My Dearest India Rose,
When I was a little girl (like you are now) I waltzed around the house; frilly pink dress swooshing, sparkling tiara balanced precariously on my head, a silver wand in one hand and the train of my dress in the other. Everywhere I went, I was accompanied by the soft click clack click clack of my rhinestone covered plastic high heels. In my shoes I would dive into the depths of the ocean, explore enchanted forests and attend marvelous balls. All that was missing from my fabulous adventures was a companion; a little sister. I would lie awake at night picturing us wandering hand in hand across the universe of our imaginations, living in our dreams. After what felt like an eternity of long, wistful nights, (but was really eight years) you, my beautiful India Rose, were born. You had bright green eyes, dark brown hair, and ten perfect toes. I could already picture you dancing beside me in my coveted glittering heels. I had no idea that the actual plastic shoes that would soon adorn your feet would be as unique as you are.
As you grew up, it slowly became apparent to me that your life was going to be drastically different from mine. Instead of flowing princess dresses, you wore limp hospital gowns. In place of bejeweled tiaras, you endured CAT scans and MRIs of your brain. Rather than waving a magic wand, you waved to us as you were wheeled into surgery. By the time you were 3 years old, you had seen more doctors and therapists than the rest of our family combined. Still, none of this had as profound of an impact on me as did the simple realization that you would never be able to wear my plastic sparkling heels.
In their place, your feet were incased in bulky, flat orthopedic braces. They wrapped up your calves and shins, coming to rest just below your knees. Your braces didn’t sparkle; they weren’t covered in rhinestones with pink accents. They were rigid and devoid of personality. Your braces didn’t carry you into the magical world of our imagination; instead, they kept you grounded. This should have been enough to break you, and it gave you more than an excuse to be miserable and dejected. Yet, your radiance beamed. You were, and continue to be, happy to be yourself.
Despite your strong sense of self, the outside world has always perceived you as weak. Your silence is seen as indifference, your immobility as indolence, and your delays as ignorance. Witnessing this breaks my heart. I know that these misunderstandings stem from communication barriers; barriers that are challenging to bridge. Daily we take on the adventures to connect you to the rest of the world. We use the power of our imagination and the honesty of our dreams to bring to light who you truly are. Hand in hand, you and I show the world the beauty of the voice within you.
Our unconventional sisterly bond has taught me numerous lessons. I learned the value of looking beyond the surface, the importance of compassion and, most significantly, the worth of the individual. All individuals have their own voice and the right to be heard. The moment that voice is muffled, no matter the cause, basic human rights are violated. There are people outside of our home who are silenced because they do not communicate like everyone else. You have brought to light capabilities within me to bridge these divides and I intend to expand and grow with that knowledge.
Perhaps I will become an American Sign Language Interpreter who helps ensure that the voices of the deaf are communicated clearly. Maybe I’ll become a psychologist who helps those voices that have become muddled gain clarity. Or maybe I’ll become a teacher who helps students learn how to listen to themselves and how to make sure they are heard.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this; in fact, I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to read, but I need to have record of all that you are and all you have done for me. Every step I take, every adventure I embark upon, whether in pink sparkling shoes or career-minded pumps, will be for you, and for us.
I love you bigger than the sky,
Olivia Howard is a third-year English Major and Dance minor at the University of Virginia. Her journey with literature began with hiding picture books under her covers as a kid and a reading of Little Women long before it was age appropriate. She now finds herself comfortably situated among the words of Shakespeare, Austen and other fancy authors but would pick up anything by J.K. Rowling in a heartbeat. Her life has been characterized by unconditional love from fantastic parents (who’s love story is worthy of its own novel) and three younger siblings who bring love and joy to her life every day.
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