twenty-two years ago, my little sister was born. i remember it like it was yesterday; my dad pulling me out of preschool and taking me in his big black truck to the hospital to see her for the first time. i had a gift with me: a yellow humpty dumpty doll that jingled with every step i took. when my mom tells this story, she always mentions that she knew we had arrived when she heard that jingling coming down the hall, clunking along with my excited three-year-old footsteps. 

i am the oldest child. according to all of the parenting books, seeing one’s mother in a hospital bed post-birth can be a bit traumatic, and it is recommended that the new baby be brought in only after the first child is assured that mom is okay. dutifully, my mom had our brand new little girl whisked out of the room with the nurse when she heard that telltale jingling tottering down the hall. when i burst into the room, a flurry of unruly curls and baby fat, i glanced at my mom, scoped out the room, and, noticing the glaring omission, declared, “WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS MY SISTER?”

this is how i feel even now in the minutes before we’re reunited, whether it’s been days or months since we were last together. an unparalleled stirring of excitement starts deep down in my stomach and rises quickly to surface, causing me to grin like a crazy person, jump up and down, and partake in spontaneous and (probably) embarrassing impromptu dance parties. my sister. my heart. my lilly will be here soon. 

back in 1989, my mom and dad beamed at each other and summoned the nurse. moments later, a tiny, hairy, gurgling ball of life was placed into my anxious toddler arms. that first contact, skin to skin, sister to sister, sealed us together for eternity. even as a three-year-old i understood the significance: i would never be alone again. with a deep breath, my little chest swelled up with pride. gazing down at her, i accepted my new role, my new responsibility, my new life:

“little sister,” i promised, “i’m going to love you forever.”

today, little lilly is twenty-two years old and about to graduate from one of the most prestigious photography schools in the country. she is engaged to a wonderful man and has a dog named prints that she loves to bits. she is clumsy and beautiful, unique and talented, sensitive and strong, and is the only person who can make me laugh so hard i spit champagne all over the dinner table. she is like no one else, forever an incredibly individualistic and limitlessly radiant being. she is the keeper of my secrets, the key to my heart, and there is not a single day during which i am not endlessly, wordlessly, completely thankful for that day, november sixth, 1989, when she was first placed into my arms. 

happy birthday, lilly. i love you always.