Today is Ellie’s Birthday, she would be 15 Years old, but one year, nine months and fifteen days ago, she passed away (and incase you were wondering, that’s 654 days, not that I’m counting). This is an essay, not only about her but also about us and our relationship.
Ellie and I were buds; there is no doubt about it. She used to hold onto the back pockets of my jeans and follow me around the house, laughing her head off. She thought it was so funny that I didn’t know she was there, although secretly, she knew that I knew. We used to wrestle and goof around all the time, we would jump from couch to couch, and she would jump on me like I was a jungle gym, her jungle gym. Pillow fights and wrestling, along with kidnapping and hostile takeovers were common. We would run through our house, screaming or singing, usually both. The rest of the family definitely loved it when the two of us would scream at the top of our lungs, half of the time, just for the heck of it and the other half because one of us was tickling the other.
She was such a drama queen, not in the sassy or snobby way, but she could act like nobody’s business. For instance, there were more than a few times when I would plop her on the couch a little harder than usual or we’d accidentally bonk heads or something of the sort and she would get a surprised look of shock and then pain and then burst out crying, I would rush over and apologize over and over again and ask her if she was okay, and as soon as I thought she was going to hate me, she would burst out laughing because she knew she fooled me, she had gotten me good.
Even when we didn’t goof around like that, we could still be silly and have fun. When I got into the outdoor activity called slacklining, I remember how much she wanted to learn too. I would teach her, and she would practice and she loved it. Her last Christmas, I got her a slack-line for her, one that would be easier to set up on her own, and I was so excited when she sent me pictures of her progress.
We also would go on bike rides here and there, or play soccer in the yard. I even remember when my dad and I taught Ellie how to throw a baseball when she was in tee-ball. She was such a good athlete, while she focused on dance as she got older, she still excelled in whatever else she did too.
Ellie also loved our cabin, I would take her sailing, and we’d go tubing together or even just play in the water. There are even stories of her going out in one of the sailboats and getting stuck in the middle of the lake with no wind. And playing in the water; she absolutely loved to play in the water, with her cousins and her friends, they all would spend hour out just past the dock jumping around, playing games and laughing. The lake water was always murky, which was perfect for sneaking up to her underwater and I could grab her around the waist and jump up, hoisting her into the air; so much fun.
During the winter, we also loved to go alpine skiing. I worked part time as a ski instructor, so I remember giving her tips every time we went, about little technique things here and there, but who was I kidding, she was a natural! She was very skilled for her age, for any age. I also remember when she wanted to do her first ski jump; it was little and had no negative consequences, and she did it. And then my good friend Sam and I asked her if she wanted to do one of the big jumps. Obviously she wanted to, but when we did a test run, she didn’t have the mass to get up enough speed. No problem though, Sam and I held out a ski pole and towed her into the jump, launching her 30 feet to the sweet spot on the landing. Man, was she excited about that!
We took a ski trip to Montana a few times; she rocked the mountain so much. Her first year she came with, it had snowed a lot Of course, the benefit of being little, is that 15 inches of snow means knee deep powder and a lot of fun for an 8 or 9 year old! Even on the long Montana groomers, we would race after her at full speed to try and keep up, especially as she got older! She loved Montana and always said she wanted to live there one day. One of the funniest memories of a trip was how goofy she was on the long drive. At one point, she came up with a meaningless song about cheese and sang it for maybe an hour straight. She would just sing and then laugh and then sing some more.
Laughing, that was another thing I loved about her. We would laugh and laugh for so long. So much that our bellies and our faces ached. I would tickle her so much too, even to the point where I wouldn’t even have to actually touch her to make her laugh, I could pretend to tickle her and she would shrivel up into a laughing ball of giggles and squeaks.
This is one of the things I miss most about Ellie, her laugh and her smile. Her happy spirit could always lighten the mood or cheer me up when I had a long day at school or a tough day at work. Everyone loved this about her, she had the biggest smile, it was great, it was photogenic, it was friendly, it was welcoming and above all, it was beautiful.
I learned so much from Ellie. I feel like I started to figure myself out a bit around the end of high school, I started to figure out what kind of a person I wanted to be and what I thought I wanted to do. Ellie always seemed to already have her head on her shoulders. When I would drive her to dance practice or to her friends’ house, she always seemed to be so wise. Not necessarily in a “wise old man” kind of way, but when I’d talk to her about life and things of that nature, she always had such mature answers. She was entering junior high so I would talk with her about drinking and making good choices, and she always knew how she felt about it and knew that she could withstand peer pressure. She didn’t worry about what others thought about her, she didn’t let people judge her, and she didn’t judge others. She always wanted to be loved by everyone and she knew that it would happen if she truly loved everyone. This meant no gossip, no talking bad about someone, no judgment. There are not many teenage girls who you can say that about. Heck, there aren’t that many adults who you can say that about. There is a lot that I’ve learned from her, and most of it, I am still trying to understand.
Ellie and I had a lot of dreams in common, we both loved Montana, and we would dream about having a home in the mountains or even just a second home and skiing all the time. She was so inspired by Lindsey Vonn, the famous Olympic skier who was born in MN. Ellie also jumped onto the Cross Country Skiing bandwagon and joined our high school team, just like me. And just as she was a natural at dance, or soccer, or all the other things she exceled at, she was a natural at CC Skiing. Coming across the finish line, first, by a mile, with a huge smile on her face. She was just like me, and I was so thrilled that she was falling in love with it too.
We never looked far into the future, but it was always fun to fantasize and daydream with her. We would talk about how much she wanted to help others, that was something we had in common. I always thought I would be best suited in ‘emergency’ type scenarios, maybe a fire fighter or something of the sorts. But she thought bigger than that, more direct. She thought about helping animals, maybe a veterinarian or something. Then she thought about using her love of animals, horses specifically, to help people. She had learned about camps for mentally and physically challenged people that incorporate animals with learning and enjoyment. Her big dream was to open a therapy horse ranch in Montana for people, kids especially, with any sort of disability, where they could ride horses, learn about animal, and benefit from the animals. I thought that was great, it’s not often that a thirteen-year-old kid wants to do something as big as that, but then again, I don’t think she wasn’t just any old kid.
Ellie was indeed special; she brought our family together. My older sister Katlyn and I have always had a different mentality, and through these differences, we would bicker and argue just like any siblings do. But Ellie, she got along with Katlyn, she knew to be patient when there was tension and try her best not to let it get to her. When my sister and I would argue, she would tell us to stop being immature and just let it be. When I would argue with my parents, she would do the same, she would tell us to quit being so small minded, although she usually just told that to me, my parents were usually right. She always was in good spirit and tried to be positive on family vacations, she would get mad at all of us when we were crabby or negative. She definitely completed our family; she brought out the best in us. Even outside our immediate family. She taught me that I should spend time with my younger cousins, that it wasn’t cool to be that older cousin who is ‘too cool’ for everyone else. She always brought everyone together. All of the 20 or so cousins who were Ellie’s age or younger idolized her, she was a big sister to all of them. They would play games upon games for hours. She loved all of them and they all loved her.
When I left for college, my parents told me that Ellie slept in my big (two twin mattresses pushed together on the floor) bed some nights. And then, when Katlyn and I came home for christmas break, instead of making Katlyn sleep on the futon that had replaced her bed, Ellie would just sleep in my big bed with me. There was nothing better than waking up in the middle of the night to try and rescue some of the blankets that Ellie was holding hostage on her side. But while waking up from your little sister jumping up and down on you screaming "wake up!" may seem like it would be horrible, it was the best. And I miss that so much.
Everyone is always told me how great of a big brother I was to Ellie. But the truth is, she was the stellar one. She was such a great little sister, and she made me feel so good when she told me how much she loved me. I remember when I left for college and my dad told me that the whole way home Ellie cried with her head rested against the window of the car. How she would text me “I love you” or “I miss you” before she went to bed or call me and tell me about the frog she dissected in science class. And when some of my family came to visit me at college in Oregon, that moment I saw them and Ellie ran across the field and flew into my arms, wrapping her arms and legs around my torso, almost knocking me over. It is things like this that made me feel special, made me realize how lucky I am to have had such an amazing relationship with Ellie. Although I never was homesick much when I came to college, thousands of miles away, whenever anyone asked me if I missed my family or home, Ellie would always pop into my mind.
Since her passing, all the time, I am doing things I love, and I think about something that bothers me. It is tough to realize that I will never be able to share things with Ellie anymore. When I am kayaking down a beautiful river, and lay back, look up at the flawless blue sky, surrounded by tall and lush trees, or steep banks, and it looks like a scene out of a science fiction movie, I think about how I will never be able to share this with her, that she will never be able to experience it. I think about this when I am climbing. I think Ellie would have loved climbing, at the gym or at the local crag. She would have been so fluid and strong, with her flexibility from dance and her strength from soccer. And her adventurous, adrenaline-seeking soul would have loved it too. Or when I am skiing in the mountains of Oregon, I think about all the runs that I would have showed her and all the times I would have to try and keep up with her fearless speed. When I am camping in the forest and wake up to the sounds of water and eat breakfast among giant pines and lye reading in the mossy overgrowth, I remember that I will not be able to share this with her. And it bothers me.
Time and time again, I am bothered. I think about the opportunities she will miss out on. Graduating high school, going some place far and exotic for college, maybe Montana, or maybe staying near home, who knows, but either way, going on countless adventures. Once again, I find myself thinking about all the adventures we could go on together, and all the adventures she would go on with out me. She would go to college and find a good, close group of friends. People like her, because she had a wonderful charisma that drew people to her. She would have gotten a job she loved, or met someone she loved. She would have been an amazing wife or mother or maybe just friend, but she would be just be who she wants to be. And it’s hard, it’s bothersome, to know that there was more than an amazing future ahead of her.
She is remembered by so many. This memory of her has changed so many people. It has effected and, I hope, will continue to effect so many, the way it has effected me. To say that I think about her everyday would be an understatement. I never really understood what people meant when they said things along these lines. That they think about someone all the time, that they think about an even all the time, or something like that. I have missed things with a passion, where they are often on my mind, and I always though that it was just a more extreme version of this. But it is nothing like I’ve ever imagined before. I truly think about my little sister in every moment of every day, and I have, since the night I was called into my friend Father Mark’s office and was put on speakerphone with my father, and the in-fillable hole was dug into my chest.
This is just an introduction, the tip of an iceberg, a preface to a story much bigger than anything that can possibly describe the her or the relationship I had, and continue to have with my little sister, my bud, my angel, Ellie.