I loved these photos of my sister Lizz when I took them. Probably largely in part because I took them, and I do think that I'm some kind of iPhone photo-savante (NOTE: this is not the reality, as is the case with so many of opinions of myself and my abilities). But also because she just looks beautiful. And a little sad and vulnerable. The latter two make for an interesting picture, but are ultimately misleading if I'm offering photographic documentation of who my younger sister is in reality.
This is the real Lizz:
Rocking out at her 6th birthday party where my dad played DJ and she sported this kickass unitard and didn't give a damn holy hell what other people thought. I remember her as being slightly smaller than her friends, but with the biggest hair anyone's ever had. She was her own person, and she did things HER. WAY. Many an epic battle was waged in my household over the styling of aforementioned hair mass. And speaking of hair, there was also the time when she chopped a chunk out of our baby-sitter's because she was one pissed off 5 year old. She'd get in trouble and have her dolls taken away, and we'd hear her playing by herself in her room, using her own fingers as stand-ins for Barbies. While I cried if a teacher looked at me the wrong way, Elizabeth was the most badass little kid that I ever knew, and this both intimidated and annoyed me at 9. All that I wanted was to fit in. Elizabeth had to stand out.
And stand out, she did. She was a wild, wonderful, brilliant and beautiful kid who saw the world differently; figuratively and literally, when she had to wear an eye patch for several years in elementary school due to a lazy eye. My mom would draw pictures of eyes on the patches, we'd decorate them, she explained to her class what they were. But kids? Can be assholes. And they were. Usually in the form of staring or loudly asking their moms what was wrong with my sister's eye. That's the earliest that I felt this unbelievably intense, primal need to protect my sister. From jackass kids, and the world.
And as so often happens with kids who are too smart or too quirky or too full of life to be contained by a cookie-cutter school system, my sister's larger than life persona, her Elizabeth-ness, was quickly quashed by teachers, stifled by administrators, and pushed down time and time again by ruthless bullies (who I honestly hope have had their swift, karmic ass-kickings by now, because woah, those would be some pretty big karmic debts for how they treated my sister). And these middle-school monsters and high-school torturers chipped away at my sister like vultures. And not once did she relent, nor did she bow down and opt out of the combat boots for a day in favor of vanilla Keds or whatever the lemmings wore on their feet.
If all that we had to do in life was take our punches and slog through in order to get what we deserved, then my sister's torment and trials should have ended in high-school. But that's not how it goes. My sister is quite vocal about the literal fight for her life that she's been battling for nearly a decade, and even when she's given me permission to discuss it with a class for a relevant lecture, I get nervous. I want to hold it close to me and hide it, not expose even more of her amazing, wonderful self to a world that I know can be so cruel. But know that she did. In the time that all of her friends were finishing up their college degrees, my sister was balancing that while walking through hell every second of every day. And she'd give credit to my family for helping to reach into the abyss and force her, pull her out even when she fought against us, but the truth is that my sister did it herself. She scratched and clawed her way out of darkness, out of the rabbit hole leading down to inevitable death, and she still struggles, her demons always visible if she turns to look back or is less than vigilant about her fight for just a second. It's exhausting, and yet she does it.
And today, a year or two off the "schedule" that we all so rigidly adhere to, doing it her own damn way as she always has, my little sister is graduating from college.
She won't let us make a big of a deal about it as we'd like; she's quick to downplay her accomplishments. But she is an amazing woman, and somewhere along the line the annoying, bratty sister who always got her way and one time in middle school stole all of my left shoes when she was mad at me (some have yet to be recovered, PS) became this strong, intense force of nature. She's the kindest friend, the gentlest soul, and has the fiercest fashion sense. She chopped off her waist-length hair into a pixie-cut because she felt like it. She does things every day that I lack the strength to even consider. And this phrase, used waaaaay to often and too callously that I fear it's lost meaning, has to be said; my sister is my hero. And I'm not completely convinced that the title doesn't deserve a "super" in front of it, because she's accomplished some things that seem to defy the laws of science. And she doesn't need my protecting anymore (but she's got it if she wants it)
I'm blessed with amazing sisters and a brother who always would, and have, taken care of me and each other. There were (and is-I'm looking at you, Caroline and Josh!) epic feats of sibling rivalry when I was growing up that should have ended with Lizz and I ruling over battling kingdoms in some kind of epic fantasy novel-type situation, never to mend our differences. But she is my best friend. And I don't give a god damn if she didn't want me to make a big deal about her graduation, because I'm still the oldest and I'm just so unbelievably proud that I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Congratulations, Lizard. You're the best, and I can't wait to see what you do next.