To My Sister, With Thanks

“A sister is loved for many things. For friendship most of all.”

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If Facebook existed when my sister and I were growing up, we wouldn’t have been friends. Two years older than me, Blevin frowned upon my bouncy enthusiasm and exuberant nature. She often complained that I behaved like I was on a sitcom. And so we avoided each other except when asking permission to borrow articles of clothing.

The holiday season was a rare and welcome exception to our otherwise cold relationship. The two of us considered “Thanksgiving” a code word for Christmas kick-off. After making and eating the big meal, Blevin and I teamed up to harass our parents about decorating the house for the holidays.

Some years my dad reluctantly donned his headlamp to rummage underneath the stairs for boxes of decorations. Some years we gave up before our parents caved in. Either way, we were in it together.

After I moved to Charleston and Blevin moved to New York, our Thanksgiving traditions evolved alongside our relationship. We fought less but didn’t speak much more. We called by necessity only: to discuss boyfriend drama, to lament the demise of our parents’ marriage, to complain about the men my mom found online and dated.

That first year away from home, as I struggled through a post-break-up funk, Blevin suggested we run the Thanksgiving Day half marathon together in Atlanta.

Having completed a dedicated training regimen, I arrived to my first-ever 13.1-mile race feeling confident and prepared. To my dismay, Blevin had only ran once to train. And that “once” was one mile.

She also insisted we stick together.

Although irritated with her for slowing me down, I felt grateful that Blevin had given me the challenge to begin with—and by doing so, pulled me out of my personal doldrums and reminded me how much I love to run.

By our mid-twenties—with our mom and dad divorced and living in separate states—the holidays morphed from relaxing vacations home to travel marathons with a strict no-parent-left-unvisited policy.

One Thanksgiving, my sister, my mom, and I rented a cabin in rural Tennessee. As the casseroles browned in the oven, we slipped into a hot tub on the back deck. The hot waters soothed our travel-logged bodies until the wafting scent from a neighboring chicken processing plant chased us back inside.

To the relief of our wounded nostrils, we enjoyed our meal inside by the fire, thankful above all else for our time together.

Two years ago my sister spent a fall semester studying abroad in Berlin. When I visited her the week before Thanksgiving, we strolled from one German town to another on a tour of holiday markets—drinking glühwein and eating fresh-baked pretzels and hunting for the perfect hand-crafted ornaments. We watched Christmas parades with the same giddy, wide-eyed looks we had when unpacking the decoration boxes as kids.

When we lost our mother the Christmas after that trip, I began calling Blevin in the moments when I would have normally called Mom. Blevin started reading my writing and giving me feedback—something only Mom used to do. When she could hear the stress and trepidation in my voice, Blevin booked a last-minute flight to Charleston to help me move into my first house last summer. I needed more than a long-distance sister in that moment—and she found a way to be that for me.

This Thanksgiving, I’m traveling to Arizona to meet my boyfriend’s family. Blevin is staying in Brooklyn with her fiancé. And even though it’s my first year without her to direct me in the kitchen or make me ache with laughter over a glass of red wine, she is at the top of my list of gratitudes.

I’m thankful that time and tragedy brought us together. I’m thankful we’re allies for more than just one month of the year. And I’m thankful to have someone who understands me like a sister and also loves me like a friend.

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