Tomorrow is Taylor’s first day of high school.
Ever since we first heard the words “Batten disease” six summers ago, Taylor has attended a small, private school, a school that gave my sister its heart and won mine.
Tomorrow, she’ll be a ninth grader at a huge public high school.
I’ll never forget my first day of ninth grade.
I went to a magnet elementary school for seven years and developed bonds that I haven’t lost to this day. But most of my elementary school friends went to different middle schools, and I spent the better part of the next two years making new friends. The end of my eighth grade year forced another round of goodbyes, as the dividing line for two rival high schools went straight down the next neighborhood over. And all of my middle school friends went to the other high school.
When my parents pulled into the traffic circle at the big high school on the morning of my first day as a ninth grader, I didn’t want to get out of the car…but I eventually did (with some coaxing). And after my first class – freshman English – I didn’t want to go to second period out of fear that I’d have to walk the halls alone. When the bell rang at the end of second period, I sat glued to my seat, my limbs frozen; lunch came next, and the cafeteria – teeming with kids who all seemed to have found a crowd three hours into the new school year, terrified me most of all. I peeled myself out of my desk chair only after I saw the teacher peering at me over a stack of books and papers in her arms as she shuffled for the door and looked for a free hand to turn out the light.
I’ll never forget the roller coaster sensation that rocked my insides as I walked into the crowded cafeteria and found my way to the pizza line, just as I’ll never forget the über-popular girl who invited me to sit at her table. From that moment, I survived ninth grade. I made the soccer team, enjoyed my classes (sort of), found niches in writing and art, discovered new friends and reconnected with old ones. I went on to have an incredible four years in high school. I never ate lunch with that girl again. But I never forgot what she did for me.
Taylor’s high school experience will be very different from mine. She won’t go to class every day. She won’t try out for the soccer team. She won’t follow in my footsteps and write for the school paper or chair the art honor society. She won’t see the smiles of the good people who do things to help her experience something perfectly normal like high school, at least in some small way. She may not have four years.
When I was Taylor’s age – once I got past my initial, supremely introverted nervousness – I always had my mind on the next big thing. When I played soccer on a high school field, I dreamed of playing for the national team. When I drew pictures, I dreamed of drawing for Disney. When I wrote, I dreamed of writing the next great American novel. When I made a new friend, I wanted to make more. Sometimes now, I look back and wonder if I missed little things happening in the present because I was so focused on the future.
Taylor doesn’t have that luxury.
I used to have big dreams for my little sister.
I still do.
I just had to adjust them a bit.
I hope Taylor has a good first day of ninth grade at her new school.
I hope she smiles and laughs.
I hope her new friends – both young and old – see how beautiful she is, both inside and out.
I hope she knows how much I love her.