When I was around three or five, I woke up one night screaming. A rash had formed, going from the base of my neck to the bottom of my stomach, and obviously, to me, that was the worst thing in the world. It wouldn’t stop itching, and you and dad were nowhere to be found. So I yelled louder and louder until you came and found me. Dad took me downstairs while you did the laundry until I fell back asleep.
When I was four, you started taking me on Jasmine’s field trips. Before we left for each one, Mrs. Krause would go around the room asking questions about wherever it was that we were going. I wasn’t in the class, but I raised my hand anyway and answered. I felt pretty great about myself, thinking that I was smarter than the kindergarteners. Little did I know that you were the one, sitting on the floor with me when I was younger, teaching me basic things so I would be ready for school when the time came. “A, B, C, 1, 2, and 3.”
Between the ages of six and maybe nine, I hated tomato sauce. Why, I couldn’t tell you, but you never made me eat it. Instead, you made me my own separate pasta with butter and parmesan cheese—exactly how I liked it. As I got older, I tolerated pasta sauce, but maintained my hatred of tomatoes and added cucumbers to the list. So you decided to make me my own separate salads for dinner.
You took mine and Jasmine’s hands and dipped them in pink paint, and we splattered our handprints all over the walls of our room. You spent an entire night painting that same room with hearts and butterflies.
The winter of my eighth grade year, you knew my favorite color was purple. And in your mind, dad was taking much too long to paint my post-tornado bedroom. So you rolled up your sleeves, grabbed the cans of paint, and spent the whole night painting my walls and hanging up my curtains.
When I would get sick, you’d cover me in vapor rub, wrap me in plastic bags, feed me soup, and force Anthony and Jasmine to do all of my chores for me. Those were the best days.
In high school, you were convinced that I was completely incapable of waking up by myself. So on one day in particular, you came marching down the stairs without your glasses and proceeded to yell into my room, demanding that I get up immediately. So I exited the bathroom, freshly showered and dressed with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, and asked you what exactly it was that you were doing.
When it was time for me to drive, I told you that my car’s seat belt irritated my skin. So there you were, in the back of Wal-Mart, and after a good hour and six phone calls to dad, you found the perfect seat belt cushion, Hello Kitty-themed, and complete with a matching steering wheel cover.
And this morning, when I ran upstairs to tell you happy birthday, you responded with a smile and said “Happy Birthday,” as if it was mine, too.
That’s just you. I’ve learned how to differentiate from what you say to what you actually mean. When you tell me to go down the stairs to get the mail, you mean the driveway. When you ask me to take my clothes out of the dishwasher, I know you mean the washing machine. I have to tell you when it’s okay to merge into the lanes up on the ridge because you’re too short to see. And the sparkling grape juice on top of the cabinet is off limits because you’re saving it for Easter, which was three days ago. But it’s okay, there’s always next year.
I’ll be twenty this year. Jasmine just turned twenty-one, and Anthony will be twenty-five in the fall. You’ve spent all of those years taking care of us, raising us to be whatever it is we’ll be someday. And you hoped and prayed that just maybe, all of your long nights and hard work would mean something. I hope they’re starting to.
You asked to be in my books before. You requested to be a cat, a bird, and at one point, a lamp. But none of those things were good enough for me. I felt the need to write a story, a whole story, that was just about you.
So here it is. I hope you liked it. And hopefully you like your gift. Dad put me on a budget so I had to use coupons. Happy birthday. I love you very, very much.