I was born while my mother was still married to my brother’s father. It’s a statement I used to love to make when I was younger, grinning at the puzzlement on people’s faces as they tried to sort it out. These days irregular families have become the norm, and the number of twelve year olds I regularly speak to has diminished, so it has sort of lost its entertainment value, but it still remains fact.
My brother is two years older than me, although I surpassed him in height when we were both still in high school. We grew up sometimes together, sometimes apart, mostly apart, together again. Up until I was seven or eight we shared a bedroom, and then the social workers had a fit with that, so he was moved into the closet. Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, it was a big walk in closet under the stairs, and he was proud as anything to live there. Later, after we’d been both taken away from my mother, and I’d gone back to live with her again, the house we were living in was only a two bedroom, so we converted part of the kitchen to be my brother’s room when he visited, which was a perfect arrangement because he was always in the kitchen anyway. My brother was famous for making the most disgusting concoctions smothered in salt and pepper that only he would ever touch.
Two years apart, but through some combination of failing grades and the general disorganization of our school, my brother and I had several classes together in high school. Our last names being different, our personalities so different, most people didn’t realize we were related unless they saw us standing beside each other and saw the striking resemblance. We didn’t really ignore each other, would actually talk to each other on occasion although we certainly didn’t sit together at lunch or anything. Kids coming over after school to visit my brother would often look at me in puzzlement when they first encountered me in his house. “Why is she here?” And then it would dawn on them. Marty’s sister.
Throughout our school years, everybody loved my brother. He has that sort of personality that makes him instantly likeable, the sort that makes people say, “Oh, you’re Marty’s sister? I love that guy!” He was the legacy, and I was always following in his footsteps. Somewhere along the line, we switched places, and suddenly he was following in mine. Not even a few months after I’d arrived in Hawaii, with his marriage on the rocks, my brother flew out to visit, intending to apply for the police force. We made plans of getting an apartment together, just for a little bit, just until we both got on our feet. He arrived a week after I had left my aunt’s house. His welcome was lacking. Most of the family was already at their wit’s end with Suzy and didn’t have the time or patience to entertain another family member. I did my best, taking my brother around Waikiki, bought him a drink or two, and finally bought his plane ticket back home to Ohio, less than two weeks after he’d arrived.
Marty was the only one who could control my mother when she went into her drunken fits. He graduated a year before I did and went off to college, leaving me alone with her. Some nights, if she got really bad, I could call him in Florida and he’d be able to talk her down, but mostly I was on my own. I think I resented him for leaving me behind.
If I went through Hell, my brother went through worse. His father has had nothing to do with him since he was a toddler. He’d thought he’d found a father in my dad, but after the divorce he was forgotten. During the custody dispute he lived with our grandma, whose childrearing skills fall between neglect and abuse. It took him many years to get back with my mother again, long after I’d gone back to living with her.
I’ve never talked to my brother about our childhood, about what happened. I’ve never talked to my brother about anything. We don’t reminisce. We don’t really talk at all, although he’ll usually text me to say Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas. When he first returned to Ohio, after the divorce, he’d call me a few times a week just to chat. It wasn’t long before he made friends. He’s a likeable guy. He doesn’t call anymore.