From the moment I realized I was going to have a sister, I was in love. The months leading up to the birth were filled with sweet notions of sibling bonding, trips to Wrigley Field, and my unavoidable spoiling of her. This was going to be the first sure thing with a girl I had ever experienced. She was entering my life and planning to stick around. Aware that it would take some time, I remained confident that I could someday become a role model. Not necessarily an apotheosis because, let’s face it, this is me we’re talking about here. But for the longest, that’s all I thought it was about: my being there for her.
I have come to learn, however, that things don’t quite work out that way. Only now, after several months of realization and glasses of whiskey, am I able to cope with the sad truth that, even at such a young age, this little girl is already more mature, aware, and, dare I say it, adorable than I could have ever aspired to be. At her age, I was nothing more than a world-class stone in my mom’s shoe. But Bella? Eighteen years younger and somehow as many years smarter, she has taught me not only how to be a brother, but how to be a better person. She makes me human. Above all else, she has taught me some invaluable life lessons that I can’t say I’d have learned elsewhere and on my own.
This is a brief history of the past few years. Those dark days of confusion and delight between the precious little love of my life, Isabella, and I.
I met her on September 30th, 2007. I had been dreaming for months and now it was a reality. My God, I thought as I held her for the first time, this is an actual person. I cried that first day. Cried like a beotch. Those first few months were surreal. I’d sit there watching her sleep, so overwhelmed and without words, only hoping that if she’d wake up and catch me staring, I could come off as understated and reserved instead of touched by this semi-common mental disability known as awe. She’d wake up crying and after a brief, barely-oxygenated battle with what felt like the soft, sweet, weighty pull of narcolepsy, I’d manage to suddenly straighten myself up and motion that everything was alright. I’d pick her up or feed her and she’d be fine. I’d be all, like, Damn straight! I am the best big brother ever! There should be an award for this!
What followed was a brief period of her not having much interest in me, which I of course found vaguely insulting. It went from, “Oh, she’s just busy with this rattle,” to, “Does she hate me?” to, “Maybe it’s because I’m Mexican. Seriously, I’ve run out of reasons.” I stopped wanting to entertain her, which is, possibly by coincidence, precisely when she began to show affection again. First lesson learned: stop paying attention to girls and they’ll notice you.
I remember leaving home once for work and looking back to see my mom, Bella, and Diego having breakfast. I couldn’t help but think that it was just them against the world. It’s funny how things never change. I closed the door, walked back in, and sat down. It was a particularly rough time because I had just gotten a not-so-favorable review at work, but Bella gave me just what I needed. She looked me in the eyes and told me that I didn’t need to worry about what laid ahead and to not lose focus of my adolescent dreams. At least that’s what I inferred from her when she told me how some boy pushed Diego down at school so she chased him just so that she could push him back. Damn, this girl is smart!
Fast forward years later, right after finals during my junior year at DePaul, to a time that saw me embark on one of the wildest journeys of my life with the closest of my friends. Facing adulthood (as in turning 21; none of us under the age of 30 are actually adults, regardless of how mature you think might be. You’re not fooling anyone.) for the first time and finally coming to terms with who I was becoming as a person and how I’d be able to adapt to the world us 21-year olds face. It’s a tough thing to admit and an even tougher issue to acknowledge, but after dedicating an entire summer to debauchery, lots of partying, and bad decisions, I began to slowly despise women. And not just women, but the entire sense of relationships, faithfulness, and the ability to connect on any kind of level other than tapping that. (And when enough of your friends very openly feel the same way and you couple that with copious amounts of alcohol, you can’t help but start to believe that you and your peers must always be correct, no matter what.) And so I began to believe that all of these women, beautiful yet dispensable, were all the same. Dancing on bar counters, double-fisting martinis, little black dresses, miniskirts, the works.
Not much rebuttal was ever offered by the women I’d meet, so I never gave the other option a chance. I even tried to get answers about what I was witnessing (and, admittedly, partaking in), from friends who were girls, receiving only smiles and shrugs in response, like them telling me, “Christian, this is the way it’s always been, you poor thing.” So I cruised along in this land of lotus-eaters, doing my thing, acting aloof, not really knowing how having a little girl waiting for you back home changes you. I don’t even remember the exact moment when things changed; I just know that they did.
One minute I was impenetrable; nothing could touch me. The next, my heart was fully exposed to the elements, out there and for all to see. I went from witty quips and ignoring girls in an attempt to give off this sense that I was much more intense than their boyfriends to taking girls out on dates to having things escalate to much more serious tones when I wasn’t ready. Things changed so fast, but Bella was always there to keep me balanced, to bring me back down. And, much like no boy will ever be good enough for her, no girl I bring home will ever be good enough, either. I remember this recent exchange with a petite brunette with the prettiest of smiles:
PrettyPetite: I love that you write. I’d love to pick your brain.
Me: I think I like where this is going.
PrettyPetite: You’re very charming, almost too much.
Me: I do like where this is going!
PrettyPetite: You have a way with words. What’s your next piece on?
Me: Well, I get bored easily (trying to signal to her that I won’t be sticking around much longer; have I mentioned that I really need to grow up?), so I usually write a few posts at a time. I’ve got a handful now, but the most meaningful one is about how my sister, Bella, has helped shape the guy I am today.
PrettyPetite: That’s so adorable! Maybe one day soon I can meet Bel—
Watching Isabella grow up has been the most profoundly intense and gut-wrenching experience of my life. Sometimes it’s almost too much to bear. I have yet to ask her to hold my hand before crossing the street, because before I even think to, I find her reaching out and grabbing mine. I haven’t encouraged her to go and play with the kids at her day care; she is always much more awake than I am at 8am and able to find her friends to chat about God-knows-what (these kids, I’m so convinced, have their own language, allowing them to speak in these alien tongues and dialects that I’ve never heard before. I don’t know how they understand one another). I’ve never felt pressured to shower her with gifts because of my frequently long absences; she always welcomes me back, open arms and all, yelling that she “loves me forever.” Forever being a concept I’m not too certain she understands yet.
I hope she never realizes that I have this delusion I’ve very quietly and privately indulged in for a few years now, which is this: I will forever be as cool as I am now. A never-quite-acknowledged freezing of time. Unmonitored and worst-case-scenario, this is how the tragedy of uncles and newly-single fathers who “still get high” comes about. Best-case-scenario, however, maybe I can still pull off Adidas, chunky-framed glasses, and an undeniable “cool” factor. Until Bella’s birth, these were pretty beautiful moments of delusion, mostly because I had not yet been faced with this big-ass task in helping to raise a child. Admittedly, though, I secretly hope that I can forever pull off this sense of youth long after she’s aged into adulthood. Come to think of it, maybe even I don’t understand what the term forever is, either.
One day she might read this and realize how much I truly love her. Sad to say, writing this is more affectionate than any of my actions would signal the past two years. I’ve been living with the idea that I could someday save her from peril when, in fact, she has already saved me. Our time together has never been this ivory tower of my being there for her. Rather, it has been this timeless, unbroken, and lovable Frankenstein patchwork of memories, laughs, and reassurances that has changed and inspired my life at various points along this weird, jagged path of adolescence of mine. I only hope I can someday return the favor, quid pro quo-style. There are still some things I need to figure out, for her sake at least. Until then, it looks as if she will be the one who saves both Diego and I. And, for the record, I’m really glad she pushed that kid at day care back, which may or may not be a good thing, but let’s face it, he was being a total dick.