It was too early to think straight and too early to grasp the moment. It was a humid weekend in late August and the only thing on my mind was the fact that I wasn’t sleeping. I remember telling myself that I wasn’t needed for moving luggage and boxes and crates and every other newly purchased item required for dorm life. It was just too early to wake up with so little summer left to enjoy.
“Matt, if you’re not up in the next five minutes, we are leaving without you,” boomed my father through my door.
“How about I never wake up?” I mumbled. “Never, ever, ever, wake up again.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing, I’m up,” I surrendered.
My room was a mess of dark shadows and dirty clothes as I found my way to the door. I swung it open to a busy hallway lined with cardboard boxes and plastic cases. I walked toward the bathroom, and found myself walking right back out.
“Sorry, Matt,” she said. “I’m not quite done.”
“That’s fine,” I said to the now-closed door. “It will be all mine tomorrow.”
I paused to rethink what I had said. This time tomorrow, I thought, every battle would desist and every laugh would seem distant. Wow, I remember thinking. My sister’s leaving for college.
As far back as I can remember, Stephanie has been my guardian and motivation. I wanted to do everything she did for the sole reason that she did it. I play the violin because she plays it. I like movie soundtracks because she listens to them. I even give her credit for my passion for art. Without her, I would be a different person, one I might not like.
As I readied myself for the long day, I couldn’t help but take a moment to think about my sister’s impact on me. Of all the moments to pull out of my cranial caverns, however, I dove into Halloween. I remembered tagging behind her as Prince Eric one year, the Beast another, and, in the day’s before I could walk, I can even vaguely remember crawling after a fairy. She always seemed to know where I was and when I wasn’t close enough. We have videos of my sister running into the spotlight, only to turn and blankly stare at the camera, then declare, “Now, Matt!” It’s moments like that that make you think twice about lifting heavy boxes for destination college.
“Go check your room one last time,” said my mother with a break in her voice.
“Are you seriously sad already?” my sister replied with a smile.
“Just check the room.”
I slumped into my sister’s old Topaz as she did one last check.
“Here we go,” my mother weakly smiled to me as she climbed into our van.
“That’s it,” said my sister. “Time to leave.”
With the simple gesture of starting her car, she was saying good-bye to home. Part of me, for some yet unknown reason, felt like I wasn’t returning in the near future as we pulled out of the driveway. Something inside felt like it was being tugged at. I wouldn’t realize what it was until the drive home. For now, however, I leaned back and watched the freeway blur around us.
I remember crying a lot as a child, and maybe that was just a weak little thing inside me or the fact that my sister was four years stronger, older and more demanding than me. The younger Steph and Matt were polar opposites who often battled over shampoo or who left what where. I don’t think we would have been as close if not for the fact that we bitterly fought or, ever better, laughed when it was all over. They say siblings can feel and know things because they are so close and I hate to admit it, but I’m not my sister, yet in many ways, she’s a part of me.
“There it is, Columbus, next right,” I said as we passed under the sign.
“Next right,” my sister sighed.
Columbus College of Art Design is for art students and its dorms are full of cinder block walls and cold cement floors. It was our job to transform it into the Chateau a la Steph. After a battle with the elevator and the luggage carrier, things came together.
As we all walked slowly to the van to leave, I was a hundred percent sure my mother would cry and my father would choke, but as far as my reaction, I was clueless. As we shifted between hugs and a few jokes, my sister finally broke down and all I could do was hug her. As I squeezed her tightly I could feel clay pinch pots and violin strings, paint brushes and the Little Mermaid. I could see my mother crying over her fifth-grade orchestra concert and our snow forts in the backyard. Part of me felt like holding on, and the other, more dominant part, letting go.
“I’ll talk to you soon, so be happy,” I said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Shut up,” she said with an unstable laugh. All I could do was smile.
On the ride home, as my mother and father talked about some random things to keep their emotions at bay, I pulled out my sketchbook to relax my tired mind. There, tucked in the back, was a picture of my sister I had taken for an art project. I think that’s when I felt myself break down. I finally put things together and with a nostalgic movie-like feel, I placed that picture next to me on the seat.
“It’s all mine,” I whispered to the window. “All mine.”
In no way has the relationship I share with my sister grown weaker since her move to Columbus. Indeed, it’s grown in distance, but with phone calls and internet conversations, we stay close. Every so often, I find myself walking into her room just to look around at what she left behind. It’s not much, but everything has its meaning. I think as people grow and we move on to new things, memories should always stay close. I don’t think we realize how important fights and laughter really are. Now that my sister is at college, my life has changed. I now know, because of this, that we all move forward not only to start anew, but to grow. We take leaps of faith and acts of will to grow with the past and with what is yet to come. No matter how unaware or saddened we are to let it all go, we have to take that leap and learn to love the fall even more.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.