I have a little sister named Jessica.

Technically, she’s not my little sister. She’s my wife’s little sister, so—to cite Forrest Gump—we are not (fraternally) related. However, Jessica has been calling me her brother ever since I married Catherine back in 2002. Which, by my estimation, makes her my sister. Not my sister-in-law or my little sister-in-law. Just my sister.

Today, Jessica turns 21. Which blows my mind. When Catherine and I first started dating, Jessica was 10. I still remember meeting her. We were at a restaurant. She rubbed my shaved head and called me “Fuzz.” I told her I was going to give her a rap nickname, and came up with “Dr. Dre.” Though the “Fuzz” tag vanished long ago, I still refer to her as “the Doctor” or “Doctor.” For some reason, this gives me great satisfaction.

I have experienced many things through my life, but few as educational (and rewarding) as having a little sister. Through the years, I’ve watched (often between my fingers, with my eyes squinted real tight)070222dr-dre the Doctor grow from a little girl to a full-fledged adult. I’ve screamed for her at football games (she was a cheerleader before hurting her knee) and lectured her on the evils of cigarettes (Catherine: “Do you think lecturing a teenager does any good?”). I’ve cringed as she dated some tool with a purple octopus tattoo (she now has a very cool boyfriend) and celebrated as she graduated high school and moved on to college. When I think of the Doctor, I think of lighting a candle at her Bat Mitzvah; of hearing her cry (quite often) on my wife’s shoulder; of watching her hold my baby daughter for the first time; of seeing her scoot down 15th Street on her Razor; of her praising the genius that is Jesse McCartney (“He’s absolutely amazing!”) and calling Saw III “the best movie ever!” Last April we went skydiving together, an experience that, I believe, has served as an extremely tight bond. You fall 13,000 feet together and live to tell, well, you’re blood.

Mostly, I think of all the times she said something that made me later turn to the wife and say, “That girl is truly special.”

Once, several years ago, I paid the Doctor a terrible insult. She was in the midst of some sort of teen angst, and in a moment of pure idiocy I told her I hope my daughter doesn’t follow her path. To hell with that. I can now say with 100-percent sincerity that if Casey grows up to have the heart and compassion and decency and love and pure, unadulterated goodness of my little sister Jessica, I’ll consider myself a success.

Happy Birthday, Doc …

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