Soft, velvety cheeks. A round rosy nose. Dark hair like mine, but curly. Eyes, blue that sparkled like the ocean I’d seen in storybooks. I kissed her sweet-smelling face. Her soft, pudgy hand with tiny fingers, curled inside mine.
My sister, Anna, melted my heart. I won’t be alone anymore. I caressed her cheeks and whispered, “I’ll stay by your side for always.”
Soon left with the responsibility of caring for Anna, I became her substitute mother. I loved her and took care of her as best as a seven-year-old could.
Before I knew it, my baby sister turned two. Whatever we did, doing it together was more fun than being alone.
One particular evening, as I gazed into my sister’s baby blues, a sudden feeling of sorrow swept over me. Tears clouded my eyes. Something burned within my chest. I cried out, “Please God, don’t let nothing bad happen to her!”
Anna gazed at me with her gentle, trusting eyes.
“I’ll protect you,” I whispered to her. “For always.”
Before bedtime, we repeated a child’s prayer Grandma taught me, one that hung on the wall:
“. . . I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep . . .”
That night I clung to my sister and kept the strange premonition to myself.
My legs trembled as I crept to her room and peered through the glass-pane door on my tiptoes. I saw a blinking monitor. Then I saw her—my baby sister—with soiled feet, still in her little, green denim dress, tattered and torn. She lay motionless on her back, her curly, brown hair matted with blood. Her face was bruised and swollen; her baby blues closed tight.
I felt light-headed as I slumped on the floor, pulling my knees to my chest, crying.
At the funeral, I held my breath and willed my feet toward the small white casket.
Grandma squeezed my hand. I took my finger and stroked my sister’s face, which reminded me of a plastic doll’s, stiff and cold to the touch. Heavy makeup could not conceal her bruises. Her little head—now swollen from the blow of the car that hit her—was cradled by a bonnet, much too small. She wore a new green dress, cleaned and pressed, without stains. Nor traces of blood.
I glanced up at Grandma. “Your sister’s in a better place now,” she choked. Then I placed a small cross under Anna’s tiny, rigid hands. My tears blinded me.
“. . . If I should die before I wake, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.”
Excerpt from “Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace“
Each year as her birthday approaches, I think about how special my baby sister has always been to me. But those memories turn bittersweet, as it is difficult for me to separate how quickly we had to say goodbye to her, just a month after celebrating her 2nd birthday. Her memory will forever live in my heart, and for that I am grateful.