Holy hell in a hand basket, my baby sister ain’t a baby anymore. Ok, she’s not been a baby for a long time, but she’s got one year left before the big milestone birthday, and that feels just disconcerting and odd to me in ways I don’t know how to quantify. Nevertheless, today is McGraw’s birthday, and she is so beyond worth celebrating, that I thought I’d use today’s Signal Fire in two ways: One, to wish her the happiest birthday I could possibly wish her, both in text and in voice for all you listening on the podcast, and, to use her birthday as a perfect excuse to dive into how special not only she is, but the whole idea of siblings is in general. For those of us lucky enough to have them, I think we forget how blessed we truly are, and maybe it’s her birthday that kicked this thought process off, or maybe it’s been rewatching Peaky Blinders, but whatever the cause, it’s made me realize how valuable it is to share blood with someone, share history, share ache, and that the bond created is a monumentally special one. So, Happy Birthday Wa, I love you times infinity and am so lucky to call you sister, to call you best buddy, and to celebrate you today. Everyone do me a favor, wish her a happy birthday on the ol’ Instagram (@mcdonovan) and tell her where you’re saying it from! Now, onward.
As I said above, today is an ode to siblings, and I realized even whilst writing the haiku that the beauty of siblings is that while they can be those that share our blood, they don’t have to be. I am lucky enough now in my life to have both varieties, those that share my blood and those that are siblings by marriage, by circumstance, and by sheer strength of connection. I am surrounded by family in my life, born in and added as I grew, and they all share the same common threads. They share the ache, they share the history, some share the blood, and they all share one thing: Those threads tie us together, and those knots will never come untied.
I was born with a big sister, and just a shade under two years later, added a little sister to the mix. I was the middle child, with sisters on both sides, and in truth that began a life entirely surrounded by women far more often than me. From baseball wives and girlfriends, to my sisters, to all their friends, to my mother and hers, my Dad’s job kept him away often and so it was a collective of feminine influences that did a lot of the shaping, the whittling, to make me the person I am today. I say with confidence, that my sisters more than most, helped shape me into who I am this day, it was having siblings, those that shared my blood and my history, that made my childhood one of not only surviving, but truly thriving. As our said shared childhoods were extremely peripatetic, we moved like we were a military family, only our armed forces were baseball teams, our generals were the owners of the Dodgers, the Phillies, Cubs, and Red Sox. From May through September every year until I was 16 years old, we lived somewhere new. New apartment complexes, new condos in new cities, new states. New baseball stadiums became our playground, nightly games our routine through every single summer. We missed out on all our friends waited an entire school year for, the simple summer days without plan or agenda, the freedom to see our classmates outside the classroom, to have sleepovers or hangouts, random adventures in random places. Instead, we had swimming pools and firework shows from the outfield grass, we had rollerblading through an unfamiliar apartment complex in the sweltering heat of Albuquerque or Bakersfield, Los Angeles or Winston Salem, North Carolina. We had short excursions on off-days for my Dad’s teams, we had birthdays celebrated with only our family, as we all had summer birthdays. We had no friends, as we’d no time to find them, and so in truth, we really only had each other. Strangely, it was always enough, and more than that, it was perfect.
I speak only for myself here, maybe my sisters both felt that lack in a greater level of intensity and detail than I did, but I was never, ever, found wanting. My sisters were my best friends, they were my adventure buddies, my partners in exploration. They were my co-passengers in cross country drives from Montana to California, to New Mexico, to North Carolina, and back, repeated more times than we can count. They sat beside me at probably close to 1000 baseball games over the course of our lifetimes, they ate cheap ballpark food and waited for the 7th inning stretch to get a snack, they sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame in every single timezone, with me, over and over again. We were all we had, and we honestly would have it no other way. From Tetris tournaments to getting yelled at by Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz for not wearing our helmets on our rollerblades or bikes, from trips into the Sandias or Palm Springs, to 11am swims in two dozen dozen swimming pools scattered out across the world, we shared it all, and that history crocheted our hearts together into one thing, one piece of art that to this day makes the same picture. How lucky, how truly lucky.
Both of these sisters stood beside me in Scotland when I got married, both shared that special day, and the birthday girl today even served as the officiant, something that meant the world to me, and to Sarah. The fact that after all these years, all the trials and tribulations, all the moving and shuffling and rearranging of our circumstances, we still remain best friends, we still remain so close, is staggering. Again, I say how lucky I am. What’s more, because they married such wonderful people, I was able to add brothers into the mix, two men that truly feel like blood, despite the different fluid that flows through us. They too have shaped me, they too have become anchors that I know I can depend on when the seas of this life get too rough, and they have proved time and again that family is more than just the red stuff in our veins, it’s the choice to show up, always show up, for those we claim to love.
In that showing up, I’ve also added other siblings along the way. I call one man brother longer than any other, my best-man, Greg. We’ve known each other since we were 5, and without a single exception, have called each other “best” every year since the start. I call Gregory, my musician friend with more talent than he knows what to do with, brother. Have since we met, knew it the first time we spent time together, that some people are family before they’re even in our lives. I call Ash, my fellow Autistic who runs the brilliant Mind Noise here on Substack, brother from another mother, and I always will. Collectors, we are, in a sense. We scoop up and add people to the little coin purse in our hearts as we go, some stay and we call them family, some go and stay friends, some we just can’t quite find room for, and so we leave as acquaintances, knowing we felt them for a time, but they just didn’t feel right sticking around. We’re lucky for them all, but for the ones that become family, we are blessed, and I stand by this.
For me, this Signal Fire is just a tribute to those that stuck, but mainly, a testament to the two originals that could never be replaced or duplicated, one who celebrates a birthday today. It’s a tiny offering to a great big connection, a little thank you to the two girls from my childhood that turned into the women of my adulthood, staying best friends all the while. I love you both, and would not be who I am, without the little carve marks, the little fingerprints you left in all that whittling, in all that shaping. Thank you, sisters, for making me, me.
Happy Birthday Graw.
Those that share our blood
share our history, our ache,
we are tied to them.