We were just kids when you would follow me around wherever I went, and maybe I thought it was annoying at the time, because I didn’t really want a kid sister talking to all my friends and embarrassing me with all her questions and messing up my “popularity.” A kid sister could detract from popularity in the blink of an eye. (I had much to learn, you see.)

And I remember being on the playground in that tiny elementary school. I remember, first, the house across the street from the playground, and I remember running on the worn-out path around merry-go-round and Mom telling us to make sure you held on tight, because it was dangerous, and I remember the times you fell and the times we told our stories so we didn’t get in trouble. I remember swinging on the porch swing not even six feet from the place where Mom had chopped up the snakes that fell from a tree one Sunday morning, and I remember sitting beside you in a brand new church right down the street that held stained glass windows that gave it a sense of meaning and depth and beauty, even to kids.

I remember the white stone house and the room we shared and the way you’d always fall asleep before I did, because you were always a better sleeper, and you probably didn’t imagine the claws of Freddy Krueger tapping on your window and the giant wolves waiting for you right outside the room and the monsters that lived in the corner shadows and, especially, the closet. I remember coming back into my room and finding my Cabbage Patch dolls with lipstick smeared on their faces, because you’d gotten into Mom’s makeup and thought they needed a little help with the way their creepy faces looked. I remember returning to my room after school and finding my Barbies laid out on my bed, because you’d dunked them all in the toilet, thinking they needed their hair washed.

I remember singing to the kids Bible songs on a CD and trying to teach you harmony when you were too young to sing it, and how I felt when you unraveled all the tape and hid the destroyed result under your pillow so I wouldn’t find out. I remember singing “Teenagers in Love” and getting mad when you messed up the “oooh, oooh, wha-oooh, oooh.” I remember both of us always singing around the house while our brother played Mario on the Nintendo. I remember recording your crying on a tape recorder, because it sounded just like an ambulance, and the way we laughed about it for so long.

I remember moving to Ohio, walking to school in the snow that stayed for longer than we ever thought it would and the fun of throwing snowballs, and the time I threw a snowball that must have had a rock in it, because it made a giant knot on the middle of your forehead, and our brother and I convinced you to tell Mom you’d accidentally fallen on the way to school. I remember watching you that first day of school, walking into your downstairs first-grade classroom while I went upstairs to fourth grade. I remember sharing another room with you, this one with bunk beds because it was too small for anything else. I remember putting my hand on my Sally doll’s cool face, and I remember keeping it there until the voices in the next room faded and her face grew warm.

I remember moving back to Houston with you, for the year we lived with our grandmother, when we would get you in trouble by blaming you for the antics we pulled, even though everybody knew we were the brains behind the operation. I remember taking all the cushions off Memaw’s couch and flipping over the sides, with someone posted at the lookout (usually you) so we’d know when she got home and we could clean up real quick. I remember walking into Mom’s classroom at the end of a school day, and you’d already be there, because the second graders were walked to their respective places, but the fifth graders had freedom and took their time. I remember eating Poncho’s with you for our all-As report cards, back when schools gave incentives for that kind of thing.

I remember moving back to the place we first left, and this time we shared a room and a day bed, you on the trundle that pushed in beneath it. And by this time we were nearly the same size, so I remember you’d borrow clothes and we would borrow friends and you joined the marching band, and we fought like sisters do, and I couldn’t wait to leave our house.

And then I remember leaving, and, a week later, thinking that you were the one I missed most, and so I convinced you to come to my college, even though the same year you came was the year I met my husband, and I always felt a little bad about that—it was almost like it was a waste, because we couldn’t spend a whole lot of time together, since all my extra time was spent with him. It was just the beginning of a man taking the place of a sister. But what I would learn later is that a man can never replace a sister, because a sister is forever and a sister is blood and a sister will always be around, forever and ever, to understand without a word spoken. I remember hurting you and apologizing, and I remember trying to fix you up with the next best thing to my husband, because he really was a good man, and I wanted you to be happy. But you found your own good man in time.

There were so many things you did for me in those later years. It was you who planned the bridal shower, and it was you who planned my bachelorette party, when we all had to sleep on the floor, because my husband and I didn’t want to sleep on the brand new bed until we were sleeping on it together—silly now that I think about it (we all had sore backs the next morning), but you didn’t even blink an eye. You came the first day I had my first son and cleaned my house and cooked some meals and held the baby for a bit, and when you left, you hugged me and reminded me that I knew what I was doing, that I would make it, that everything would be okay.

Now you’re raising your own babies. And I just wanted to tell you, today, what I see:

I see a woman who has become a woman secure in her own skin. I see a mother who loves her children with a love that is fierce and true and wild and hopeful and forever. I see a devoted wife. I see someone who has overcome darkness and chosen to radiate light in her overcoming. I see someone who has taken in the fatherless and spoken a new name over their hearts. I see someone who is lovely and worthy and remarkable. I see someone I feel so proud not just to know but to also call Sister.

I am so thankful for who you are and what you have done in my life, because you have done a lot in my life, whether you know it for not. You have shown me what it means to love in unconditional ways, and you have shown me what it means to forgive a person who hurts you (I was quite a beast pre-wedding. I still feel like I should apologize for that.), and you have shown me what it means to sacrifice in order to make a special day an even more special day.

I don’t think in all my years or in all my searching, if I were, in fact, searching, I could ever find a sister quite as wonderful as you. Happy birthday, Sister. May you have many, many more.

This is an excerpt from Dear Blank: Letters to Humanity, which will release in fall 2017.