My sister, beyond a doubt, is my best friend. I love them both dearly, but my “little” sister has a special place in my heart. Today, we’re celebrating her 21st birthday the way one does…safely of course.

There was a moment where I didn’t think that this could happen.

My grandparents used to live in a subdivision. It wasn’t crowded though, and there was a ton of wooded land behind their house, leading down to a valley where the Chagrin River runs. It’s not big, but it’s there. And from that vantage point, it’s easy to not remember which way is the way back to the house. Especially if you’re little.

When we were little, I was terrified of the woods. The drop-off into the valley terrified me for some reason.

My dad one day took us “exploring” down to the river.

Later that day, my sister decided that she wanted to go back. I don’t remember how old we were. I don’t remember where I was (probably inside reading, because I was prone to do that) and I don’t remember where my parents and grandparents were.

I do remember the paralyzing fear when everyone realized that Ashley wasn’t around. I remember how scared everyone was. I read a lot, and have an overactive imagination, so every bad thing that could happen was running through my mind. There was the possibility that she tripped and drowned in the river. Or that someone took her.

That I would never see my little sister again.

I remember screaming out into the woods, “don’t die. I love you.”

I don’t remember many of the details. It’s one of those things that’s just not brought up. All that I care about now is that she came home later that day.

Every once in a while, I think about that moment. I can’t do it without breaking into tears. It often occurs while watching Beth’s death in Little Women.

I can’t imagine life without either of my sisters. They bring so much color to my life. I’m incredibly grateful for them, even if there are moments where it seems like I dislike them. I’m so glad that on that day, the worst didn’t happen. It all turned out well. I thank God for that.

So tonight, we’re going to toast to my little sister, and the 21 years that she’s been a part of my life.

Secretly, I’m going to toast to the fact that she came home on that day.

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