It feels odd to be writing a letter to a part of myself, a part distinct from my soul and yet bound up with it, something I cannot separate myself from.
I am using parts of you to write this letter to you: the pads and sinews and bones in your fingers, the rods and cones in your green eyes, the funky grey matter hidden under the straight brown hair pulled back from your face because it was 88 degrees today and whatever style I achieved with the curling iron had completely disappeared by the time I made it to work.
I’m resting the laptop on the thighs I haven’t always loved, spine pressing into the back of the loveseat, wrists curving over the keyboard the way they used to when I sat on Mrs. Langford’s piano bench every Tuesday afternoon. I am living, breathing, inhabiting you even as I pause to say thank you for all we’ve been through together.
I have often wished you were taller, especially after my little sister shot up past me in height, and started putting her arm around me just so she could rub it in (she likes rubbing it in; all little sisters do). I have sometimes wished you were stronger, especially in gym class during the annual physical fitness tests, when you’d hang from the metal bar and I’d beg you to complete one, just one, pull-up. You never could, though you could do push-ups and sit-ups and sprints and stretches. I was grateful for that.
You played volleyball ably, if not spectacularly, for years, and there was satisfaction in digging deep to return a serve, in setting the ball up high for someone else to spike, in bumping the hard ball so it sailed into the air and your forearms turned red. I never considered you an athlete. But you were more coordinated than I gave you credit for. You still play catch or shoot baskets with my husband when it’s called for, and you aren’t half bad at yoga, though we haven’t done any of that in a while.
You and I have walked through Europe together, hiked hills in Spain and Scotland and strolled down Paris streets, spent countless hours pedaling or walking through the streets of Oxford, where I nourished you with warm scones and tomato soup, with chocolate Digestives and warm cookies from Ben’s, with tikka masala sandwiches from On the Hoof and countless cups of tea. You carried me up the hill into South Parks so I could sit on my favorite bench and watch the sunset, and together, thighs burning from the effort, we pedaled all the way up Headington Hill.
We learned to dance in high school, thanks to the efforts of a boy who took us both in hand, teaching us to step and pivot and twirl, to let go and laugh and have the time of our lives doing it. We’ve spent a lot of time dancing since then, most recently at a wedding in Maine last month. You protested a bit after hours in high heels, but you let me laugh and sweat and spin, let me dance with the groom and the best man and my own husband, and join the conga line and the soul train and the knot of happy couples spinning, because love is holy and good and the coming together of two people, two lives, is worth celebrating.
I look in the mirror at you these days, and sometimes I frown over unplucked eyebrows and breakouts and errant hairs that won’t quite bend to the will of the curling iron, but mostly I like what I see. The big green eyes you inherited from my mother, the freckled nose and cheeks that flush easily, the smile that was straightened by braces and flashes out at the slightest opportunity. You have curves, just a few, and while sometimes you’ve felt short and plain and dumpy next to your tall, blonde, willowy sister, I’ve come to appreciate you, petite and slender and strong.
I am finally learning to dress you in clothes that make you feel beautiful, to stand up straight the way Mom always told me, to revel in this body because it’s the only one I have, the one I’ve been given, the one I will inhabit till the end of my days here on earth, and to take care of you because you are precious, you are holy, you are mine.
Thank you for supporting me through bike rides and volleyball practices and countless hours sweating on the marching band field. Thank you for enduring road trips and jet lag, for giving me a way to savor raspberries and guacamole, steak and strawberries and salsa, fresh bread and hot tea and dark chocolate and all the other foods I love. Thank you for catching my husband’s eye, for holding my nephew on your chest, for walking me through so many cities and around the paths of my daily life and back home every night.
Thank you for holding my history, our history, in your muscles and bones and skin, in your birthmarks and smile lines and scars, in the green eyes that mark me as a Barger woman and the smile that says I’m a Noah. Thank you for joining me on this journey, for letting me do as Madeleine L’Engle says and inhabit every age I’ve ever been. I’ll do my best to hold those ages tenderly, and take care of you for all the years to come.