A letter to my sister: A personal essay

Nevien Soliman/Courtesy

For you to read when you are older.

Dear A,

We did not know what to expect from you at first. The doctors told us we should expect you to be different. The word lingered in the silence: different. They spoke with a cold and distant tone, and blinded by stigma and stereotype, perhaps, they placed you within a statistic and walked away. Foolishly, they underestimated you even before you were born. They failed to see you.

Now, you sit on the living room floor, and the look of determination takes over your entire demeanor as your fingers fumble with each individual piece of your favorite puzzle. With a frustrated grunt followed by a sigh of relief, you push the last piece forward to complete the picture of the day. You struggle, just a little bit, in your own way, and get on to where you need to be. Together, we celebrate each small achievement along the way as you bring meaning to a jumbled, seemingly insignificant pile of cardboard snippets. Life doesn’t come easy for you like it does for most kids, but regardless, you face each puzzle-shaped obstacle with strength.

They always tell little kids to use their words. But what about the ones whose words go unheard? You string together syllables, trying your hardest to communicate with the world around you that won’t ever stop talking over you long enough to listen. They don’t always hear you, and after moments of exasperation, you always try again. Tears that once washed down your cheek no longer stain your skin as you try once more to bridge the gap of disconnect between you and them. They may not always be eager to listen, but they’ll learn. And as I write to you now, I promise you that I will always be here to listen.

I distinctly remember sitting across from you on the sofa, spiraling in my own stress. Amid my debacle, your giggle filled the room, pulling me out from under my own distractions. I remember there being nothing particularly humorous that day, but from the depths of your 5-year-old belly, you continued to laugh, contagiously and effortlessly, like you often do. I like to think that in your own way, you were reminding me to breathe. Light and bubbly, your laugh speaks volumes, more than words ever could, reminding me that life is too short to be serious all the time.

The warm weather makes me think of how much we love to swim each summer, treasuring each numbered sunny day and splashing laps around the pool. I swim while you cling to my body, sometimes hooking arms around my neck or leaning on my back. The sun turns your shoulders red, but you don’t seem to mind. As your head peeks above water, your giggle resurfaces, the sound waves recognizable to me even through the water. You kiss my cheek and ask me to take you around again. And of course, how could I possibly say no? As I carry your body through the water another time around, I desperately hope that, in some small way, I can help make the waves that rush toward you, unending and relentless, seem even a fragment smaller — the way you do for me.

Watching you grow into yourself, I’ve witnessed a new meaning to the word strength, beyond the stereotypical ideal of a brawny physique. You are strong in mind and in spirit. I stand taken aback in awe of how far you’ve come. You are only 8 now, and in these fleeting moments, you have derived nothing short of ability from disability. As your oldest sister, it is supposed to be my job to teach you and guide you along the way. Rather, you have stolen my job — you have shown and continue to show me how to love deeper and fight harder than I could have learned on my own. I continue to be inspired by your motivation to keep going, consistently transcending each limitation placed upon you. Not everyone who looks at you will see you, but I look at you and see an unparalleled drive that has guided me through my journey toward and at college. I remember the things I love about you in fragments, and I remind myself that I’ll be home again, soon, to see you.

With love,

Your sister

Get “The Weekender” in your inbox!

Creative writing, deep dives, cultural commentaries and art delivered every Saturday.

Contact Ashley Soliman at [email protected].