A roundabout way of saying happy birthday

In August of 1988, we – my whole family – trucked down to San Antonio to move my big sister into college. In retrospect, this was a mistake – when it comes to moving someone into a dorm room, three younger siblings is about three too many. Not that moving into college can ever be a pleasant experience for anyone, anyway. There is the heat, first of all, there terrible, terrible August heat. There are irritated fathers trying to back U-hauls into to0-small parking spaces, or struggling to assemble loft beds. There are mothers worrying about whether you brought along enough sets of sheets. There are over-enthusiastic Resident Assistants in matching t-shirts who smile too much and ask “Can I give you a hand with that?” at precisely the wrong moments. There are stairs to climb, over and over again. There are strangers everywhere.

In my particular family, there was resentment, amongst the three youngest of us, that we were expected to help, instead of being allowed to stay back at the motel and maybe take a dip in the pool. We didn’t want to carry the clothes, the books, the boxes of framed pictures, the posters, the shoes. I got stuck hauling in a stack of pillows wrapped in plastic, and the plastic clung to my sweaty arms and my neck and I thought I was just going to die. My father yelled at my little sister (“What’s the matter with you?”)because on one trip across the parking lot and up the stairs she could only find it within herself to carry a single book of piano music. We were hot. We were grumpy. We wanted Cokes.

Once everything was hauled in to the room, we were just in the way. There was no place to sit. There was no TV. Finally, after the bed was made and the clothes were hung, it was determined that we could finally leave. About time! Except wait – leaving meant saying goodbye. Which, of course, was why everyone was in such a foul mood to begin with.

We all got a bit teary and gave Jana a hug and slogged back to our Jeep Wagoneer. My mom smiled at us bravely as we pulled away. And as we drove back to the Econo-Lodge, I was seething. I was furious. And it wasn’t because we’d spent hours of our lives hauling Jana’s possessions up the stairs in the heat. It was because we’d left her behind. I thought:

So this is it? We’re driving away? So, what, you have a baby and you take care of her every day and then eighteen years later you just leave her in a strange city with strangers? This is my sister, this is the person I’ve spent every day of my life with, and now just like that, we’re leaving her? How is this fair, how is this right? Who came up with this system, anyway? This sucks!

It wasn’t just about missing Jana, although I did miss her very much. It was because I knew that in two years, the very same thing – the moving in, the being left behind -- would be happening to me.

The good thing about being the little sister is that you always have someone to show you the way. I’m glad I never have to be first.

(And that includes turning forty.)


aimee said...

That was the best birthday post ever. I remember all of that so clearly and I thought "This is it?" too. Just not in so many words, I was in 5th grade you know.

Jana said...

Thanks Krista. :) Just so you know, when you turn 40, you also think "this is it?"