I'm always the last one left waiting on the street corner. Slowly, Melissa descends off the school bus, holding onto the railing carefully. She extends her hand to meet mine as I help her off the last step.
My sister Melissa is nine years old and is afflicted with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a form of muscular dystrophy. She uses legs braces, a walker, and sometimes a wheelchair. Neither apparatus fits onto the bus, so the two of us trudge home hand-in-hand at a snail’s pace. As we walk home, she buzzes enthusiastically, in her high soprano voice, about her friends at recess and the excessive homework her fourth-grade teacher Mrs.Meyers assigns. She reminds me to pick out her outfit for Spirit Day on Thursday. I remind her not to dilly-dally when she does her physical therapy. She grumbles.
But I do what sisters do.
As she steps onto the curb, I suspend my arms around her to catch her in case she stumbles. I’ve always been protective, since Melissa came to live in America four years ago. From scheduling her doctor’s appointment to teaching her to read, that’s just been my role. But as she matures into a determined, vivacious young girl, she begins to seek more independence. Sometimes when I offer one reminder too many, she tells me to quit nagging and to go help someone else.
Now, as she struggles to wrap her fingers around the door handle, I let her try to open it by herself. It’s harder than it used to be—CMT is progressive, and her muscles will continue to deteriorate over the course of her lifetime. But Melissa keeps trying her best.
She perseveres and manages to drag the door open, and as she steps in, suddenly voices a plaintive concern, “Sister, Jie-jie, what’s going to happen when you go to college? You won’t be my sister anymore.”
I stop, bending down to meet her perplexed eyes. “Don’t worry. Being your sister is who I am.” Unspoken is the inspiration she offers me every single day. I hope she understands anyway.
Melissa’s perseverance, unfailing belief in herself, and my role as a sister to protect and to give—those have irrevocably shaped me as a person. As the screen door slams shut, I realize that I may be an advocate, activist, soon-to-be college student, but my first and foremost role is being Melissa’s sister.