I was dreading that day, but it finally came and went. There was no bar fight, no call from the sheriff, no remorse over the damage done to her or anyone else.
Last week, against all my wishes and despite all my protests, the inevitable happened: my little sister turned 21.
A girl I know asked me why this was such a big deal. Sis already has a boyfriend, she reasoned, and already drinks with her friends, so what does being 21 really add to the equation?
I told her I had seen too many stupid girls out for their 21st birthday. Too many disgusting shots, too much public vomiting, too much making out with random and slutty boys. No way did I want any sister of mine engaging on that.
The girl and her friend both looked at me with what could best be described as a combination of confusion and disgust. "Um, I don't know where you've been hanging out but I know I definitely wasn't doing that on my 21st birthday."
"Yeah Reilly," her friend agreed, "what girls have you been drinking with?"
Um, no comment.
In the spirit of being a good brother, I took her out drinking over the weekend. We did a good little tour of the city if I may say so, and all the while I was consciously avoiding the more obnoxious bars out there - there are some places I just don't approve of and if she ever decides to start hanging out there I at least want to be able to say it's not my fault.
It was the first time I'd ever drank with my sister, and while it was of course a little weird it was also a bit perplexing. She doesn't like doing shots, doesn't like whiskey, doesn't like beer, and she didn't want to drink herself stupid. Are you sure we're related?
My favorite part was at a bar in Bucktown where some kid took a liking to her. Of course he waited until I was in the bathroom to swoop in - come on dude, everyone saw that one coming - and sure enough was giving it his best drunk-guy-in-a-bar effort when I got back. She whispered to me that this guy was kind of weirding her out. No problem, sis. I put my arm around the guy's shoulder and pulled him in.
"You like her?" I asked him.
"Yeah dude, she's totally hot," he said.
"Yeah? Guess what else she is?" I asked him.
"I give up, what?"
"She's my fuckin' sister, that's what," I told him. He backed away slowly and disappeared. My work was done. Happy birthday!
I guess it could've been worse. No one threw up or got in trouble or got lost or anything like that, which come to think of it is the first time in a long time that a night out has lacked those things. Maybe this won't be so bad after all.
She's all grown up now, and something tells me she's going to be pretty good at that. She will learn and live and love and love again, running headfirst into the world the way she always has. This is progress; this is growing up; this is life itself, and she knows I'll be proud of her every step of the way.
But in the back of my mind, there will always be a picture of an eight-year-old boy and his two-year-old sister at the beach, the boy building a castle while the sister digs in the sand. The boy watches her flailing away at the shore, laughing with her as she runs along the water. In his eyes is the look of the curious protector, ready to see her shine but still making sure she isn't swept away with the tide.