In 2005, my dad took my sister Caitlin and me on a trip to the East Coast. While walking through the ferry building in New York City, I noticed a pigeon walking around inside. For some reason that I’m still not sure of, I mumbled under my breath in an exaggerated sarcastic tone, “Nice pigeon.” Caitlin heard me and burst out laughing at this silly observation. When I saw how funny she thought it was, I started laughing too. We continued to laugh about it for several minutes.
When I think of my sister, I always think of this story because it captures so well our weird, shared sensibility. Retelling this anecdote to an outside observer, I wouldn’t expect them to understand why it seemed funny at all, let alone funny enough to reminisce about years later. It’s not just a matter of “you had to be there”; it’s that “you had to be there and be one of us.”
And that’s why I like the story so much. Caitlin didn’t need to explain to me why she started laughing. As soon as she did, I immediately realized why she found it so funny, and I knew that she understood why my distracted mind thought that “nice pigeon” would be a good thing to say at that moment. We understand each other implicitly, in a way that only happens after a quarter century of shared joy, pain, and growing up.
A Girl I’ve Known A Long Time
Caitlin was always my favorite audience. I was 5 years old when she was born, and as soon as she was able to giggle I made it my mission to make her laugh. I’d make funny faces at her while she sat in her highchair. I’d dance around and fall down. And whenever she was crying, I redoubled my efforts.
When I was 9 and she was 4, our parents separated and began a long, messy, ridiculous divorce that dragged on for years. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I knew that it wasn’t a healthy situation for me and my sister. Even as I sank further into my own preadolescent depression—lonely and confused and scared—one of my goals was always to shield Caitlin (as much as I could) from the insanity going on around us.
But this isn’t going to be a sad story.
Caitlin was also a constant companion. I remember hoisting up her six-year-old body to sit on the handlebars of my bike as we rode around the neighborhood. We’d ride to the Burger King near our house. I didn’t want to stutter when ordering, so I’d decide what we were going to get ahead of time, and then have Caitlin order it at the counter. If the cashier gave me a weird look, I’d shrug and pretend that she wanted to order for herself.
As we grew older, I brought Caitlin with me to movies and other events. I introduced her to my favorite music—we’d sing along together in my car—and TV shows like Mystery Science Theater—we’d watch it and laugh together. I wasn’t dragging along my little sister; I was hanging out with my friend.
And that’s what Caitlin is. She isn’t just a good sister; she’s a good person who also happens to be my little sister. That combination is probably why—even during periods when I didn’t love anyone else in the world—I’ve always loved her so damn much.
Caitlin got married last Saturday.
A Man I’ve Known for a Little While
She met Matthew in South Africa three years ago while studying abroad. For most of their relationship, he’s been on the other side of the world (and, for much of that time, she was too). Fortunately I’ve been able to spend a fair amount of time with him here in California, especially these last few months, and I know he’s a great guy.
Still, I don’t know him as well as a big brother would like to know the man who’s marrying his little sister. The truth is, there’s no way I could know him well enough. So instead I have to rely on the opinion of someone else who I trust: I trust Caitlin, and she chose him.
Like any brother, I have high expectations of my new brother-in-law. I expect him to live up to my trust—but not my trust in him. I expect him to live up to my trust in Caitlin. And that’s a lot deeper, and a lot more significant.
I believe he’ll live up to it.
These were all the thoughts that rushed around inside my head, and up to the very edges of my tear ducts, as I watched on Saturday night as Caitlin and Matt danced their first dance as husband and wife.
Next month they’ll move to Belgium where Matt will begin a four-year Ph.D. program. On the other side of the world once again, my little sister—even though she stopped needing protection long ago—has someone new looking out for her now, and that’s as it should be. But no one else has seen her grow up in quite the same way I have. No one else shares quite the same bond. And no one else is quite as proud as I am of the woman she’s become.