Yesterday marked the 12th Valentine’s Day my husband and I have shared. We’re renovating our kitchen and hate going out on Valentine’s, so he brought home a takeout feast from one of my favorite Italian restaurants and gave me a nice card. I gave him a card and…root beer. Four glass bottles of Stewart’s root beer, actually.
Twelve years ago, we were high school juniors and best friends. Often, on the days that I didn’t have soccer practice right after school, we’d watch movies, play basketball on the elementary school’s blacktop court or walk up to the grocery store, buy a four-pack of Stewart’s root beer and drain all four on the sidewalk outside. We had a blast; it was the best fun $3.99 could buy. I was dating someone else at the time. Nevertheless, through all those empty glass bottles, I glimpsed the future and knew that I would marry John.
All it takes to make a happy memory is two people and time.
Something else special happened that year: my little sister was born. And before she could crawl, she taught me that lesson all over again. One of the first times I held her, she wrapped her tiny hand around my pinky finger and didn’t let go, even after she drifted to sleep. When she first started talking, she couldn’t say my name, instead calling me ‘Rar-Rar.’ Later, as a toddler, she often marched around the house chanting this phrase at the top of her lungs. Halfway through my senior year, T celebrated her second Christmas. I’d gotten accepted to Carolina a month earlier over the Thanksgiving holiday, and waiting for me under the tree that Christmas morning was a stuffed version of Rameses, the UNC mascot, which played the Carolina fight song when you squeezed its hoof/paw/whatever you call a fuzzy ram’s foot. Well, Taylor adopted Fuzzy Rameses as her frequent dance partner, and suddenly, ‘Rar-Rar’ replaced ‘ Rah rah Carolina’ in the song’s lyrics.
I left for college eight months later. A few weeks into my freshman year, I got an email from my mom – or so I thought. When I opened it, I discovered that it was actually from T.
‘Dear Rar Rar,’ it said. ‘I wanted to send you a message too! Here goes! (insert two lines’ worth of randomly assorted letters of the alphabet here).’ I printed the email and stuck it to the corkboard on the wall in my dorm room. I moved every year that I was in school, and that corkboard got tossed into cardboard boxes and car trunks many a time. But when I packed the corkboard a few days before graduation, there was the email, a little worse for the wear but still capable of making me smile. Nearly seven years have passed since my graduation day, and I still have that email.
These days, I can’t hold T quite the way I used to, because she weighs almost as much as I do. Fuzzy Rameses lives on the bed in my guest room – the room I decorated with my sister in mind but that she has never slept in. Rameses’ batteries are long dead, but he’s got a home under my roof for as long as he wants. And T hasn’t called me Rar Rar regularly in a long time. When she talks – which isn’t as often lately – she calls me Laura. But one thing hasn’t changed.
A few weeks ago, I watched T on a Saturday night so my parents could go to a party. After dinner, we watched one of her girly girl movies. Her favorite chair isn’t big enough for both of us, so I sat on the floor in front of it and leaned back against her pretzeled legs. Ten minutes in, she found my pinky.