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Lost what wasn't mine.

You're my only baby now

January 20. It's always the day, every four years, when the United States swears in a new president. It is filled with pomp and circumstance, ceremony and punditry. Parades, balls, speeches, lunches, dinners, and endless commentary.

I can't pay attention. January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in, was the day my youngest sister was born. I was already grown, married, with children of my own when she came...was in fact expecting my third that day, although I didn't know it yet. I was living with my children at my mother's house while my husband was away at school, completing his studies for a master's degree. From the time my sister was born until I had my own baby eight months later and ultimately moved with my husband to another town, I was her caregiver while my mother worked. She was my baby, as much as she was my sister.

When my own daughter was born, the two girls looked very much alike as they grew. Today, the family looks at pictures of one or the other as a toddler, and we laugh and say, "which one is that?" Two little blonde heads in play, two adorable little girls running together, laughing, chattering, learning to walk and talk. Eight months difference in age is a gap that closes quickly; although "aunt" and "niece," they were almost like twins.

Until that day in April two years later. It was just after Easter. We had just been to my mother's house for the holiday weekend, spent long hours eating, visiting, sharing life, sharing love. Early one morning, midweek, my mother called with horrible, heart-destroying news, "There's been a fire....and we can't find Melissa." I couldn't process her words. As I frantically called my husband at work, my sister in another state, and gathered clothes and necessities for my three small children and loaded them into the car, I kept thinking, "They'll find her...she's just hiding.....they have to find her."

They would not.

Within a few hours, I was there, with my mother, and another sister and her husband. When we walked into my grandmother's house, my mother scooped my almost two-year-old daughter into her arms and wept over her tiny blonde head. "You're my only baby now," she said.

The loss of my baby sister in that fire devastated not only her parents, but her pseudo parents as well...myself and my sister, who took over her full-time care when I moved out. My youngest brother was four then, charged with "looking out" for his baby sister....a job too big for one so small...and her loss was a failure for which he was never able to forgive himself, even into adulthood.

I don't think our family dynamic was ever the same after that fire. Whenever we gather, we will always feel the emptiness in the room, the absence of the baby we all lost when she was so young. With each milestone her "twin" reached, stepping from tiny ballet shoes to trendy tennis shoes to sparkly high heels, we remembered the one who would not ever walk that path. And every four years, when they swear in a new president on January 20, I find it hard to care about who is taking the oath and what they have to promise... because I only have thoughts of the little blonde girl born that day all those years ago, the one who never got to grow up, never got learn to dance, to ride a bike, to play softball or soccer or the piano, who never had a first date or first kiss, or had a boy break her heart.


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