Four days until you leave.  I survey the bedroom and ask if I can help.  You shrug: "I'm  mostly done."

My eyes fall on a pile of clothing mounded on top of your largest suitcase. "Want me to fold that?"

You shrug again. "Okay."

My coat still on, I reach eagerly for something to do. I take your green sweatshirt, the one with the owls, zip it up, turn it around, tuck the arms and hood under.  Smooth.  Fold.  Smooth.  Fold.  Smooth.  Fold.  Flip.  I reach for a white lacy peasant blouse.

Next to me, you are sorting necklaces.  You pick out one, wooden beads and a large red plastic charm shaped like a jewel.  "Do you want this?  I could never figure out how to wear it." Oh, dear sister, how could you think I could make fashion sense out of something that eluded yours?  But I take it, because it is yours, was yours, now will be mine to remind me of you.  It goes in my pocket.

A floaty black dress with a satin sash.  Smooth, fold, fold, fold, fold, tuck. "I'm not skinny enough to tie that," you say, "so I just let it hang."  Every girl has two or three dresses like that, things she should really let go but can't because they're too pretty.  "Or maybe I should cut them off?"  But I think they look sweet just dangling, like Stevie Nicks or a dark angel.

Fluffy brown socks.  Smooth.  Tuck.  How will I be able to say goodbye?

Rob calls.  He's on the way to pick us up for the movie.  You dig apologetically into the pile of folded jeans, replacing your pajamas with a pair.  "And I need a blouse."  There are twenty-eight so far, one for each year of my life.  Which one do you want?  You'll carry them all to Korea with you.

Three days.  I call to see if you want to have pizza with us.  You're already out.  You beg us to come.  We can't, I say, imagining you there in one of your twenty-eight blouses.  Have fun.

Black wool sailor pants with lots of buttons.  Smooth.  Fold.  Fold.  Flip.  The pile is growing next to the suitcase and dwindling inside it.  Time is running out.

Two days.  I ask if you want to get lunch.  Somewhere nice, I say.  We go into the cold city and sit at a window table in the warm sun.  We suck down oysters, briny and sweet, with lemon and Tabasco.  We drop oyster crackers into thick, creamy crab soup.  "It hasn't hit me yet," I say.  "Me neither," you agree.  So we talk about something else: the music that's playing, which leads to the most fun concerts we've been to, which leads to the time you went to a concert right after getting off a long plane flight.  We fall silent.

"How long is the flight to Korea?" I ask, the words floating up to rest above our heads.  Eighteen hours.  You change once in California.  You lose a whole day flying there.

Pajama pants covered with colorful surfboards. Smooth.  Fold.  Smooth.  Fold.  Flip.  Tuck in the drawstring, add them to the pile.  A bathing suit.  How do you fold a cute little red bikini?  I tuck it into a ball and wedge it with the socks.  I look over at you; you're laughing at a book I bought you long ago, containing pictures of things you might need to communicate in a foreign country.  Body parts, activities, types of food.  You don't even like Chinese food, or sushi, and certainly not kimchi.  What will you do?  I wish I were going with you.  I wish you wouldn't go at all.

One day.  Your suitcases are packed now, and the bed is clear.  Still, I'm folding.  Thick bathrobe, bright red. Straighten, fold, fold, fold, tuck, wind the cord around it.  More jeans.  Jeans are easy.  Anything else?  I'm afraid of nearing the end of the pile, afraid as the minutes slide by with deceptive ease.

Last night.  We pick at dinner before it's ready, skimming cheese off the salad and dipping tortellini into the balsamic vinaigrette.  We pour wine, toast bread, sit and laugh together one more time.  The language of our youth: an ironic sequence of non sequitirs, pieced together by memories, some spoken, some just felt.  I chew, but my stomach remains empty.  I close my eyes and see your Ravens jerseys. "I'm only bringing these two." Fold, fold, fold, flip, straighten, smile. You'll find a bar anywhere that will turn on the game in return for one of your smiles.

We watch TV, and then it's time to go.  I stand behind you, my fingers combing your hair, memorizing the texture, length, color -- enjoying the sensation of something that can't be duplicated onscreen across the world.  It's time to go.  An embroidered tank top I bought at the beach for you, an easy one: fold, fold, fold, done.  No more clothing; no more excuses.  You have to be at the airport at 4:30, and I have to be at school a few hours after that.  It's time to go.

I realize why some people hate goodbyes: I almost never have to say them, real goodbyes.  A year, plus?  Without my sister, my other half, the only person who knows (really knows) where I come from?  I panic.  I hug you once, twice, tell you to be careful.  Some force besides my own strength propels me out the door and into the car, where I safely shed tears.  Why didn't I make more time for you?  Why can't I go with you now?  Why do you have to go away?

Folding, folding your clothes for you, one last favor, my little sister.  Prayers sprinkled on every crease and tuck.  Come back soon.