering massive piles of clothes, combining our army of lotion bottles and hair care products. When we started to organize our respective closets, though, we got side-tracked. Shelby and I both have a number of boxes filled with cards and letters and pictures and old journals on those shelves, and when one of us starts to go through all of it, everything turns into If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If Shelby starts looking at all of her cards from graduation, Carly will want to do the same. If Carly finds a ridiculously dramatic and painfully hilarious diary from fourth grade, Shelby will want to find hers. If Shelby has a particularly juicy piece of gossip from middle school hidden in those pages, Carly will obviously want to get on Facebook and look at pictures of those people... the whole thing morphs into a horribly vicious cycle that is very hard to get out of.
Some of my favorite things to find in those boxes are letters from my sister. I have saved the notes we passed in Spanish class, the MASH commentaries of our lives, the card that she left under my pillow my first night away at college, and no matter where I am in my life, I know that these things will always make me smile. One letter in particular struck me this spring. Shelby wrote it to me the summer after my sophomore year in high school when we were on the verge of something very new and different in our sisterhood -- separation. I was going away to Engineering Camp [laugh with me, please] and Shelby was going to be gone for two weeks at camp right after that,so for the very first time in our lives, we were going to be separated for three weeks. That time seemed insurmountable then, as evidenced by what Shelby wrote me. "We need to brace ourselves," she said. "You know what they say, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder...' Maybe this will be good for us. Maybe it will teach us not to take each other for granted so much." She went on to admonish me to behave myself and begged me not to do anything stupid and before I acted on a questionable instinct to think, "What would Shelby say?"
In some regards, things have changed a lot. In others, however, nothing will ever, ever shake this friendship. What seemed so frightening all those years ago is now normal -- if I see Shelby every four or five weeks during the school year, I consider myself lucky. I practically stew in jealousy at my friends who go to college with their sisters and I hate the distance between Shelby and I more than I can say.
But maybe fourteen-year-old Shelby was right; maybe this absence does make the heart grow fonder. Maybe it's worth it to be apart so that we can really enjoy being together again. Maybe I wouldn't notice all of the time we have together right now if we always had it. We're starting to fall into a summer pattern, a lifestyle where we act as a unit and simply expect to do nearly everything together. We speak for each other when we plan things now and whether we're running errands or hanging out with friends or just sitting around in our bedroom, we get to do it together.
Today is Shelby's twentieth birthday and it's been freaking her out not to be a teenager anymore. When I stop and think about it, it is kind of weird how much we've grown up in the past few years. We're not little girls anymore; we're learning what it means to be women and how to be sisters who support one another in adult lives instead of the birdcage of childhood. Still, there is one thing that I know in the midst of all of the uncertainty and change that is life as a young adult -- no matter how old we get or how far away from each other we live or what life choices we make, we will always be best friends. I think Shelby said it best in the letter she wrote to me when she was fourteen, so Shelby, in your own words: "You are the human being that knows me the best. I love you more than I love anyone else... soon we'll be together again and between the two of us, I know we'll have a ton of stories to tell each other. I love you soooooooooo much."
Happy Birthday, baby sister. You're half of my heart.