When I was seventeen, my life revolved around my boyfriend (who, to my credit, I did end up marrying), thick eyeliner, loud music with sad lyrics and even sadder poetry. My parents enforced a conservative dress code which meant many slammed-door fights of "you can dye your hair when you move out" and scrawled journal entries of all the Alkaline Trio inspired tattoos I would one day have. I couldn't put an outfit together nicely and so I didn't even try. It was all about the Chuck Taylor's with Sharpie artwork covering every inch of fabric, sad faces and broken hearts. "But I am happy," I'd plead to my parents who somehow couldn't make the correlation between my need to uncover and understand every inch of raw, biting human emotion with being happy. To some extent, my parents never quite could understand me and, to this day, sometimes still can't. But in less than a month, my little sister will turn seventeen. She is the opposite of what I was, a turquoise-haired, pierced-nose girl who knows what accessories match what outfit. An independent teenage girl who can't understand why girls rely on having a boyfriend for happiness. A hip-hop dancer who understands modern day pop culture references and knows -- although mocks and despises -- the artists who play on mainstream radio. My parents, somehow, even though I sometimes cannot, always manage to understand her.
The September morning that she came into this world, I conned my grandfather into feeding me Dorito's for breakfast from a hospital vending machine out of sheer opportunity, knowing my mother was recovering in a post-operation room and couldn't dare say no. With orange stained fingers, I followed as my father led me into the room where a tiny, swaddled bundle of peach fuzz and frighteningly large blue eyes stared up at me. She was the first person to truly steal my heart; to take it, to plant their entire being inside of it, to grow roots within the very basic pieces of who it is that I am.
When I was fifteen and she was five, she told me how much she loved Brand New. The adult in me can rationalize now that she simply said these things to earn my approval, to strive in her own simplistic five year old way to please me, set a line of common ground. As she saw me and my friends off to Warped Tour that year, I promised her that I wouldn't come back without a Brand New t-shirt for her, autographed. I returned home with a blue dirt-stained shirt with Sharpie scrawls that were the product of waiting for over an hour in the dead heat. The shirt fell past her knees but she wore it to Kindergarten all of the time, despite my mother's pleading, begging, insisting. And more than she loved Brand New, the adult in me understands that this was all because she loved me.
She was the twelve year old maid of honor at my wedding and one of the first people to see and hold Ethan. She is the constant force of argument and disruption, of "but why can't Ethan just watch Spongebob Squarepants," of "like, who would care if his milk wasn't organic?" She is the one behind my constant reminder that Ethan is a person, not a parrot; the giggles from the backseat when he's imitating Lil' John. She's the uproarious laughter when he dances to the highly inappropriate and offense to all mankind (you know, in my humble opinion) songs that she blasts from her iPhone speaker despite my asking her not to, the "look, Ethan likes this song!" that the adult in me knows is simply because she likes it. Ethan would do anything, say anything, like anything that meant she would approve. It's a cycle, really; not unlike the time she wore my community college t-shirt to College Day at school because she was proud of me even if the other children were sporting Ivy League logos across their shirts.
I'm dumbfounded and speechless at the fact that she is weeks away from seventeen. Each time I begin a sentence with when I was seventeen I am reminded how different she is from me, how little we share in common, but how much we will always love one another underneath it all. And somehow now, when she tells me that I'm fun and she enjoys doing whatever silly little thing we're doing together, I feel like there isn't a single thing in the world that I can complain about. I feel like she's just waited for over an hour in the heat to give me a t-shirt from a band I have little to no interest in but yet they become my favorite and that t-shirt, well, it has just become my favorite thing ever. There is something about these nights spent with her where I can see underneath our differences, when we can be talking about tattoos and don't tell mom and music and the guy who just pulled into the Taco Bell parking lot with a wife who strongly resembles our aunt.
Junior year was hard for me. My boyfriend-now-husband was finishing his senior year and making plans for a college future that included me three hours away, at home, surviving my high school days while my mind was three hours away wherever he was. Junior year was lovesick fights and arguments and solace in Matt Skiba lyrics and tattered journals with dramatic words sprawled across scalloped pages that are always fun to laugh at now. They weren't funny then. Junior year was overanalyzing the way each teacher said "college" and congratulated the senior class as they walked by in the halls which always managed to leave me with a feeling of being punched in the gut. Junior year was losing friendships I never thought I would survive without, of outgrowing others, of others outgrowing me. This evening we sat in the trunk of my Mitsubishi SUV eating my first Taco Bell in a decade, my meal of choice when I was seventeen, hanging onto the last sticky, free moments of summer. "Is this Alkaline Trio?" she asked when I started the car and I remembered then that blue Brand New t-shirt, the way it fell past her knees and she thought it was simply perfect. "No, Brand New," I corrected her, ironically, wondering how both so much and not much could change in ten years. Wondering how I could stop the world from turning and make her junior year as pleasant as possible, as painless as possible.
It is hard to fathom that almost seventeen years ago I figured out what it meant to love unconditionally. What it meant to have screaming fits and "want to do something today?" the next morning. Seventeen years ago I realized how much love one heart could hold and she tries and twists and prods my tolerance daily. Seventeen years later, she returns home from a trip to California with an Adventure Time t-shirt for Ethan that hangs to his knees and which, of course, remains his favorite piece of clothing that he owns.