My sister-in-law, my friend

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When one marries into a family, he never quite knows what’s coming.

Yeah, you love your new wife. But, for all you know, her cousin is in prison, her aunt is a crack dealer, her mother is a psychopath and her sisters are Iranian freedom fighters.

You just don’t know.

I first met Leah Guggenheimer 15 years ago. It was at a birthday party, and I was the most fringe of guests—new boyfriend of the sister. I still remember being introduced to Leah, and her offering a quick, “Hi, can’t talk.” And, indeed, she couldn’t talk. She was carrying a large cake from Point A to Point B. My initial impression off of that evening: Busy. Fast. Somewhat harried.

As the time passed, and she morphed from sister of girl I’m dating to sister of girlfriend to sister of fiance to—for the last 11 years—sister in law, Leah has transformed from a person I didn’t fully understand to a person I appreciated to, nowadays, a person I truly love as much as any relative I’ve had.

Leah is as tough as dirt. She doesn’t take shit, and if you’re a company that tries screwing her over, well, good luck. She’s feisty, hard-nosed, keen, sharp. Sometimes, I feel like people see that genre of toughness and misunderstand what lies beneath. Which is a shame, because Leah also happens to be as caring and embracing a person as I’ve ever met. You need a 3 am airport pickup? She’s there. Need a place to stay for two weeks? She’s there. From exchange students to pound mutts to friends of friends of friends, she’s used her home to house the needy, the hurt, the desperate. No questions asked, no credit needed.

Just goodness.

Leah calls me “Jeffie.” It’s a tag only three people are allowed to use—her and her kids. She refers to me—endearingly—as “one of the girls,” and has granted me access to the juiciest of gossip. I can’t think of a time (not one time) when I haven’t wanted her company. If we’re watching a movie, and Leah comes over, it’s a better evening. I feel as protective of Leah as anyone in my life. I’m allowed to talk shit about her (but rarely do). You most certainly are not.

When we decided to move to California, most members of our family were, well, not no happy. The one who had to most to lose, however, was also the most empathetic. Leah has two sons—my nephews—who are nearly as close to us as our own children. The hardest part about relocating (easily) was leaving them. Leah could have been rude, dismissive, harsh. She wasn’t. She gets adventure, gets new challenges, gets the need to taste different cuisines. “I’m sad,” she told me, “but I’m also happy.”

Again, just goodness.

Leah, happy, happy, happy birthday.

There are few better.

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