When my sister saw me through the entryway to my apartment building, she jumped up and down with a smile beaming across her face. Once I opened the door, there was nothing stopping her from running into my arms, saying “Hi,” with more joy than I’ve heard from her voice in a long time. She was in Michigan visiting for the weekend, and we were together again for the first time in a few months.
Every time we're reunited after a long time away, there's a moment like that one, and it happens more often since I started school. The University is 500 miles from home, so my sister and I are separated for most of the year. It was a big change for us, as the past couple years are the first time that we’ve spent significant time apart. Without divulging too many of my sister's personal struggles, I will say that my sister has faced challenges which have caused her to need accommodations throughout her life. But this separation is the biggest challenge we’ve faced as siblings.
During this reunion, you’d have been hard-pressed to see my sister separated from my side. After lots of talk about giving her an unofficial tour of campus, we were finally walking around. A look of wonder never left her face. She was taking everything in, watching the students who were going about their Friday afternoons. She looked in awe at the Angell Hall columns, uncomfortable as we worked our way through the Shapiro library and the crowd of stressed students, and smiled as I pointed out the Diag we were walking on was the same one she saw on ESPN a couple of weeks earlier.
I think the distance is tougher on her than it is on me, so I’ve worked hard to make sure we never drift too far apart. Weekly Facetime calls with home always end with a few minutes of the two of us privately chatting. Usually there’s not much to these, as she will tell me a couple details about her school week and I’ll tell her a couple details about mine. For us, the little details are the most important; they allow us to catch up and never drop the conversation that would happen if I was home.
I was worried about taking my sister into the Big House. She’s been to professional sports games before, but 2013 New York Mets crowds were not nearly as big nor as loud as what she faced in the stadium. Still, she was excited for the experience. She was a cheerleader for her school’s basketball team, so she pumped herself up. I could feel her nerves as she walked into the imposing building with the massive scoreboards she’s only seen from afar. Once we reached our seats, an overwhelmed look never left her face. She never cried, remaining stoic for the entire first half, but she didn’t cheer like she planned. She clapped for a couple Michigan touchdowns, but she never looked comfortable in the stadium.
During days like our trip to the stadium, I try to reassure her. I’m her older brother; it’s my job to be there when she needs me. So, I went into full comfort-mode during the game, holding her hand, making sure she never got too overwhelmed by the situation. Even if I used the word “job,” this never feels like work. I’ve done this for my entire life, and I’m going to continue for the rest.
My sister makes this easy because of her kind heart. I try to emulate the way she treats the people she loves with every day. There’s no one I’d rather go to when something is going wrong in my life and I need comfort. Even though she might not understand the situation, she knows what I need is a hug and a reassuring smile. She wants the people she loves to be happy, and she will use all the kindness she has to make that happen.
Every day when she gets home from school, she walks in the door, shouts “boo,” and waits until I respond. I don’t completely remember when or how this tradition started, probably a result of me hiding and surprising her when she got home, but it’s now a tradition. No matter how tough a day either of us had, we always find room for this.
I miss little moments like this the most when I’m at school. When I’m away, there aren’t the little bits that built our connection over the years. Yet, every text she sends, whether it’s about something funny she watched on “Ellen” or where my family went to dinner, is signed “Love. Ann.” This message tells me one thing: even if there’s 500 miles between us, the connection isn’t broken and the love is still there.
When we had our first moment alone since my sister arrived in Ann Arbor, she looked at me and she said “I missed you, big brother. I’m glad I’m here.”
“Me too, Ann,” I responded, “me too.”