Here’s what I know about sibling rivalry: my big brother refers to the years before I was born — the years of his life between birth and 4, when he was our parents' only child — as the best years of his life. The glory days. The Era of No Trouble.I’m pretty sure he’s kidding. Pretty sure.
I’ve never been the only, don’t know what it’s like, can't imagine it. I’ve always been a little sister, I've always had a big brother, and we've always been close. Maybe it’s because we happen to be compatible, and not all siblings are. Maybe it’s because of our mother’s persistent reminder:Be good to each other, you’re all you’ve got. A sentiment as perplexing as it was comforting. Oh ok cool, we’ve got each other! But, wait. Only each other? You sure? We don’t have you? We don’t have friends? We won’t have spouses? Our mom was our coach, our biggest fan, our sometimes co-conspirator. She loved us so much she often said that she could barely stand it, and we loved her back just exactly the same. She doled out discipline and encouragement in equal measure. She called us “sweetie” and sometimes “you dummies.” It was the same to us, it was love. She defended us to anyone who dare step to her, regardless of our crime or circumstance. She was remarkable, ferocious, steadfast.
Be good to each other, you’re all you’ve got.I once witnessed her make my principal cry. She’d been called there because I hit a kid in the head with my flute case. Before the meeting was over, the principal was apologizing to my mom and whole-heartedly agreeing that, yes indeed, teasing me about my bookworm project did probably warrant a knock in the head with whatever band instrument might be available. Not that we were ever off the hook. Oh, hell no. It would’ve been better to be in trouble with the principal than to face my mother’s wrath. But she showed us what love looks like, what loyalty is, what it means to go through life together, and to have each other’s backs. And so we have, and we do. I’ve watched my brother kick a wall with his already broken leg because we’re stuck in the stairwell of a parking garage and I can’t stop throwing up. I’ve seen him shotgun several cans of soda, then jump around beating his chest like an angry gorilla trying to belch a full sentence. I have an actual printed photo of me standing in the vegetable garden holding a zucchini like a big, erect penis and smirking. A pic stealthily taken by my bro while our mom gardened, oblivious, next to me. We gave it to her for Mother’s Day. I’ve also called to tell him our dad poisoned himself with carbon monoxide. On purpose. I’ve listened to him listen to me say those words, arriving in waves across the air, rejected and tossed back. I’ve helped him load up a boat with firewood to row out to our mother, alone and ill in her house, refusing to leave, surrounded by floodwater. I’ve asked him, hundreds of miles away in the middle of the night, if I should leave or stay. There’s been some stuff. But then, so goes everybody, so goes life. Throughout the years, our sibling antics have remained the same. It’s been a decades-long attempt to make each other laugh. A dynamic most accurately summarized by our German exchange student who, after a raucous family dinner, jubilantly declared in a thick accent: HAHA!! All thee time vee are laughing!!
Laughing has been the elixir, the medicine, the band-aid, the catharsis.Yes. All the time we are laughing. Laughing has been the elixir, the medicine, the band-aid, the catharsis. It’s been our shared crutch, second skin, secret weapon. It’s the umbrella, and everything else is underneath.
Jesus, you guys are dummies. Good shot, though.So, she was right. And maybe it’s not true that mothers always are. But she was. No one else shares these memories. No one shares our history, our framework for adulthood, our twisted and zippering DNA. No one else shares the loss of our parents -- a loss still and always alive, coursing through our veins, our days, our story. As stardust goes, we’re made of the same. No one shares any of that. We have spouses, friends, neighbors, co-workers. And somehow we also only have each other. This was our mother’s gift to us, her masterpiece, her swan song -- to be damn certain that I'd always have my big brother, and he'd always have his little sister. Our mom built a legacy of sibling-hood using our experiences, spinning them into memories, then stories, told and retold. Stories of winning, losing, making, and doing. Stories of being babies, and of having babies. Stories of hearts full and broken. Stories of holding on and letting go.
Mostly though — mostly — what our mother built for us was a connection, pulsing through generations. All the time we tormented, argued, advised, compromised. All the time we lost, grieved, remembered. All the time we loved and celebrated.
All the time we are laughing.
It takes a village!
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