(Content note: this essay will discuss the death of a child. Y’all remember how Finding Nemo started out with ten minutes of tragic backstory and, then, moved on to the story? This is kind of like that, so there’s your heads up.)

During the early morning hours of December 9, 1992, our pastor asked me, “so, how many sisters are you going to tell people you have?” I remember he asked this while I was tying my tennis shoes, getting ready to go back over to my aunt’s house. I was in a daze—I had only slept in snatches the night before and it was even earlier than I’d wake up for school; I have never been a morning person. I looked over at my sister’s body, laying on the couch, and I looked back toward Brother Bruce and I said, “two.”

I am the eldest of three and that morning we lost my middle sister, Missy. She was eight. She had been battling cancer for nearly five years. Missy was my best friend. Though we were two years apart in age, we were inseparable. The way I describe our relationship to folks is, “she was the Tommy to my Chuckie” (though, Mom will tell you, I was the escape artist between the two of us). I was never not a walking ball of anxiety but Missy was brave and adventurous and mischievous; she pushed me to be brave too. We got in trouble together and covered for each other; “thick as thieves,” I believe the adage goes.

Look at that face Missy is making! That’s the troublemaker face right there!

The reason I was there, on the loveseat, tying my shoes at ass-o’clock in the morning, being asked what is like the most insensitive question I’ve ever been asked—in terms of timing, if not content—was because the bond I had with Missy was so strong, it woke me in the middle of the night. My baby sister and I were staying next door at our aunt’s house while our mom cared for Missy in her final days. I woke up after midnight—I mean, sat bolt upright with a start—and knew I needed to be with Missy. My aunt drove me back home and I slept on the floor next to the couch Missy was laying on for a few hours until she died. I only learned later that I woke up at the same moment she “came back” after her breathing had stopped. If we can set aside the romantic connotation usually assigned it, I believe that Missy was my first experience having a soulmate. I miss her every day.

I am clearly *done* with whatever was going on and Missy seems to be taking special delight in my apparent frustration.

Missy was a good-hearted, caring, mischievous, little troublemaker. She had that blunt honesty that children often do but she wielded it with the weight of someone who knew that life could be much more dire than skinned knees and squabbles with friends. Tragic circumstances made her wise beyond her years; she knew how to set boundaries and, moreover, encouraged others to do the same. The counterpoint to all this maturity, though, was her and I having wheelchair races in the hospital and us choreographing dance routines to “Stop! In the Name of Love” around the swing set. We drove our mom bananas the day we came home after Vacation Bible School one day ceaselessly singing “Father Abraham” and nearly destroying the house while doing the dance (I am so sorry, Momma!).

Once Cass was old enough to get in on the action, the three of us were a force to be reckoned with and I credit our mom with the patience of a saint for putting up with our shenanigans. There was “The Best Beauty Shop in Texas” episode wherein we cobbled some extra drawl onto our already very twangy Kentucky accents and gave each other makeovers; I thought my face was going to be scraped right off when one of those scratchy, play-microphone covers was used to “apply” “blush.” There were dance parties and squabbling over who got to sit over a floor register with our nightgowns pulled over our bent legs to warm up on cold mornings. There was extensive amounts of time playing with Barbies. And there were nights when, after finally getting my own room, I’d “sneak”—I was, apparently, not good at the sneaking; Mom always saw—with my pillow into my sisters’ room; we’d invariably wake up a tangle of limbs and blankets and stuffed animals.

Look at how tiny Cass is! *melts*

Cass and I are grown now. We’ve made it to the point where the six-year age gap seems pretty negligible and now, in many ways, we’re thick as thieves; granted the mischievous trouble we usually get into is working to surprise Mom. We don’t talk super often but I know that the second I needed her, she’d be there and I hope like hell she knows the reverse is also true. What’s more, we get each other, we work well together, we respect each other’s opinions and experience, and we truly enjoy each other’s company—though, living so far apart puts a damper on that. She’s loving, kind, goofy, and ever-so-slightly mischievous. She makes me brave too.

Cass and I at the beach on Thanksgiving 1996.

Now, I am not one to look at love in a hierarchal sense; I have no small amount of trauma around “favorite” and “I love you most.” That said, the some of the most intense loves I have ever experienced are for my sisters. I have, for a long while now, struggled with crying—even when I feel like I need to, I just… can’t—but I find myself tearing up from time to time thinking about Missy and Cass and how much I love them (spoiler: I’m getting a little misty-eyed right now). My relationships with each of them and both of them have been some of the most radically affirming and revolutionary relationships I’ve ever had.I thank the universe every day that I ended up with sisters whom I love and enjoy and look up to and I count among my best friends; I know not everyone has that experience with their sisters and I recognize that I got so lucky.

And we were so stinkin’ cute!

Happy Sisters Day, Cass and Missy. Thank you for being you and for helping me to be a better person.

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